Albemarle joins regional housing partnership

Melinda Solisdejesus is not worried about displacement. She calculated that it would take at least 10 years before the owner of her neighborhood, Northwood Mobile Village, could find the financing and finish the paperwork to put a new development where she lives.

The mobile home park currently lies on the outskirts of Hollymead, with vacant land between the park and U.S. 29. However, that outskirt status is changing; the value of the land under the northern Albemarle County property has gone up almost 69 percent since 2000.

And Great Eastern Management Co. has started construction on the infrastructure for a neighborhood on the vacant land bordering Northwood. Great Eastern’s North Pointe could have as many as 893 units — a mixture of houses, townhomes and condominiums or apartments.

“[A new development] might affect Food Lion [on Timberwood Boulevard], because they might want to put, you know, better food places in, and then Food Lion might throw in the towel,” Solisdejesus said. “So that might affect our ability to afford food a little bit.”

If she were displaced, there are few options near her current address besides another mobile home park. A search for homes with two or more bedrooms in the Albemarle High School district, using the Charlottesville Area Realtors’ listings from Oct. 15, 2018, yielded no results under $71,000. Solisdejesus said she figures that she and her neighbors would be able to afford an approximately $60,000 house.

Melinda Solisdejesus stands outside her home with her children, Violet (left), age 1, Felicity, age 4, Elisa, age 8, and Christopher, age 10. Credit: Credit: Emily Hays, Charlottesville Tomorrow

The potential for 1,439 affordable homes

Albemarle relies on nonprofit and for-profit developers to create affordable housing. Until recently, Albemarle incentivized affordability through proffers, voluntary contributions from developers when developers want to rezone property.

“In our affordable housing policy [in the Comprehensive Plan], we set a goal of 15 percent of housing created in all new developments would be affordable, so we used the proffers as a tool to enforce that goal,” said Ron White, the county’s chief of housing. “Affordable housing came into focus. It became a way of doing business for developers.”

Affordable housing proffers have not been enforceable since 2016, White said. The General Assembly limited the system in that year’s session.

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“We have been unable to have that as a tool and have typically talked with developers,” White said. “The planners do most of this discussion, just pointing out what’s in our housing policy and what the expectations are, and then look at ways to meet that goal.”

North Pointe, like many developments in the county, received approval for its plans before 2016, and General Assembly decisions are not retroactive. In its proffer statement, Great Eastern agreed to rent a minimum of 66 units affordably, sell 40 units affordably and build four carriage houses as accessories to other homes.

If each developer builds the maximum number of residences their pre-2016 rezonings allow, the county’s proffer system could yield 1,439 affordable units. 271 of those units have been built, according to a spreadsheet updated recently by the county.

However, not all proffered units will remain affordable. In North Pointe’s proffer statement, for example, the 40 for-sale units will be listed at their proffered prices for 90 days. If a unit remains unsold after that period, the owner of the parcel or builder of the home can sell the homes at any price.

As of November 2018, 45 low-income families had bought homes through the county’s proffer system. Forty-six units had failed to attract a qualified purchaser, according to a spreadsheet maintained by the county.

“I think it was a good faith effort in the beginning. [The county] didn’t want to put developers or builders in the position where they simply couldn’t sell these things,” said Dan Rosensweig, president and CEO of the Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines affordable as 80 percent of area median income. The median income for the Charlottesville area is $89,600.

A house would have to cost approximately $240,000 to be affordable to a family at the 80 percent income level, according to a housing needs assessment done for Charlottesville this spring.

“At $240,000, really the only people who qualify are people at the very, very upper end of the scale beneath 80 percent — 76-80 percent,” Rosensweig said.

Lucas Hintz is a homeowner in Willow Glen, an example of Albemarle County’s mixed-income model. Credit: Credit: Emily Hays, Charlottesville Tomorrow

A mixed-income vision

Willow Glen is an example of the proffer system working. Seven minutes away from Northwood Mobile Village by car, the neighborhood includes both market-rate and affordable homes. Insignia Development planned the neighborhood but worked with the Piedmont Housing Alliance to match a row of six affordable homes with low-income families.

Lucas Hintz, who bought one of the PHA homes from its original owner, said that he didn’t realize it was developed to be affordable until he moved in.

“Our daughter plays with the kids across the street and we go over there as well, so we feel very well integrated into this neighborhood,” Hintz said. “We are [planning to stay] until we outgrow our house. For right now, we’re very happy with where we are.”

Two of the six PHA homes have been resold since their original purchase date. The prices of the homes increased approximately 17 percent in that time.

“Homeownership is one of the most critical opportunities for low-income families to build wealth for generations going forward. Even though in that situation the house is lost as affordable, ideally the family has built some wealth in the process. So that’s a form of success,” PHA Executive Director Sunshine Mathon said.

Despite the price increase during the sale, the townhomes remained close to being affordable to families making 80 percent AMI.

“If [a builder] builds a $200,000 house, sells it at $200,000, and it’s appraised at $200,000 — unless there’s some improvements done to that house, it’s going to probably move equally with how the market moves,” White said.

A reassessment

The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission has initiated a housing needs assessment, similar to the one done in Charlottesville, for Albemarle and surrounding counties.

“We know that our policy needs, at a minimum, some tweaking — somewhere between a tweaking and a rewriting, but we want to utilize information that we get through that regional study,” White said.

If the TJPDC receives state funding, it will formulate a housing strategy as part of the housing needs assessment. The housing strategy will be formatted to become a chapter in any locality’s Comprehensive Plan, a guiding document required by the state of Virginia.

“We will have the facts in hand. We will take that, we will go to the public and get suggestions and we will help to put together a template housing chapter, but at that point, we’ll hand it to Greene County, and it’s Greene County’s business to do with it as they see fit,” said TJPDC Executive Director Chip Boyles.

The TJPDC board appointed the first members of a Regional Housing Partnership, a board that will coordinate the study as well as regional solutions to the study’s findings, on Nov. 1.

Keith B. Smith, a Fluvanna County TJPDC board member, will become the TJPDC’s representative to the RHP. Appointees from the nonprofit community were Rosensweig; Anthony Haro, of the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless; and Sunshine Mathon, of the Piedmont Housing Alliance. Chris Henry, of Stony Point Design Build, and architect Greg Powe will represent the development and design communities.

Mozelle Booker, a Fluvanna County Supervisor, will serve as the rural citizen representative. The urban citizen representative seat still is open.

Each locality involved in the TJPDC also will nominate one elected official or member of the locality’s planning commission. