What’s in a name?

For residents of Friendship Court, a stigma. 

“I’m tired of them calling this ‘the hood,'” said Friendship Court resident Jace Wright. He has lived in Friendship Court, a Section-8 housing community in downtown Charlottesville, all his life — 17 years.

But come summer, Wright will call Friendship Court by another name: Kindlewood.

“We’re trying to make the neighborhood better for the future, a place that gives people hope,” said Wright. He knows a name alone can’t make that happen, but the community is also in the midst of being redeveloped for the first time since it was built on Garrett Street in 1978. Back then, it was called Garrett Square.

Over the next couple of years, all 150 families currently living at Friendship Court will move into an entirely new unit of their choice. With the new development, there will also be enough space for 300 additional families to join them.

The redevelopment is being paid for largely with taxpayer money. Some came from the city of Charlottesville, and the rest came from state and federal grants, and some private money. The overall cost is fluctuating because of changing construction costs, said PHA spokesperson Wes Myhre. Phase one, which is nearing completion, will cost about $45 million. That includes two rows of stacked townhomes and one apartment building —106 homes total — as well as front-end expenses like setting up a leasing office and soil remediation. Move-in for these homes will start this summer.

Phases two and three will see the construction of more townhomes and apartment buildings, as well as a community center and other amenities. PHA estimates those phases will also cost roughly $45 million each, but that number could change. The project should be done and residents all moved in by 2027.

What’s unique about this project is that all of the decisions — including the new name — were made by the residents themselves. Sunshine Mathon, executive director of Piedmont Housing Alliance, the local housing nonprofit that manages and co-owns the community with the National Housing Trust, said he hasn’t heard of anything like it anywhere else.

Wright has hope that calling the new homes by a new name will begin to dissolve the stigma around living in the community he calls home. That at the very least his peers, or grown-ups, won’t wince when they hear his Garrett Street address.

Some Charlottesville community members associate Friendship Court with violence, Wright said. Charlottesville has experienced a rise in gun violence this year and many of the incidents are occurring in low-income and public housing neighborhoods, including Friendship Court.

That’s at the front of 17-year-old Wright’s mind. As he talked about it in the Friendship Court community center in March, he leaned forward in his chair, holding his head in his hands. It’s no secret that those incidents, and not the laughter of kids riding scooters and playing tag outside, or the families having dinner together, is what people think about when they think about the area, he said. As he spoke, a young girl took a piano lesson a few feet away, a huge grin spreading across her face as she played.

The stigma surrounding the name Friendship Court also came up in a Charlottesville School Board meeting last December. As City Schools works to rename many of its schools, it asked students what they wanted their new school names to be. Clark Elementary School students voted to rename their school “Friendship,” but school board member Jennifer McKeever cautioned against it.

“I want a name that can represent a big, positive image. I don’t think Friendship alone does that for an academic environment,” said McKeever. “I would think there are additional connotations in our community. I don’t want that to be the image that Clark has to fight against.”

More about the evolution of Friendship Court

Like so many areas in Charlottesville, Friendship Court is fraught with history. Garrett Street is named for Alexander Garrett, who enslaved people on his Oak Hill plantation in that area. Over time, a majority Black, majority working-class neighborhood with a few white families grew there. But in the early 1970s, the city declared it blighted and bulldozed most of it, just as it had done to Vinegar Hill a few years before.

In 1978, the Garrett Square community was built with what the federal government called project-based Section-8 assistance (hence “the projects”) from the U.S. Office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Residents were low-income, but their economic status wasn’t the only thing separating them from the rest of the city: all of the homes’ front doors were built facing inward, at one another rather than outward into the larger community. A seven-foot black metal fence erected around it in 1996 only furthered that physical isolation.

“That fence makes the community think we’re a bunch of criminals down here,” Mary Carey, a past president of the Friendship Court Tenant Association, said in the “Reimagining Friendship Court” series published by Charlottesville Tomorrow in 2019, during the redevelopment planning phase. “These are good people, hard-working people.”

My only hope is that it can live up to the name. Maybe the name change is something that can change your view of this. Give it a second thought. Give it a chance.

—Brandon Martin, a high school student and lifelong resident of Friendship Court, which is being renamed Kindlewood

Myrtle Houchens raised her two children in Garrett Square while working as a teacher. She loved it. “It was community. It was a community where individual families looked out for one another. They supported one another. It was loving and caring. I was happy to raise my children there,” Houchens said while sitting in the neighborhood’s community center in March. As she spoke of those fond memories, the new buildings in various phases of construction were visible through the window behind her.

That was her experience in the community, but outside of it, “if you even mentioned it as your place of residency, no one wanted to be associated with you,” said Houchens. “Delivery services and all of that were limited. It put a sense of devalue on people’s humanity.”

When people applied for jobs and put “Garrett Street” for their address, employers didn’t call them back, said Carey.

The local housing nonprofit Piedmont Housing Alliance bought Garrett Square in 2002, did some interior and exterior renovations, and added some services like a GED program for residents. It also changed the name to Friendship Court.

Houchens doesn’t remember exactly how or why, or by whom that name was chosen. An article published in the Daily Progress in November 2003 talked about the community’s “transformation from stigma-ridden Garrett Square.” 

But some, like Houchens, still call it Garrett Square. And though the Friendship Court name was intended to “redefine” the neighborhood in the eyes of residents and the broader Charlottesville community, that didn’t happen. Much of what Houchens, Carey, and other residents experienced decades ago, still occurs, they said.

