Housing symposium examines federal funding pinch

A home in Charlottesville's 10th and Page neighborhood. File photo. A home in Charlottesville’s 10th and Page neighborhood. File photo.

For Charlottesville, the shortage of affordable and public housing is a problem that must be tackled, and it’s an uphill battle.

That’s the message delivered at a summit on housing issues at the Boar’s Head Inn on Friday, June 14, where federal, state, and local officials met to discuss the future in the light of federal funding cuts, and share ideas.

As sequestration has begun to shave funds from crucial housing programs such as the Community Development Block Grant Program, cities like Charlottesville have had to look to other sources. In 2010 Charlottesville was the recipient of $579,630 in grants from the program. The program has seen a cut of 22 percent, and funding totalled $407,522 this year. Kelly Harris-Braxton, executive director of the Richmond-based Virginia First Cities Coalition, said $800,000 from the CBGP could fund medical care for 400 residents in need, or complete a water project to benefit 150 people.

Harris-Braxton said when municipalities begin to rely on a program, and when the funding suddenly no longer exists, it’s difficult to get back on track.

“There comes a point where you have to ask, where do you get the money?” she said.

Another important program that took a serious blow, to the tune of a 50 percent cut, was the HOME Investments Partnership Program, which assists new homeowners with down payment and rental assistance, credit enhancement and more.

The program bolstered Charlottesville’s housing programs to the tune of $1,007,754 in 2010. In 2013, that number dwindled to $534,766.

Looking at the larger picture, Harris-Braxton said the Department of Housing and Urban Development has had $390 million cut from its budget since the sequester, and policy has changed around how the funds are delivered.

Harris-Braxton warned that more cuts are on the horizon, and housing programs could see another 14 percent cut in the 2014 fiscal year.

Symposium keynote speaker U.S. Sen. Mark Warner urged the attendees to get loud about how funding cuts have deeply affected grassroots programs. His message was repeated throughout the day in breakout sessions, as policy makers and nonprofit advocates vowed to speak up about their struggles.

While Charlottesville has kept its head down, pushing ahead in its attempts to repair its aging public housing infrastructure and provide housing for the homeless while navigating the waters of declining federal funding, the rest of the country has begun to look to the city as an example, said City Councilor Dave Norris. But, he said, “Those of us locally rarely say, ‘Wow, we’ve solved the problem,’” he said.

Norris said the city does count a few successes. The construction of The Crossings in 2012 helps get Charlottesville’s chronically homeless off the streets and provide them with a set of keys and sense of place. That program has seen residents tangle less with law enforcement and utilize fewer public resources.

“We’re doing more than probably any community in Virginia,” Norris said.

But there remain other issues, such as the looming December 2017 end date on the contract at Friendship Court, which provides subsidized housing for 150 units just blocks away from the Downtown Mall.

“There’s no easy solution. There’s no silver bullet,” Norris said. “The problems we have are decades, even centuries in the making.”—Annalee Grant