City makes Section 3 position permanent with eye to moving redevelopment forward

At last week's meeting, City Council voted unanimously to make the Section 3 coordinator position permanent. Photo: Charlottesville Tomorrow At last week’s meeting, City Council voted unanimously to make the Section 3 coordinator position permanent. Photo: Charlottesville Tomorrow

City Council voted unanimously last week to permanently fund its Section 3 coordinator, a previously temporary position that bridges the gap between the city and the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority. Despite differing opinions on where the money should come from, city officials agree that the position—currently held by Tierra Howard—is essential for the Housing Authority to succeed in its future redevelopment plans.

The Section 3 program requires that recipients of federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds provide job training, employment, and contract opportun-
ities for low-income and public housing residents in connection with projects and activities in their own neighborhoods.

Former City Council member Holly Edwards pushed for the creation of the Section 3 Coordinator position in 2011, and the city used money from the housing budget to fund it for up to 18 months. The city and the CRHA both receive HUD funding, and Howard’s focus has been on registering businesses, creating program procedures and forms, and building community-business relationships.

“I’m just grateful that the position is permanent,” Howard said. “When you start something, it takes more than a year and six months to actually see it working.”

During last week’s brief discussion, City Councilors agreed that Howard’s position should be permanent, but did not come to a consensus on how to fund it.

“We don’t have to decide how it should be funded, although I think the housing fund is appropriate,” Councilor Kristin Szakos said. “Home funds are used for programming, and I think this is programming within that tightly delineated category.”

Councilor Kathy Galvin said she wasn’t tied to a particular pot of money, but former mayor Dave Norris said he wants to see the money come from the city’s general fund.

“It sends the signal that this commitment to doing Section 3 work isn’t just a passing notion,” Norris said. “It’s going to be a permanent commitment of the city and the Housing Authority.”

Money in the housing fund is specifically earmarked for the renovation and preservation of affordable housing units in the city, and Norris said the city shouldn’t have to reallocate valuable housing improvement money.

“We shouldn’t have to choose between housing and jobs,” he said. “We can do both.”

Funding aside, city officials and CRHA staff are pleased with Howard’s progress as program coordinator, and look forward to the Section 3 program playing a role in redevelopment, which they hope is just around the corner. When the CRHA begins redevelopment in the city, a stock of low-income residents qualified under the Section 3 program will be ready to go to work, providing both employment and improved housing.

CRHA Executive Director Connie Dunn, who’s been pushing for a public housing overhaul and a closer working relationship with the city, said Howard’s efforts have opened new doors for the Housing Authority.

“It’s training us to be in a position to offer employment opportunities as they come along in the future,” Dunn said. “This program is instrumental toward our future redevelopment plans.”

The CRHA has been under fire for its inability to move redevelopment forward, a problem accentuated by federal funding cuts and a revolving door of leadership. But with a successful Section 3 program in place, Norris said 2013 could be the year of change for the agency.

“The progress is inching forward,” Norris said. “Hopefully this is the year when it’ll really take hold and we’ll start moving on the first project.”