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Charlottesville Affordable Housing Action Items

March/April 2018 


1.    City Housing Strategy

a. Background: The City’s Housing Advisory Committee has formed a subcommittee to advise the City on a process for generating a comprehensive housing strategy.

b. Habitat’s Position: We support the development of a comprehensive housing strategy. We believe it will be most effective when:

  • It is generated as a result of a meaningful and authentic community process.
  • It is drafted and voted on by the City Council-appointed Housing Advisory Committee (HAC) and should be presented to Council by the HAC.
  • It is an outgrowth of a “listening process” by which residents in need of better housing are engaged as “experts” in the process of understanding the real barriers to affordable housing in the community.
  • It is inclusive of all ladders of opportunity, with affordable homeownership as a key component.
  • It remains a grant program instead of a revolving loan program given that serving the neediest of neighbors usually requires substantial subsidy. 
  • It includes opportunities for affordable homeownership.

c. Action Needed: Please contact City Council at council@charlottesville.org and members of the Housing Advisory Committee at HousingAdvisoryCommittee@charlottesville.org to express support for the generation of a holistic housing strategy and request that they elevate the following priorities:

  1. Make it a product of extensive community outreach.
  2. Include support for the entire ladder of housing opportunities, from homeless mitigation to affordable homeownership.
  3. Insure that the City Affordable Housing Fund remains a grant program and is not converted to a revolving loan program.
  4. Require that it be vetted, voted upon and presented directly to Council by the City’s Housing Advisory Committee, a City-Council-appointed body comprising stakeholders and experts from the entire housing sector.

2.    Comprehensive Plan Review and Update

a. Background: Every five years, the City of Charlottesville is required to review and, if appropriate, update its Comprehensive Plan – the primary planning and policy document guiding the direction of development in the City over a 30-year time horizon. Currently, a major revision is scheduled to come from the Planning Commission to City Council for a vote in June 2018. 

Several housing coalitions, including the Charlottesville Albemarle Affordable Housing Coalition, The Charlottesville Low Income Housing Coalition and the Charlottesville Area Development Roundtable have requested that City Council direct the Planning Commission to delay presenting a future land use plan until AFTER the City has completed its comprehensive housing strategy. Currently, the plan is scheduled for a vote PRIOR to understanding our housing needs and agreeing on a common vision. 

Last month, City Council voted to delay the vote until October 2018.

b. Habitat’s Position: Council's vote was a good first step, but did not go far enough.

Given the importance of making progress in the affordable housing realm, we ask that adoption of  the Comprehensive Plan – and especially the Land Use and Housing sections – be deferred pending completion of the following:

  1. A quantitative and qualitative housing needs assessment
  2. A third-party economic analysis of any proposed land use designations
  3. A comprehensive, community-responsive Housing Strategy that provides safe, decent and affordable options for people of all incomes, particularly those at the low end of the AMI scale, and actively promotes and provides opportunities for movement up the housing and economic ladders. 

c. Action Needed: Contact City Council at council@charlottesville.org and let them know that you support a deferring the adoption of the Comprehensive Plan update pending completion of the three items listed above.

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 and City Manager Maurice Jones 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. 

We support:
i.    Immediately beginning a search for an Assistant City Manager for the Built Environment who will oversee and, if necessary, restructure NDS operations.
ii.    Collecting performance measurement benchmarks from other –particularly high performing – municipalities and setting goals for review time, affordable housing provision, etc. based on best practices.
 

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. Immediately beginning a search for an Assistant City Manager for the Built Environment who will oversee and, if necessary, restructure NDS operations.
  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.

6.   Land Bank Corporation

a. Background: The Housing Advisory Committee has recommended to the Charlottesville City Council that they pass an ordinance creating a Land Bank Corporation that can acquire and dispose of land for the purpose of affordable housing. .

b. Habitat’s Position: We believe that this is a good initiative that will add a tool to the local tool-belt helping partners create affordable housing. The HAC recommendation ensures significant transparency and inclusion of low-income residents in the decision-making process.

c. Action Needed: Contact City Council at council@charlottesville.org and ask them to support the specific HAC recommendation for creating a Land Bank.

7.   Habitat's Federal Legislative

a. Background: President Trump’s budget outline zeroed out funding for every major program that supports affordable housing. Habitat chooses to advocate for federal housing programs and appropriations that have a proven track record of effectiveness as judged by metrics such as units created or preserved and private funding leveraged. Additionally, the President’s budget is calling for significant cuts to funds for public housing as well as increasing the percentage of income residents pay for their housing.

b. Habitat’s Position: We support the following three critical housing programs:

i. SHOP – The Self Help Homeownership Opportunity Program is the only federal program that helps affordable housing providers support families as they build their own homes. It is one of the only funding sources for land acquisition and development and for property acquisition to support threatened neighborhoods. It is one of the most highly leveraged programs in the country. Thus far, over two decades, $200MM of SHOP funds have leveraged more than $1.4B in private investment and helped more than 70,000 people become homeowners.

FY ’18 funding level: $10MM; Habitat’s request $15MM

ii. HOME – HOME funds support the entire spectrum of housing entities as they create and maintain affordable housing. Habitat uses HOME funds to augment Partner Families’ down payments.

FY ’18 funding level: $950MM; Habitat’s request $1B

iii. USDA 502 Rural Direct Loan Program: USDA 502 supports credit worthy low-income rural residents by originating long-term loans at 1%. In many cases, 502 loans help residents purchase a home without any other intervention.

Residents of Southwood are eligible for USDA loans which could be tremendously helpful in Habitat’s work to support more than 340 families who may wish to transition from renting trailer pads to owning their own homes.

Habitat request $1B

Additionally, we oppose cuts in funding for public housing authorities, raising rents on low income residents of public housing and imposing additional work requirements on public housing tenants.

c. Action Needed: Please contact your Representative and Senators to request their support of the following three critical affordable housing programs:

  • SHOP ($15MM)
  • HOME ($1B)
  • USDA 502 ($1B)

Also ask them to oppose cuts in funding for public housing authorities, raising rents on low income residents of public housing and imposing additional work requirements on public housing tenants.

If you live in Charlottesville or Albemarle, your Congressman is Tom Garrett: VA05TG.Outreach@mail.house.gov

Your Senators are Mark Warner: www.warner.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact; Tim Kaine: https://www.kaine.senate.gov/contact

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: 3/26/18