Residents felt, and still feel, looked down upon for their economic and social status, and, for Black and brown residents, their race.

All of the residents of Friendship Court are low-income — the average annual household income is $17,758 —  and their rents are subsidized by the government. Many of the families are Black, or, in more recent years, refugees from Middle Eastern countries.

Nine adults and teenagers of varying races sit in chairs around a plastic table in a bright community center room lit with overhead fluorescent lights. "Friendship Court Kids" is spelled out in turquoise, hot pink, and silver letters on the back wall.
Most of the redevelopment and renaming committee meetings took place here in the Friendship Court community center. Kori Price/Charlottesville Tomorrow

So, when Piedmont Housing Alliance, which is under different leadership than when it purchased and renamed the property in 2002, decided to redevelop Friendship Court, it asked for the expertise, the needs, and the wants of the people who know best: The residents.

Residents decided everything for the redevelopment, from where the buildings would go to what carpet will go in the hallways, where the new urban farm would be, and what sort of playground equipment will go in the new park, which will be built in the last phase of the project, where the current residences are now.

Their decisions will change more than just how the community looks — they will change the community itself. Currently, 150 families reside in as many units in Friendship Court. The redevelopment will triple that: Kindlewood will have 450 total apartments and townhomes.

Another major change is that Kindlewood will be a mixed-income development. One-third of the apartments will be reserved for households whose income is 30% of the area median income (or AMI) and below (up to $31,450 for a family of four); one-third for household incomes between 30-60% AMI ($31,451 to $66,720 for a family of four); one-third for 60-80% AMI ($66,721 to $83,850 for a family of four), according to HUD.

In the Charlottesville Metropolitan Statistical Area, the AMI for a family of four is $111,200. 

However, income will not dictate which building, or on what floor or section of a building, a family will live in. Each of the apartment buildings and rows of townhomes will have a mix of homes reserved for all of the income tiers.

“That was essential, from the residents’ perspective,” said Houchens, the former teacher and former resident who loved raising her two children in the community. Houchens served on the redevelopment advisory committee and is now a paid community liaison with Piedmont Housing Alliance. Recreating a lower income neighborhood, or building, all over again would only perpetuate inequities, she said

“I wouldn’t want that barrier, like, ‘more money’ over here, and ‘less money’ there,” said Tamana Khaydari, a high school student whose family has lived in Friendship Court for about five years.

A photo of a construction site. In the foreground, a six-foot-tall metal fence. Behind it, a parking lot with cars and a row of brick duplex-style homes built in the late 1970s. Behind those is a larger, three-story apartment building that is still under construction, with a huge crane hovering above it.
The redevelopment of Friendship Court has taken more than half a decade, from planning to construction. People will be able to move into the first set of completed homes — some townhome-style, others apartment-style, sometime this summer. Others will move in over the next year or so, as future phases of construction finish. Kori Price/Charlottesville Tomorrow

Some residents are skeptical, though. They worry about hearing things like, “well, I pay more than you do to live here” during neighborly conversations. They worry that the stigmas they face outside of their community could start coming from the apartment next door.

Still, having a true mix of incomes in each building, and therefore (hopefully) avoiding separation due to economic status, was more important to residents than getting the project done quickly, Mathon said. If the residents had prioritized speed, PHA could have built the first 150 units and had all current families in a new unit this summer, then focused on construction for the rest of the community.

Instead, current residents are moving into their new homes in phases.

And even though the “Friendship Court” sign has been painted over and a “Kindlewood” banner went up on Tuesday, getting folks to actually use the new name will also likely happen in phases.

Residents have known about the name change for a while — they helped choose it.

A renaming/rebranding committee made up of residents met with consultants before going out into the community asking for new name ideas.

They received dozens of ideas, which the committee narrowed down to two.

Each household then got a ballot to vote for either Kindlewood or Central City. An adult was to fill out the ballot on behalf of the family, seal it, then bring it to the community center. Houchens gathered and tallied the ballots, but a re-do was needed in some cases, she said, laughing: a few kids took the initiative to fill out their family’s ballot, unbeknownst to the adults.

In the end, 85% of households participated in the vote.

Kindlewood won with 61%.

Nine people of varying ages and races stand, smiling, in a line behind a banner. The banner reads "Kindlewood" in large text, with "The heart of the city" in smaller letters beneath it.
Residents of the Friendship Court renaming committee stand with the banner that bears the community’s new name: Kindlewood. Kori Price/Charlottesville Tomorrow Credit: Kori Price/Charlottesville Tomorrow

The name is a combination of a few of the suggestions and selected because of the way that it evokes kin, family, friendship, a spark, a fireplace in the hearth and therefore home.

“It sounds very calming,” Khaydari, another of the high school students who served on the committee, said while talking with other committee members about the new name in March.

“Peaceful,” added Sallie King.

“My only hope is that it can live up to the name,” said Brandon Martin, a high school student and lifelong resident. “Maybe the name change is something that can change your view of this. Give it a second thought. Give it a chance.”

“Yeah,” Wright said, looking across the room at his neighbor and Charlottesville High School classmate. “Give it a chance.”


I'm Charlottesville Tomorrow's neighborhoods reporter. I’ve never met a stranger and love to listen, so, get in touch with me here. If you’re not already subscribed to our free newsletter, you can do that here, and we’ll let you know when there’s a fresh story for you to read. I’m looking forward to getting to know more of you.