The city of Charlottesville owns nearly 100 parcels within its city limits, and the City Council is considering the possibility of selling some of that property to help build more housing.
A subcommittee of the city’s Housing Advisory Committee put the final touches Wednesday on a proposed policy for a land bank corporation.
“Do we need a land bank?” asked Dan Rosensweig, the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville. “Does it seem like a tool that can advance the goal of affordable housing?”
Rosensweig also is the chairman of the HAC subcommittee tasked with creating the ordinance for the council to consider at a future meeting.
The creation of a land bank is one of several recommendations that came out of a 2016 study of the city’s housing market.
“Where we’ve gotten to is [a] pretty strong commitment that, first and foremost, [a land bank is] for affordable housing, as well as second-most, third-most and fourth-most,” Rosensweig said.
However, some parcels may not suitable for affordable housing, so language in the draft ordinance would allow other potential uses.
Currently, the city must offer unwanted or surplus property through a request for proposals and the City Council makes a final decision. For example, the council decided in April 2014 to sell land on Kenwood Lane that was not needed by the city’s parks and recreation department. The winning proposal was from a couple who used the lot to build a home.
The land bank initially would have a board of directors consisting of the city manager, a city councilor, the city finance director, someone from the real estate community and two recommendations from the Legal Aid Justice Center. This board would have the power to appoint future members.
Under the proposed ordinance, the land bank would have the right of first refusal to purchase city land.
“It establishes a level of priority that would reflect the crisis that we are in,” said Ridge Schuyler, a HAC member and dean of self-sufficiency at Piedmont Virginia Community College. “I think there is a lot of detail to be worked out but I think we need to advance it.”
But for what level of affordable housing should the land bank be used as it collaborates with both profit and nonprofit entities?
“Most of the nonprofits are basically building housing for [people making] between 60 percent and 80 percent of the area’s annual median income,” said Joy Johnson, of the Public Housing Association of Residents. “We are where we are now because people are struggling to rent.”
Sunshine Mathon, executive director of the Piedmont Housing Alliance, responded that agencies could more easily build housing for families with extremely low incomes.
“Nonprofits have the ability to bring in additional resources that for-profit companies don’t,” Mathon said. “If it comes up to a bidding war, if a nonprofit can make the numbers, they can provide a level of affordability that the private developers cannot.”
Schuyler also said the land bank’s board of directors would be asked to keep an eye on making sure that all levels of affordability are served.
“If the governing board is the made up of members from the community, that should be a double protection,’ Schuyler said.
The group also debated whether it should propose to the City Council that affordable housing be the top reason why the city should purchase property. The council spent $2.85 million in November 2016 to purchase land at the corner of East Market Street and Ninth Street Northeast for a future parking garage.
Another concern from the public is if the land bank entity would compete with the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority. The CRHA owns land for providing housing to families with low incomes.
The city’s redevelopment manager, Brenda Kelley, said that would not be the goal of the land bank.
“I think we’ve all been clear that the intent of the land bank corporation is not to be a property manager,” Kelley said.
The chairman of the HAC, Phil d’Oronzio, agreed.
“I really see the land bank operating as a bridge and not holding onto property for a long time,” d’Oronzio, the CEO of Pilot Mortgage, said.
Brandon Collins, of PHAR, said he has been concerned that the land bank may compete with Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s efforts.
“Some of that concern is reduced by establishing affordable housing as the sole priority [of the land bank],” Collins said.
If approved by the council, the creation of the land bank comes at a time when the city is updating its Comprehensive Plan. Stacy Pethia, the city’s housing coordinator, said she would be able to provide draft results of a housing needs assessment within a few weeks.