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Charlottesville Affordable Housing Action Items

June/July 2018 


1.    Needs Assessment

a. Background: Last week City Council heard a report from a consultant regarding a Housing Needs Assessment and an evaluation of the potential for bonus height for incentivizing affordable housing. That report can be found here:

http://www.charlottesville.org/home/showdocument?id=62034

b. Habitat’s Position: Attached to the end of this Advocacy Agenda is a letter written to City Council which details Habitat’s position.

c. Action Needed: Please contact the Housing Advisory Committee at HousingAdvisoryCommittee@charlottesville.org and City Council at council@charlottesville.org.  

Please request that they: 

  1. Insist on a comprehensive approach to affordable housing.  
  2. Recognize homeownership as a tool for building equity and wealth. 
  3. Focus on the uneven distribution of affordable housing and wealth in Charlottesville.

2.    Comprehensive Process for Addressing the Housing Crisis

a. Background: There are multiple initiatives occurring in the City that will impact affordable housing: The Comprehensive Plan Update, Zoning Code Update, Standards and Design Manual Update, Housing Strategy, Housing Needs Assessment, etc.

b. Habitat’s Position: We are extremely supportive of each of these initiatives but would like to see them conducted in a coherent and organized way so that the sum total of new policy/strategies can line up with each other and create the conditions by which we can effectively address the affordable housing crisis.

c. Action Needed: Please contact the Planning Commission at PlanningCommission@charlottesville.org, the Housing Advisory Committee at HousingAdvisoryCommittee@charlottesville.org, and City Council at council@charlottesville.org.

Please request that they follow a logical progression for generating comprehensive housing policy as follows:

  1. Augment the recent Needs Assessment with data that considers a broader spectrum of needs such as affordable homeownership, transitional housing, rehab, etc.  
  2. Conduct extensive outreach to hear the needs, desires and abilities of local, low-wealth residents.
  3. From the data and outreach, generate a shared common vision of success, complete with community-wide metrics.
  4. From this vision, create a housing strategy that addresses the crisis holistically.
  5. Generate an implementation plan, tied to funding decisions and policy changes. Each of the current studies under review (including the Standards and Design Manual, zoning code update, Comprehensive Plan, etc.) should be explicitly linked to this implementation plan.  

3.    City of Charlottesville Neighborhood Development Services Review

a. Background: On February 9th, the City of Charlottesville released a consultant’s report evaluating the performance of the City’s Planning Department. The report can be found at http://www.charlottesville.org/home/showdocument?id=61299.  

b. Habitat’s Position: We believe that the City will maximize its return on investment in affordable housing when all of its departments operate at peak efficiency. As such, we encourage City Council to carefully consider the consultants’ report and evaluate NDS fairly and critically with the end goal of improving the application review process and, in particular, expediting it significantly for affordable housing. 

c. Action Needed: Contact City Council at council@charlottesville.org and let them know that you support:

  1. Immediately addressing the challenges to efficient operations identified in the Neighborhood Development Services Review Report from February 9th, 2018.
  2. Prioritizing a search for a City Manager with extensive experience overseeing improvements to the urban built environment and who has significant executive experience. 
  3. Collecting performance measurement benchmarks from other – particularly higher performing – municipalities and setting goals for review time, affordable housing provision, etc. based on best practices.
  4. Performing an audit of cost overruns related to the City review process for all projects that include affordable housing.

4.    Landlord Risk Reduction Program

a. Background:  In November, the Charlottesville City Council voted to create a Landlord Risk Reduction Program that backstops potential damage to a rental unit by a low-income voucher holder in exchange for a deed-restriction that keeps the unit affordable for a specified period of time. The availability of a fund like this in other municipalities has generated momentum toward landlords’ increased acceptance of rental assistance vouchers.

At the meeting, Councilor Wes Bellamy expressed concern that the program did not go far enough in addressing the true need of voucher holders trying to find a suitable rental – that is, coming up with a security deposit. As part of their vote, Council asked staff to investigate ways that this program could backstop all or part of a security deposit for low-income renters.

b. Habitat’s Position: Habitat supports the creation of this program. For it to be effective, it needs to provide funding to assist with a low-income renter’s deposit. Statistics tend to show that the inability to cover first month’s rent AND a security deposit is a primary factor keeping people homeless or unable to rent a suitable unit.

Additionally, the way that the program will be administered will require landlords to file a judgement against anyone they believe has damaged their property, potentially creating a downward spiral for renters regardless of whether or not they have caused damage.

c. Action Needed: Contact City Council at council@charlottesville.org and let them know that you support a Landlord Risk Reduction Program that includes assistance with security deposits for low-income renters and eliminates the need to pursue renters via legal action to make use of the program. 

5.  Waiver of Fees for Affordable Housing

a. Background: In a recent recommendation to Council, the Housing Advisory Committee recommended waiving all fees in conjunction with any applications for proposals with on-site affordable housing. In following up, staff recommended including only site plan and subdivision submission fees, leaving a host of waivable fees that could make the provision of affordable housing more economically viable. Studies have shown that a full waiver of fees can reduce costs by as much as 10%.

b. Habitat’s Position: We believe that this is a good initiative and that waiving all allowable fees could incentivize the provision of affordable housing by market entities. 

c. Action Needed: Contact City Council at council@charlottesville.org and ask them to direct staff to waive ALL allowable fees related to applications that include a minimum of 15% on site affordable housing.

