Sharon Jones’ childhood home no longer exists. It was in an area of Charlottesville called Gospel Hill, which also no longer exists. “My two brothers and I were born there,” says Jones, who was born in 1962. Around that time the rapidly expanding University of Virginia bought the dozen or so houses in the predominantly African-American neighborhood, and bulldozed them. The UVA Hospital stands in its place now. The family moved less than a half mile away to Page Street, one of the only areas in the city where white people did not use racial ordinances, neighborhood covenants and zoning laws to prevent them from living there. The neighborhood, known as 10th and Page, is the city’s largest continual African-American community.
Now, as Charlottesville faces a city-wide housing crisis, 10th and Page is reckoning with a massive tide of gentrification. A 2016 comprehensive housing analysis by Robert Charles Lesser & Co. found that Charlottesville’s upper-income earners are buying houses at lower prices than they can afford, preventing middle-income people from buying those same houses. It creates a trickle-down effect, where middle-income earners buy houses that lower-income residents can afford, leaving the lowest income earners with few housing options.
Over the last decade, dozens of white middle- and upper-income people have bought homes and property in 10th and Page. Many erect fences around their yards, tack on expensive additions or tear down houses entirely and build anew, driving up property assessments and taxes. Longtime residents say the culture of 10th and Page is also changing, and that their new neighbors keep to themselves more, creating divisions where before there was a shared sense of community. And for some African-Americans who have lived most of their lives here, the echoes of a not-so-distant past, when white people told black residents where to live, are very present. That history has largely been ignored and forgotten, leaving behind much of the nuance that helps explain why the city is the way it is—and the future that is possible.
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Tate Huffman has just returned from the gym to his home in Fifeville, a neighborhood that, for most of its history, has been predominantly African-American. “It is definitely shifting,” says Huffman, sitting at his kitchen table. “In the seven years we’ve lived here, I’ve seen a lot of gentrification.” Against the advice of his brother, who called Fifeville “sketchy” after moving to Charlottesville to work at UVA, Huffman and his wife, Faith Levine, who are white, bought the house in 2010. “I like the location more than anything,” he says. Huffman grew up poor in West Virginia, he says, and used government grants for college in Utah and a chiropractic degree in Oregon. He owns a chiropractic business in Belmont, while his wife works as a dance instructor.
Two years ago, the couple bought their second home, this time on Page Street, across the street from Jones. And, as city residents are increasingly doing, they rented it for added income on Airbnb, where they wrote the following description: “The neighborhood of 10th & Page is predominantly black, lower-middle class with a quickly shifting demographic of 20-30 something middle class professional and grad students (aka it is in the process of gentrification, I am obviously contributing to that by renting my place on Airbnb). Physically the neighborhood is a mix of rundown houses and newly built/remodeled. My end of the street is not that pretty, nor is my house from the outside (inside is clean, comfortable, generally quiet, and spacious).”
Jones and several of her longtime neighbors were “livid” when they saw the description. Jones took to Facebook and replied: “As a life-long resident of Page Street, I am very offended by this description. Page Street has had its issues, just like any other neighborhood, but to purchase a house and use it for an Airbnb, and describe the neighborhood in this derogatory manner, hurts. Maybe the owner should have purchased in a different neighborhood.”
Huffman and Levine hadn’t realized they had offended their neighbors, and have since changed the wording and stopped by Jones’ house to apologize. She wasn’t home, but she says she appreciates the gesture. While Huffman and Levine are two of only a few Airbnb renters in 10th and Page, their arrival followed nearly a decade of upper-middle-income white families moving in. “Growing up, everybody knew everybody,” Jones says. “But now you don’t know who’s where.”
Huffman says he and his friends grapple with being gentrifiers. “It is tough,” he says. “In a way we feel like we’re doing a disservice, but at the same time…I really feel like it’s a mixed bag, I do. There was a time when this neighborhood was extremely unsafe.” He pauses, trying to choose his words carefully. “Yeah, I do feel guilty about gentrification of course, but I also–it’s that whole thing: If I don’t do it, is somebody else going to?”
