Roughly 120 people rallied at 1000 Monticello Rd., formerly the Belmont Apartments, on Sunday to protest the eviction of many of its residents.
The protesters marched from the site of the apartment complex in Charlottesville’s Belmont neighborhood to the Downtown Mall chanting “People! Power! People! Power!” and other slogans.
Belmont Apartment residents Antoine and Varonda Parker originally had not planned to march or speak at the rally, but when they saw the number of people gathered outside their home, they decided they had to march, too.
“As I look around, I’m overwhelmed with feelings. I just want to thank each and every one of you,” Antoine Parker told the protesters when they reached the mall. “This is truly what community looks like.”
The apartment complex, which has offered rents as low as $500 a month in the past, changed hands in February. The new owner, Andrew Holzwarth, sent lease termination notices to 14 of the complex’s 23 households a month later.
The notices said that residents must leave their apartments by May 5 so the owner can work on repairs and renovations.
May 5 has passed, but not all residents have found new places to live. The new home the Parkers thought they had secured fell through, and they have yet to find another option. Antoine Parker owns a small business, Heart II Heart Mobile Detailing, and Varonda Parker works for the University of Virginia Health System.
Similar housing options available to the Parkers, who have a teenaged son, are slim.
The Central Virginia Regional Housing Partnership’s recently-completed housing study found 27 apartments and rental houses listed in Charlottesville and the urban areas of Albemarle County for less than $920 a month that would work for a three-person family. There were 57 similar units in the rural areas of Albemarle and surrounding counties.
The Charlottesville Low-Income Housing Coalition organized Sunday’s rally to pressure Holzwarth to commit to maintaining the affordability of all 23 units at the Belmont Apartments or sell the property immediately to a nonprofit.
“We know that mostly the damage is done, but we can still send a message to future developers, to the politicians, to everyone in this city,” Elaine Poon of Legal Aid Justice Center told the protesters. “This community lifts up long-time residents. We do not push them out.”
The CLIHC member organizations represented at the rally were LAJC, the Charlottesville Public Housing Association of Residents and Showing up for Racial Justice. Other organizations present included the Alliance for Interfaith Ministries, Black Lives Matter-Charlottesville, the Interfaith Movement Promoting Action by Congregations Together and the Young Democratic Socialists at UVa.
No city councilors attended the rally, but city council candidate Michael Payne, a member of CLIHC, and Virgnia House of Delegates candidate Sally Hudson were in attendance.
Organizers of the rally had originally met with Holzwarth, Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority staff and the nonprofit Piedmont Housing Alliance to find a way to save the affordability of the apartments, but negotiations broke down.
Sarah Ballard, the Belmont Apartments property manager, said that if Holzwarth retains ownership of the property, he would keep rents at the majority of the apartments affordable to households making 80% of the area median income.
In 2018, that income was $47,800 for a single-person household and $61,450 for a three-person household.
CLIHC is demanding that Holzwarth commit in writing to keeping the rents of all 23 apartments affordable to households making 50% of AMI if he keeps the property.
“We have no legal obligations,” said Ballard, who works for BMC Property Management, “But we’re absolutely committed and have every intention to keep the majority of the existing apartments affordable under HUD guidelines after the renovations are complete.”
Ballard said that Holzwarth is also interested in building additional apartments through a special-use permit, a solution proposed in the owner’s meeting with the nonprofits to maintain the affordability of all of the current apartments.
No nonprofits have made formal offers to buy 1000 Monticello Road yet, but several are interested.
City Council candidates, like Payne and Sena Magill, have spoken at candidate forums about what measures the city could take to prevent similar kinds of displacement in the future.
Poon agreed with several of Payne and Magill’s proposals. She said that the city should begin tracking vulnerable properties and create a fund that would allow the city to buy such properties before displacement occurs. She said that the city could also create tax incentives for landlords who rent their properties affordably.
In the meantime, Ballard said that no one will be forced to leave before they find acceptable new homes. For the Parkers, this means a few more days in the Belmont Apartments while they search with The Haven and the Charlottesville Office of Human Rights for a home that will work for them.
This article was updated on May 8 to clarify that no nonprofits have made formal offers to buy 1000 Monticello Road yet.