As the anniversary of the Aug. 12 white supremacist rally approached, anti-racist activists added a $50 million bond for affordable housing to their list of demands.

The Charlottesville Low-Income Housing Coalition, which includes public housing residents, legal experts and others, released an online petition featuring the demand in the week prior to the anniversary of the Unite the Right rally. Members of CLIHC also participated in anniversary events, including an anti-racism rally at Washington Park on Sunday.

“The only way to roll back this racist history of Charlottesville is to provide some sense of reparations,” Brandon Collins, a leader within CLIHC, said at the Sunday rally. “We believe the redevelopment of public housing is one piece of providing reparations.”

Collins works for the Charlottesville Public Housing Association of Residents, a CLIHC member organization.

Collins traced the history of racism in the area from colonization to 1960s-era urban renewal, which bulldozed African-American neighborhoods in the name of slum clearance. The city built its first public housing for many of the families displaced from those neighborhoods.

“The whole community was impacted by the loss of their political, social and economic base, and it never had a chance to recover. Public housing wasn’t an even trade, but it was at least something. Really, nothing else was given,” Collins said Tuesday.

Charlottesville’s citizens voted 2,006-1,808 to redevelop Vinegar Hill in 1960. Other sites of urban renewal were Garrett Street and Hartman’s Mill.

Grant Duffield, executive director of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, said Tuesday that Vinegar Hill is why the city must follow a resident-focused housing strategy.

“You can point to Vinegar Hill and that experience as the prime example of non-participatory, terrible decision-making,” Duffield said. “It’s not a small part of why [the Charlottesville community as a whole is] facing such a crisis today.”

A housing needs assessment of Charlottesville found that the city needs 3,318 new units of affordable housing. Within that number, 439 are existing affordable housing units that are aging and need to be replaced.

CLIHC hopes to funnel the $50 million bond into redeveloping CRHA’s aging units as the city explores a long-term housing strategy.

“What we heard from people who are really ready to get this going is that we need more than $50 million. They’re saying $150, $200 million,” Collins said.

Crescent Halls, CRHA’s development for elderly and disabled low-income residents, has particularly urgent needs. All systems within the building, including heating, cooling and pipes, have started to fail and are taxing the CRHA budget.

“Congress is not budgeting any more money for new public housing. For affordable housing, it’s either city or state,” said PHAR Chairwoman Joy Johnson.

Other racial justice organizations involved in the preparations for the weekend said that they defer to PHAR to guide their housing policy.

“We have been working to support and amplify the work of PHAR,” University of Virginia professor and Black Lives Matter activist Lisa Woolfork said in a news conference last week. “[Residents] know so much more than I know — public code and public housing and how all these things work.”

The City Council last issued bonds in May to improve school buildings, parks, transportation infrastructure and other projects. The bonds were worth $11.7 million.

On Wednesday, a Housing Advisory Committee meeting is scheduled to begin at noon in the conference room on the second floor of City Hall.

Charlottesville will spend $11 million in fiscal year 2019 to repay the original amount, plus interest, from previous bonds issued.

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Emily Hays

Emily Hays grew up in Charlottesville and graduated from Yale in 2016. She covered growth, development, and affordable living. Before writing for Charlottesville Tomorrow, she produced a podcast on education and caste in Maharashtra, India.