In 2004, when Brian Haluska was hired as a city planner, Charlottesville’s housing market was booming. Young white middle-upper-income folks were buying, renovating and selling houses in Belmont left and right. “Once the housing stock in downtown Belmont had been flipped over, and it was all $300,000, the buying opportunities were gone, so where are they going next?” says Haluska. Starr Hill was already in flux, as was Fifeville. Haluska oversees the city’s planning of 10th and Page, and recalls that the low cost of houses there put the neighborhood in the spotlight. But there was a problem: Many houses were in disrepair.
John Gaines, lifelong Charlottesville resident and former principal of the Jefferson School, was president in the late 1990s of the neighborhood association for 10th and Page, where he grew up. “At that time there were a lot of dilapidated houses in this area,” says Gaines, who lives in his childhood home on Ninth Street NW. “There was a lot of drug dealing going on right on this street. I’d get out of my car when I’d come [home] from work, and guys asked me, ‘You want anything?’ There were a lot of shootings and killings that occurred in this area.” In the mid to late ’90s, Gaines saw the Piedmont Housing Alliance rehabilitate rundown houses in Belmont, so he asked the nonprofit to do the same in 10th and Page.
Altogether, in the early 2000s, PHA constructed or rehabilitated 31 houses in 10th and Page, most in the heart of the neighborhood. Sunshine Mathon, the new executive of PHA, says that 71 percent of them were sold, using subsidies, to people earning an average of $28,925 a year (about 52 percent of the area median income at the time), while the rest were sold at full-market rates. Fifty-six percent of the homebuyers were people of color, says Mathon.
Gaines says he thinks it was good for the neighborhood, though he acknowledges some residents were upset. “A lot of people hollered because they felt people in the neighborhood couldn’t afford them, which probably was true in some cases,” he says. Jones was upset. “When PHA said they were going to purchase the houses and build low to moderate income, I got excited,” she says. “Because I’m thinking, somebody from Garrett will move in, somebody from Prospect, somebody who works and makes a low to moderate income, they’ll be able to own their own home. But that’s not what happened.”
While PHA’s project was underway, something else did happen, Haluska says. The city’s housing market boomed, and PHA sold some of the more central houses in 10th and Page at market rates to middle-upper-income white people. “By the time they had been built, already things had shifted,” says Haluska. “And now suddenly it was, okay, PHA just put a bunch of white people in 10th and Page neighborhood, and is this the beginning of a trend?”
The new PHA houses were intended “to attract a mix of incomes back to the neighborhood” and increase net asset growth for longtime residents, according to a PHA project booklet. Since then, neighborhood home assessments have risen, as have the number of white homebuyers. One of the most expensive new homes is a two-story house on Ninth Street NW built in 2015. It’s a modern design with gray Hardie board siding and a natural wood accent striped down the middle. Four raised wood garden beds sit next to an off-street parking spot, and an older concrete single-story accessory unit is in the backyard. It was recently assessed at $769,300. The older two-story house next door was built in 1900 and recently assessed at $202,691. Another new two-story modern design house was built in 2014 on 10 1/2 Street NW. It has a small front deck in place of a porch, and the exterior is made half of corrugated rust-colored metal siding and half of yellow and gray painted Hardie board. It was recently assessed at $422,000. The two-story house next to it, built in 1920, was assessed at $178,970.
Jones says increasing property assessments wouldn’t be so bad if she could afford to use her home as collateral to borrow against. But she can’t, and her property taxes keep increasing. “My biggest fear is that the property taxes are going to price us out,” says Jones. “We’ll lose our house, and then where do we go?” Gaines too has been hit. “Come next month, I’m going to have to shell out $1,400 to the city for property tax,” he says. The city offers tax relief for the permanently disabled and those over the age of 65, but only if they earn less than $50,000 a year and have a net worth below $125,000.
Longtime 10th and Page resident James Bryant says there’s another, more subtle, change occurring. “As white families move into the neighborhood they put up fences around their property,” says Bryant, who moved into his house on 10th Street NW in 1981. “To me, when you put a fence up, it says, ‘I don’t want to be bothered.’ To me, that’s a barrier.” Bryant says it makes him feel like a stranger in his own neighborhood. Most of the original houses in the area have front porches. Bryant and many others remember the old days when neighbors sat on porches and talked across their yards. “Neighbors knew each other,” he says. “But with the new folks coming in, they don’t introduce themselves.”