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Dear Mayor Walker and Members of City Council,

First off, thank you for commissioning a housing needs assessment. This is a critical first step in quantifying the issue so that we can create a long-term, coordinated, and strategic approach to addressing the affordable housing crisis that has left too many people in this community behind.
There is a lot of good data in this report. Here are a few things that jump off the page:

There is 99% occupancy rate in Cville. Not surprisingly, rents have increased 18% over the past three years. We are exceedingly supply-constrained. 

  • There is a shortage of roughly 4,000 affordable units relative to the need.
  • The cost burden falls disproportionately on low-income residents. 85% of residents earning $20,000 or less are cost burdened by housing.
  • Almost no affordable housing opportunities exist in upper income census tracts in the City.

Here are some statistics the report did not include:

  • Racial wage gap. The proportionate wages of African Americans in the US relative to the general population at large is 60%. That is a tragedy.
  • Racial wealth gap. This is the most troubling statistic of all. The proportionate wealth of African Americans in the US relative to the general population is just 10%. This carries from one generation to the next.
  • Why is the wealth situation even worse than the wage situation?

The answer is simple: a century of discriminatory housing policy. 

A century ago, most American neighborhoods were relatively integrated and homeownership was more evenly distributed among demographic groups.  Jobs were concentrated in urban areas and people of all incomes walked to work, so people of all races lived in close proximity to one another. 

In response to a housing shortage caused by the Great Depression, the Federal Government began building public housing. However, public housing projects – unlike other neighborhoods – were segregated by law and built for whites or blacks only.

In 1934, the Federal Housing Administration -- created to lend to residential homebuilders – made things much worse. Over the next few decades, it spurred the single greatest expansion of our economy and – via homeownership-- of individual wealth creation in our history. But this wealth didn’t accrue to everyone.  The FHA only lent to builders who included racially restrictive covenants and primarily provided loans in “whites only” new suburban, single family neighborhoods. 

Much of Charlottesville’s housing stock was created with such (now invalidated) racial deed restrictions. 

It bears stressing: The net result of these historic policies is that African Americans have largely been excluded from the single greatest source of wealth creation in history: homeownership.
Nonetheless, despite this wealth gap, we seem to be at a point in time when we are poised to repeat many of the mistakes of the past. In the Daily Progress this morning, City Housing Specialist Stacy Pethia was quoted as saying we need to “invest in rental housing more so than homeownership.”

Clearly, building more rental units needs to be a key component of our housing strategy. 
But what we’ve heard time and again from the local, low-wealth families we partner with, is that the City must promote housing solutions at all rungs of the opportunity ladder. 

  1. The report identifies a 25% delta between ownership in the County and in the City. Only 37% of homes in Charlottesville are owner-occupied compared with 62% in the County. While the County is more on par with the national average, the national homeownership rate is also at a historic 25-year low.
  2. The report is quantitative only. The needs assessment notes on pages 1 and 2 the current initiatives to study the City’s housing issue, such as the Comprehensive Plan update and Affordable housing plan. But it leaves out perhaps the most important study underway – the development of a comprehensive City Housing Strategy. Why is this strategy so important? Because it is to be derived from grassroots listening. The Housing Advisory Committee is hopeful that this strategy will be a result of outreach into the low-wealth community, asking opinions instead of making assumptions and asking questions such as “What are your goals? What are your needs?”  Based on the several hundred conversations we at Habitat have had thus far, these interactions will likely show that the affordable housing crisis is not a monolithic challenge with a single solution. Nonetheless…
  3. The Needs Assessment takes the form of a market analysis for low-income rental housing and seems to be nudging us toward a monolithic answer – large LIHTC rental buildings with limited affordability periods, built in poorer areas of town where the land is the cheapest. We know that low-wealth families also aspire to build wealth, own their own homes, and access the opportunities available in every area of the City. We also know that some folks have housing needs (such as many supportive services) that won’t be helped by LITHC. LIHTC is critical, especially with respect to projects like CRHA redevelopment and Friendship Court’s renaissance. Support for it needs to be part of a larger strategy.
  4. The needs assessment conflates the terms “affordable housing” and “rental housing.” But the two are not synonymous. Affordable housing is generally more a product of the subsidy involved than the ownership type.

At Habitat, for example, a family of three at 30% of AMI pays $440 per months for all of their housing expenses leaving them room to save money for college or better transportation, etc…whereas the same family in a supported rental would pay $520 per month—and not earn any equity. 

A healthy local housing system has opportunities across the housing spectrum. We need LIHTC. We also need deeply subsidized and supported housing for people with disabilities. We need paths out of homelessness. We need affordable homeownership for those who wish to gain equity. We need home rehabilitation for people who have been pillars of their neighborhoods so that they can stay in their homes. 

Primary Takeaways & Suggestions:

  1. Insist on a comprehensive approach to affordable housing. Every Charlottesville resident deserves an opportunity to find a housing solution that fits his or her goals and abilities, with a broad spectrum of rental and ownership opportunities across all income levels.  Please direct staff, The Planning Commission and the Housing Advisory Committee to bring forward comprehensive plans for improving our housing system with opportunities across the spectrum.  
  2. Recognize homeownership as a tool for building equity and wealth. Lack of access to homeownership has created racial wealth disparities and limited opportunities in ways that even Jim Crow laws couldn’t. We need to address this by helping longtime, low-income residents stay safely in the homes they own and we need aggressive, proactive policies that enable low-income renters to become homeowners.  
  3. Focus on the uneven distribution of affordable housing and wealth in Charlottesville. In order to create a more just and equitable Charlottesville – with housing opportunities everywhere – we need to strongly, aggressively and proactively create policy to counter 100 years of publicly-enforced housing segregation.  

This page will be updated on a monthly basis with new action items for people looking to advocate for affordable housing solutions in the greater Charlottesville area.

Last update: 7/2/18