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Charlottesville Affordable Housing Action Items

1.      City Housing Strategy

  • Background: Currently, Charlottesville City staff is working on drafting a process and some guidelines for a comprehensive housing strategy that they plan to present to City Council sometime in the next couple of months.
  • Habitat’s Position: We support the development of a comprehensive housing strategy. We believe it will be most effective when:

1.      It is generated as a result of a meaningful and authentic community process.

2.      It is drafted and voted on by the City Council-appointed Housing Advisory Committee (HAC) and should be presented to Council by the HAC.

3.      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.

4.      It is regional in scope and involves public/private partnership as well as significant policy incentives for market provision of affordable housing.

5.      It is inclusive of all ladders of opportunity, with affordable homeownership as a key component.

6.      It maintains flexibility in funding strategies, including the allowance of lump sum payments to recipients.

7.      It remains a grant program instead of a revolving loan program given that serving the neediest of neighbors usually requires substantial subsidy. 

  • Action Needed: Please contact City Council at council@charlottesville.org to express support for the generation of a holistic housing strategy and request that they direct staff according to the following priorities:

1.      Make it a product of extensive community outreach.

2.      Include support for the entire ladder of housing opportunities, from homelessness 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.      Landlord Risk Reduction Program

  • 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 landlord’s 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.

  • Habitat’s Position: Habitat supports the creation of this fund. 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.

  • 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.

3.      City Land Bank

  • Background: In November, following a summer vote from City Council to prioritize identification and sale/lease of City land for affordable housing, City Staff asked Council to vote on creating a City Land Bank Authority to buy, hold and dispose of all City property.

At the hearing, numerous members of the public expressed concern over a few issues:

1.      Lack of public outreach in generating the proposal.

2.      Affordable housing was listed as just one of several priorities.

3.      The makeup of the proposed Land Bank board of directors was primarily City staff without any public, NGO or low-income representation.

4.      Concern that the Land Bank would be used to usurp the authority of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority to redevelop its properties according to the Public Housing Association’s Positive Vision for Redevelopment.

  • Habitat’s Position: We believe that a City land bank idea has merit. For it to be effective, it should:

1.      Be a product of significant community engagement.

2.      Specify explicitly that the land should be used for affordable housing.

3.      Have a board with at least one elected official, one member of the Housing Advisory Committee and one representative of low-income communities.

4.      Be used to address affordable housing needs across the spectrum, from low income rentals to affordable homeownership.

  • Action Needed: Contact City Council at council@charlottesville.org and ask them to only consider voting for a land bank that specifies the use of land for affordable housing, that includes a diverse group of stakeholders on the board and that addresses affordable housing across the full spectrum of need, from deeply affordable rentals to affordable homeownership.

4.      Waiver of Fees for Affordable Housing

  • 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%.
  • 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.
  • 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.

5.      Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund Administrative and Funding Procedures

  • Background: Recently, Charlottesville Department of Neighborhood Development staff unilaterally changed policy in a way that eliminated up front and lump sum funding for Council-supported housing initiatives. This strict reimbursement model hamstrings organizations which compete for resources in the open market. This way of administering funding will potentially jeopardize affordable housing providers’ ability to act swiftly when purchasing property, allocating grant funding to recipients and responding to emergent challenges and opportunities.
  • Habitat’s Position: We believe that CAHF funding should be allowed to be allocated in lump sum payments.
  • Action Needed: Contact City Manager Maurice Jones at CityMan@charlottesville.org and City Council at council@charlottesville.org and ask them to direct staff to restore the possibility of lump sum payments of Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund allocations to City grant recipients.

6.      Charlottesville Comprehensive Plan Update

  • Background: Every five years, City Council updates its Comprehensive Plan which, among other things, provides a map for future land use across the City. On Monday, November 28th, the Planning Commission released a first draft of the future land use map. The Planning Commission drafted the map with several features that are of interest to proponents of affordable housing.

1.      They wrote into various zoning districts the provision of extra allowable height for projects that include on site affordable housing.

2.      They lowered the allowable intensity and size of buildings across many districts.

3.      They suggested several new zoning district classifications.

  • Habitat’s Position: Habitat believes there is merit in providing height bonuses (and other allowances) for inclusion of on-site affordable housing. However, we strongly believe that the City needs to engage an expert in housing finance to evaluate the likely results of the suggested changes. At present, based on comparable data from other Virginia municipalities, it does not appear that the extra height allowances in the draft will provide sufficient incentive for inclusion of on-site units. In fact, by lowering the by-right allowances, it might have the unintended consequence of reducing incentives for affordable housing.
  • Action Needed: Contact the City Planning Commission at PlanningCommission@charlottesville.org and City Council at council@charlottesville.org and ask them to engage an expert in housing finance to evaluate expected results of the provision of height bonuses as part of the Comprehensive Plan update. The ordinance should be carefully crafted from data so as to properly incentivize the provision of onsite affordable housing.

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: 12/11/17