Bryant and Jones remember the days too when crime spiked in the neighborhood, and they’re thankful things have become safer again. But they note that it took white people moving in for that change to occur. “It’s not like we haven’t spoken up for ourselves over the years,” says Bryant. “It’s that, for the city, this wasn’t a priority neighborhood. I can remember a time when people wouldn’t even touch 10th and Page.”
In 2008, Lyle Solla-Yates and his wife bought their house on 10th Street NW. It was a PHA home, first sold to a young woman in 2006 whose parents ran a winery in Nelson County. “When we looked at this house, a lot of people told us, ‘You can’t live there, it’s not safe’,” recalls Solla-Yates, who is white. “And I think there was a lot of veiled racism in that.” He says he thinks it used to be a crack house before PHA took it over. The house next door was as well. That house sold in 2006 for $224,900. Five years later, a Texan bought it, after making $15.1 billion on the sale of an oil company. Solla-Yates says it was for the oil baron’s son, who was attending UVA.
Solla-Yates also attended UVA and now works for the Nature Conservancy. Lately, he’s been tracing how zoning policies established by Charlottesville’s white government were used to cut off African-Americans. (For example, in the 1950s the city government widened Preston Avenue to allow more traffic, splitting the largely African-American neighborhoods of Rose Hill and 10th and Page in two.) Solla-Yates unearthed the 1957 report that first makes the case for urban renewal, and found the City Council minutes from 1974 that closed the road connecting 10th and Page to the east—Vinegar Hill, the Jefferson School and downtown. Around this time, Page Street was cut off on the west side as well, where before it connected to the predominantly white neighborhoods of John Street and 14th Street NW.
Solla-Yates sits on the 10th and Page Community Development Block Grant task force, which funnels small pools of federal money into neighborhood infrastructure, such as new sidewalks. Solla-Yates sees that a lot of white families have moved in recently, but thinks it could be a potential force for good, a force for dismantling white supremacist zoning structures. “My theory is that if we have a certain amount of white people talking and angry, we can fight for social justice,” he says. “I’m angry about segregation. I’m angry about urban renewal. I’m angry that we’ve been intentionally segregated from the rest of the community. I’m angry that we’re underserved on infrastructure. I’m angry that we don’t have any trees. That’s all on purpose.”
A history of uprooting
Many in the city now point to mixed income housing as the potential solution to Charlottesville’s housing crisis. This follows several decades of studies showing that concentrations of poverty in neighborhoods lead to vastly disproportionate rates of crime, violence, drug use, health disparities, infant mortality rates, malnourishment and nearly every other key aspect of life.
Sharon Jones remembers the ’80s and ’90s quite well. It was a scary time, she says. The 10th and Page neighborhood had been labeled a Stay Out of Drug Area and she worried her oldest son would get caught up in the drug dealing and violence. “She was always at the door when I went outside,” recalls her son, Rickquan Jones. “I couldn’t go past the corner.” Rickquan is currently getting his master’s in sport and recreation management at George Mason University. His mom was part of a neighborhood coalition that attempted to take back 10th and Page. “We marched through the streets chanting and letting the drug dealers know we’re not going to let you take over,” she recalls.
The city’s crime spiked during this time, as did the disproportionate incarceration of African-Americans. In 1992, the Daily Progress published a year-long, six-part investigative series that found three out of four people convicted of a felony from 1989 to 1991 were black. The series pointed to two causes: the racially targeted crack-cocaine sentencing disparities, and a lack of adequate legal representation for people in poverty. The investigation led to the creation in 1998 of a public defender’s office in Charlottesville, which had not existed.
A generation earlier, in the 1960s, Charlottesville’s white city government pushed to create a housing authority in the city to not only raze Vinegar Hill, one of the largest hubs of African-American life, but to also place the city’s new public housing site in 10th and Page, concentrating one of the largest pockets of poverty in a mixed-income, predominantly African-American neighborhood. White city residents successfully lobbied to block it from their neighborhoods.
