The head of an area housing nonprofit says he is confident the redevelopment of the Southwood Mobile Home Park in Albemarle County will provide opportunities to improve the lives of the people who currently live there.
“We believe that Southwood is going to be a model for how to redo aging urban areas in this county and do so without gentrification and without displacement,” said Dan Rosensweig, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville.
Rosensweig briefed the Board of Supervisors recently on Habitat’s efforts at Southwood, which he called the largest concentration of affordable housing in the county.
“[We have] the opportunity to do it right and to do redevelopment compassionately and do it with the goals of the whole area in mind,” he said. “And to do it in a way that empowers people who live there to take charge and command of their future.”
Southwood marks the second time Habitat has purchased a trailer park in the area with the intent of redeveloping it into a mixed-income community.
In 2004, the organization purchased the former Sunrise Trailer Park in Charlottesville after learning that the families who lived there were at risk of being displaced.
“The residents of Sunrise were under the threat of immediate eviction because the trailer park had been purchased and the new owner was going to build luxury condos,” Rosensweig said.
Nine of 16 families decided to stay and a total of 66 dwelling units have been built at the now-completed Sunrise Court in the city’s Belmont-Carlton neighborhood.
“Sunrise Court today is a neighborhood of front porches, back porches and open space,” Rosensweig said. “It’s probably one of the most diverse communities in Charlottesville, certainly in terms of income.”
Habitat’s plans for Southwood have long been known to the community. The organization purchased 88 acres in 2007 for $7 million and has invested millions in road improvements, sewer upgrades and other infrastructure. Habitat also purchased about 32 acres nearby.
Today there are 1,500 residents in 320 trailers that sit on 120 acres. One of those residents is Juan Garza, who has lived in Southwood for more than 20 years.
“We’ve been excited since they said one day they would have enough donors and people where we can start to see and build the plan,” Garza said. “It would be great to replace our mobile home with a house.”
The current zoning for the site allows for two dwelling units per acre, so Habitat will need a rezoning to achieve higher densities. An application is not imminent.
“They are interested in working with staff and their community in developing an application,” said Mark Graham, Albemarle’s community development director. “We are looking forward to working with them.”
Habitat has asked for volunteers to go through the process first as “early adopters.”
“We’re going to train them in architecture, in planning … and in finance, and we’re going to stand by with them as they design a model village,” Rosensweig said.
Garza is one of the early adopters. He said he hopes day care centers, stores and other commercial activities will be part of the final master plan, as well as athletic fields for the children.
“We have a lot of different ideas [about how] to see this place become more convenient to the people who live here and those who will come to this area,” Garza said.
Rosensweig said the goal is to bring that model village before the Board of Supervisors sometime in 2017. This will serve as a template for a rezoning that would follow the county’s Neighborhood Model guidelines.
The rezoning will be one of the largest in the county’s southern development area. In 2007, supervisors approved a rezoning in the adjacent Biscuit Run property, but in late 2009 that land was transferred to the state for use as a new state park.
As part of the Southwood rezoning, Rosensweig said Habitat will dedicate land for playing fields and will contribute to the area’s trail network.
Rosensweig said he has been working with the county’s economic development office to determine if there is any land at Southwood that could be made available to businesses that want to locate within Albemarle.
“That would give us two to three years to partner perhaps with Piedmont Virginia Community College to train residents at Southwood for those specific jobs that could locate at Southwood,” he said.
Supervisors had few questions for Rosensweig after the briefing.
“It sounds fantastic,” said Supervisor Norman Dill. However, he wanted to know how Habitat would keep home prices affordable.
“We think we have a model that works,” Rosensweig said, saying there will be three housing demographics.
One will be subsidized rental housing for people at the lowest end of the income spectrum.
Middle-class housing will go to Habitat partner families who will purchase and help build their own housing.
The third category will be market-rate units.
“There are multiple mechanisms within their mortgages that keep those homes affordable for a period of time,” Rosensweig said. “Habitat always maintains the right of first refusal to purchase it back. We almost always do it if it resells.”
Of 189 homes built by Habitat Charlottesville, Rosensweig said 180 are still occupied by Habitat families. He also said families are strongly encouraged to pass their homes on to their heirs.
Garza said the value of mobile homes depreciate over time, which means there is not much of an asset for families to pass on from generation to generation.
“We hope this will give a chance to buy a house at affordable prices,” Garza said.