More than 100 people representing a dozen organizations rallied and marched in support of residents of Belmont Apartments May 5, the same day tenants whose leases have expired were told to vacate their apartments at 1000 Monticello Rd.
The Charlottesville Low-Income Housing Coalition gathered representatives from activist and faith groups to march from Belmont to the Free Speech Wall and call for owner Drew Holzwarth to keep the 23 units in the complex affordable and to allow the residents, may of whom are elderly, disabled, or low-income, to stay in their apartments.
In a May 6 statement, Holzwarth says that ultimately, if he can build another 11 micro-apartments at the site, 23 units will remain affordable at the 46-year-old complex.
The property was sold by its longtime owners in January 2018 for $2 million to Core Real Estate, which then sold it to Holzwarth’s Piedmont Realty Holdings a year later for $2.75 million.
Elaine Poon with Legal Aid Justice Center and other members of the housing coalition met with Holzwarth and “suggested he consider selling to a nonprofit,” she says. “He did not take the bait.”
Antoine Parker has lived in Belmont Apartments for six years, and says when the complex sold for the second time in a year, “my antenna went up.” Parker has not found a new place to live, and he notes that most of the tenants are older and are being uprooted from their homes.
He says he understands that the evictions are a “business decision,” but he asks, “At what point do you have a moral obligation to give [tenants] some help?”
Thomas Holden is legally blind from early onset macular degeneration. He says he’s found a new place “across town,” and it costs more than the $600 he’s currently paying for his one-bedroom apartment.
Holzwarth, who built Piedmont Place in Crozet and is president of Stanley Martin Homes Piedmont region, seems astounded that he’s been cast as the bad guy in this scenario. He says he’s a local philanthropist who’s done quite a bit for affordable housing. Of the rally, he says, “I’m a little disillusioned.”
After closing on the apartments, “we learned that the project has been the victim of significant neglect, and the tenants were living in conditions which were and should be unacceptable to them,” he says in a statement.
It was not possible to do the major renovation, including re-plumbing, replacing the HVAC systems, and fumigating the building, while the residents were still there, he says. His company and BMC Property Management will work with tenants to make sure no one became homeless, and he insists that no one’s lease was terminated that was still in effect. “Tenants will not be required to vacate without a safe place to go,” he says.
In meeting with the housing coalition, Holzwarth says he realized he could get a special use permit to add 11 micro-apartments. He’s pledged to keep those units affordable for people earning 70 percent of the area median income, “an ambitious challenge with new construction.”
With 68 percent of the apartments affordable, Holzwarth says that could be a model for other developers. “[W]e are making a significant personal and financial commitment to helping address the affordable housing crisis in the City of Charlottesville.”
Building the additional units “was actually our idea,” Poon says, and she offered to help Holzwarth get affordable housing credits.
And while she appreciates his goal to keep units affordable, “at the moment, disabled individuals are struggling to find a place to live.” She’d like Holzwarth to come back to the table and says, “It’s not a huge ask to let a handful of residents stay at the rent they’re at now.”
Correction May 8: If he’s allowed to build the 11 micro-apartments, Holzwarth plans to make those affordable for people earning 70 percent of the area median income, not 23 units as originally reported. Twelve units in the renovated complex will be affordable under HUD guidelines of 80 percent area median income.