James Bryant’s family was one of the first to move into the Westhaven public housing project. While it improved some families’ living conditions, most African-Americans opposed it. In 1999, Christopher Combs writes in the Magazine of Albemarle County History: “Blacks increasingly expressed their concerns that public housing represented an attempt by city planners to create ghettos and continue the practice of residentially segregated housing.” A white public housing project was also proposed at the time, Combs writes, but the city opted instead to subsidize poor white families in private housing throughout the city, thereby deconcentrating their poverty. Years later, Bryant served for three years as a commissioner on the Charlottesville Redevelopment Housing Authority. “The whole concept of public housing was transitional housing in the ’60s,” he says. “It wasn’t meant to be permanent.”
White people too voiced opposition to public housing’s creation in the area, Combs writes, because it could have increased the number of African-Americans at the all-white Venable elementary school. Today, while children in the surrounding 10th and Page neighborhood walk to Venable, children who live in Westhaven ride a bus across town to Burnley-Moran, an elementary school opened in 1954, the same year the U.S. Supreme Court ordered school integration.
Every week for more than 20 years, Jones has been part of a group of local African-Americans and University of Virginia students that tutors young children, many from low-income families, at Zion Union Baptist Church on Preston Avenue. In the face of centuries of discrimination, education is often seen as the greatest tool for economic mobility.
Jones’ family has gone to Zion Union Baptist, originally located in Vinegar Hill, for generations. In the early 1960s as part of the city’s urban renewal project, the white Charlottesville government voted to demolish the church along with the largely African-American neighborhood. The destruction of Vinegar Hill uprooted more than 600 renters and homeowners, along with 29 African-American businesses, which had a collective income of $1.6 million in 1959, according to the book Urban Renewal and the End of Black Culture in Charlottesville, Virginia by James Saunders and Renae Shackelford. Adjusted for inflation, that’s the equivalent of $13.6 million today. “The all-white downtown businessmen association were complaining that they were losing customers to the negro businesses on Vinegar Hill,” says Richard Johnson, who lives in 10th and Page, where he grew up. “They basically told City Council, if you don’t do something about this, we’re going to do something about you.”
“It destroyed black people’s pride,” recalls Eugene Williams, 90, who was recently honored by City Council for his civil rights work, especially around affordable housing.
Vinegar Hill is the most well-known example of the city’s white government moving African-Americans, but it is not the first. About 20 years earlier, in the late 1930s, the city razed African-American homes and an Episcopal church on the north side of Vinegar Hill. In its place, it built Lane High School, where white people prevented African-Americans from attending until 1959; the school shut down for months beforehand in protest.
Twenty years earlier, in 1919, many African-Americans were forced to move from McKee Row, a collection of downtown row houses sold to the white city government so it could clear them and build a park where, less than two years later, it placed a large statue of confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
This was two years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1917 Buchanan v. Warley decision, which effectively overturned an ordinance approved by Charlottesville’s white City Council in 1912 that made it illegal for black residents to live in white neighborhoods, and vice versa, while also requiring home builders to state the race of the intended occupant in their permit applications, writes Karen Water-Wicks in 2014 in the Magazine of Albemarle County History.
Income and opportunity
The current situation in 10th and Page is different, of course. Longtime African-American residents are selling their homes willingly to young white buyers. They’re not being strong armed, or pushed out in an overt fashion. Rather, there’s a deeper, more systemic, factor at play—one in which race and economics intersect.
In 1994, Gloria Beard bought her Page Street house, where she raised her three sons. When she started as a patient care assistant at UVA in 1978, she earned $3.09 an hour. When she retired as a certified phlebotomist in 2004, she says she earned $12 an hour. Adjusted for inflation, that’s a $3-an-hour raise over the course of 25 years. (In 2015, with inflation, Beard would have earned $15.14 an hour; the national average for a phlebotomist in 2015 was $15.21 an hour.) But in Charlottesville, that’s not enough. Beard worked two additional part-time jobs on weekends to support her family, all of whom have now moved.
“Do you know this town ran all my kids away?” says Beard. “Many young people, this is their home. My kids left because there’s no jobs. Who wants to work at UVA when they don’t give you a sufficient raise? That’s not even fair. People who were born here leave because there’s no money to be made.”
In Charlottesville, from 2011-2015, the median household income for white families was $56,756. For African-American families it was $32,816. That’s a $23,940 gap, according to the Weldon Cooper Center. “Nine out of 10 of my classmates who graduated in the class of ’73, who are African-American, moved and never came back to Charlottesville,” says Richard Johnson, a 10th and Page native. “They couldn’t get a job after they graduated. I’m talking about lawyers, doctors, dentists, preachers, teachers, business people. White people wouldn’t hire them.”
A recent study on income mobility by Stanford economist Raj Chetty and Harvard economist Nathaniel Hendren found that Charlottesville ranks near the bottom, at 2,700 out of 2,885 jurisdictions, meaning that if you’re born poor in Charlottesville, you are very likely to remain poor, and that there are 2,699 other cities and counties where you’re more likely to gain wealth.
The consequences of these realities also play out in numbers. According to Weldon Cooper, over the last 115 years, the number of white people in Charlottesville has grown by 28,053, while the black population has grown by just 6,060. In 1900, there were 3,834 white people (60 percent) and 2,613 black people (40 percent) in Charlottesville. In 2015, there were 31,887 white people (80 percent), and 8,673 (20 percent) black people. Much of life in Charlottesville has been designed for and by white people, say many African-Americans. This plays a large role in why African-Americans are selling their homes when the elder generation passes away.
Lorenzo Carter grew up on 10th and Page Street in the ’60s and ’70s. He left town 10 days after he graduated from Charlottesville High School in 1976. “I wanted out of Charlottesville,” he says in a phone interview. “I didn’t feel there would be anything there for me. It just wasn’t a place I enjoyed or had a lot to offer.” Similarly, Sharon Jones’ older brother Leonard Medley moved when he turned 17, in 1963, and never came back. He’s now 72 and lives in Oakland, California. “Charlottesville had nothing to offer other than working for UVA hospital,” says Medley. “The jobs for the blacks were mediocre. For the whites, they could go to the top of any corporation there was.” Medley grew up in Vinegar Hill and moved with his family to Gospel Hill when he was 11. He recalls that banks would not loan his mother money when they lived there, a practice known as redlining. When she moved to 10th and Page, he says, they did.
This past September, the Federal Reserve Board found the median net worth of white families in 2016 was $171,000. For African-Americans, the median net worth was $17,600. A closer look at the statistics reveals that home ownership has proven to be the No. 1 way, outside of employment, that families increase their net worth. “There is a very deep national and institutional history of racial discrimination and disenfranchisement that has made it far more difficult for families of color to build wealth through home ownership specifically,” says PHA Executive Director Sunshine Mathon in an email.
Before his parents owned it, the brick house John Gaines, 80, grew up in was owned by a white policeman, and Gaines remembers another white policeman living across the street as well. The neighborhood was transitioning at that time from being racially mixed to becoming predominantly African-American, in large part because it was one of the few neighborhoods where white people did not prevent them from living there. It was the height of Jim Crow, and racial segregation was rampant.
Many of the city’s housing deeds at that time contained the clause: “This property is sold subject to the restriction that it shall be used for residential purposes only and that it shall not be owned or occupied by other than persons of the Caucasian race, family servants and servants quarters excepted.” These racial covenants existed in North Downtown, Locust Grove, Belmont, Fry’s Spring, Jefferson Park Avenue, Johnson Village and Rugby Hills.
In the decades following Emancipation, African-Americans had a number of their own neighborhoods as well, until the city began using eminent-domain, zoning policies and urban renewal to push them out. In 1930, about 50 percent of African-Americans owned homes in Charlottesville, the same percentage as white families, according to the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. But over the last 80 years, that has decreased, and now about 27 percent of African-Americans own homes, while white home ownership in the city remains at 50 percent.
Affordable housing —at a cost
Over the last several years, two giant student housing structures have been built along West Main Street, along the neighborhood’s south side, with a third building currently under construction. The massive towers loom over 10th and Page, and add nearly 900 units to the city’s housing market. But instead of making any of these apartments affordable for families making less than $50,000 a year, and creating a mixed-income housing complex, the developers and property managers—based in Georgia, Florida, Chicago and Singapore—opted to pay into the city’s affordable housing fund.
Now, all eyes are on the north end of 10th and Page after the old Monticello Dairy building and the surrounding 5.7-acre plot was sold earlier this year for $11.9 million. Chris Henry is the general manager for developer, Stony Point Design/Build, LLC, and says it aims to build a 50-to-80-foot-tall structure for 200 to 300 new multi-family units, some of which will be “affordable.” Henry says he wants to work with residents to find a common ground for the new structure. “We’re going to butt heads on some things, not everybody’s going to get what they want, including me,” says Henry. “But at the end of the day, it’s going to be a better process.” Henry’s company commissioned the design of a walking green space in the center of Preston Avenue. “Maybe this could be a way to try and heal some of the damage that was done,” says Henry. The company also owns the building across 10th Street NW where, until recently, the New Covenant Pentecostal Church worshipped. Henry says the congregation moved on its own accord to a new location in the county. One possible use of the church, which is historically protected, is turning it into an affordable daycare for nearby residents, he says.
City planner Brian Haluska says this project comes as Charlottesville is breaking free from its old ways of developing neighborhoods. “Planning is beginning to focus a lot on people who have traditionally been left out of the process—marginalized groups that our processes are very much geared towards not serving or not notifying,” says Haluska. “They’ve been designed historically for people who have resources and can engage in that process. How do you reimagine these processes so everybody can be included?”
Jeremy Caplin, however, is worried that the added housing will tilt the market while also increasing traffic through the neighborhood. For the last 30 years, he’s quietly bought nearly 70 houses in 10th and Page, renting them out at deeply affordable rates to extremely low-income residents. His lowest rent is $200 a month, he says, and his highest is $990 a month for a five-bedroom house. He estimates the majority of his renters are African-American. “I try to preserve what’s left of the black culture in this neighborhood and to preserve these houses,” says Caplin. “This crowd never got any respect or any financial breaks or any help. I’ve had a lot of breaks, a lot of help. I see how the world works, and it’s just unfair. The deck was stacked. You get a deal of cards in life, and many people in this neighborhood got no high cards.”
Caplin first started by securing a loan to fix up the house of an African-American man who worked for his family. The man had an existing loan at 30 percent interest and he was set to default, which would have cost him his house. “I said, ‘This is not happening; I’m going to be the guy who fixes this,” says Caplin, who got a loan from his father and saved the man’s house. Caplin looked around the neighborhood and saw an increasing number of boarded-up houses. “Why isn’t anybody paying attention?” he wondered. One by one, he started buying houses, fixing them up and renting them through word-of-mouth. In the beginning, Caplin says, realtors wouldn’t even take a listing in the neighborhood. “They would scoff at the idea of having their sign in this neighborhood,” he says.
Caplin follows in some large footsteps. From 1960 through 1980, Eugene Williams, a civil rights activist and former president of the local NAACP chapter, amassed more than 60 properties that became Dogwood Housing. Though not exclusively within 10th and Page, some of the houses were in the neighborhood, and have long given residents affordable rents, along with any needed financial literacy and workforce training to help ensure income mobility. Wallace Dowell too has preserved six affordable housing units, directly across the street from the 10th Street B&B, which he runs with his wife, Antoinette.
Caplin says he’s keeping his profit margin small and reinvesting earnings into property maintenance, which more developers and landlords could do. “It gets into [the] ethical question of how much profit is reasonable,” he says. “How much can you live with? Are you happy making 5 percent? Or do you feel you have to make 20 percent?” Caplin mostly hires neighborhood residents to do the work on the houses, he says. But no matter how many properties he buys—and he is heavily leveraged—he knows he can’t get them all.
Often, when considering a new tenant, Caplin will seek the input of lifelong locals like Jones, who says, if not for Caplin, “everything would be bought, remodeled and sold for $300,000 to $400,000. He’s keeping affordable housing in the neighborhood.
“If I hadn’t bought my house when I bought it, and if the lot didn’t belong to my grandmother who died and then passed it down to my dad, and if they hadn’t given me the lot, God knows where I would be,” Jones says. “Because I couldn’t afford to buy a house in Charlottesville anywhere now.”