City Council steers public redevelopment money to nonprofits

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Last week, City Council reallocated $400,000 of the funds originally earmarked for redeveloping properties like Crescent Hall. Photo by Jack Looney. Last week, City Council reallocated $400,000 of the funds originally earmarked for redeveloping properties like Crescent Hall. Photo by Jack Looney.

Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority officials weren’t surprised when the city reallocated $400,000 of their redevelopment funds to local nonprofits last week. A cash-strapped agency with a revolving door of leadership for over a decade, the housing authority is unable to use the money this year, and both sides agreed that other organizations with housing missions should use it instead. It’s a small step toward what could be a much closer relationship with the city moving forward, and the first of what could be many more public/private collaborations on the affordable housing issue. 

City Council voted 4-1 to approve staff recommendations to split $400,000 of a $650,000 fund, previously set aside for the CRHA’s redevelopment plans, between Habitat for Humanity and the Albemarle Housing Improvement Program. Habitat will use $300,000 to prepare homesites at Belmont Cottages, a $3.25 million mixed-income development of seven houses. AHIP will use the remaining $100,000 to make emergency repairs on public housing units, ranging from leaky roofs and HVAC systems to wheelchair ramps.

City staff’s rationale behind shuffling the funds was simple: The CRHA couldn’t use the money, so they gave it to organizations that could. After a lengthy research period, the CRHA adopted a master plan in 2010 with the state and future of development projects, but Neighborhood Development Director Jim Tolbert said improvement efforts stalled. Design work for refurbishments were on the horizon, he said, but “because of a myriad of issues, the process hasn’t moved as quickly as we thought it would.”

The CRHA was tasked with appointing a Charlottesville Development Corporation Board, a nonprofit organization that would work closely with the city and tap into resources to overhaul Charlottesville’s aging affordable housing stock. The CDC board has not yet been selected and confirmed, and until it’s in place, Tolbert said, the housing authority cannot move forward with any redevelopment plans.

“Do I wish they could’ve gotten the development corporation appointed by now?” said Tolbert. “Sure. But the CRHA has a difficult enough time meeting their operating needs just to keep properties up and running.”

CRHA Executive Director Connie Dunn took over the agency last April —the sixth person to hold the position since 1999. She said the lack of consistent leadership and increasingly scant federal funding has made it hard to push for major projects.

Despite collaboration with city officials to come up with a slate of CDC board members last October, the selections were not well received by the Public Housing Association of Residents, said Dunn.

“Everyone wants to be able to pick who’s on the board,” she said.

Dunn said she hopes a rotation in CRHA Board of Commissioners seats will speed things along.

“Of the seven commissioners, some are very motivated for redevelopment, and some are not,” she said. “We have three board seats coming available in June, which might be an opportunity for progress. A change in leadership might be helpful for us.”

Dunn said previous directors have worked in a capsule, somewhat isolated from the city. Since coming on board last year, her goal has been to have much higher level of exchange with the city, and she said she already sees progress.

Councilor and former mayor Dave Norris has been chair of the CRHA board since last April, and said he fully supports a stronger city role with the housing authority.

“There has long been an artificial and unnecessary wall between the city and CRHA which has served the interests of neither,” he said.

City Council had minimal discussion last week regarding the $400,000 fund transfer, and Norris called the decision “simply a bookkeeping adjustment.”

According to Tolbert, there’s really no downside.

“It means absolutely nothing for the CRHA,” he said. “There’s no way they’re going to spend all that money right now, and we saw a couple other things that had needs.”

But Councilor Dede Smith, the sole no vote, said she was concerned that city money was going to non-city residents. She said after the meeting that it was a difficult stand to take, but one she believed wholly.

“When we put $300,000 toward eight new affordable units, that’s wonderful,” she said. “But you can win the battle and lose the war if that means you’ve lost many more comparable housing options for people.”

Smith said she wants to see the city focus more on the preservation and refurbishment of existing low-income housing rather than spending money on new units, and would have voted “yes” had all $400,000 been allocated to AHIP.

The CRHA still has $250,000 of redevelopment funds to work with, and according to Tolbert, the money shift is temporary. Pending appropriation, he said, city staff recommend taking $400,000 out of next year’s housing fund to redirect back to the housing authority.

“We’re not taking anything away from redevelopment,” Tolbert said. “We’re just borrowing it for a period of about six months and then we’ll give it back, if it’s appropriate at that time.”

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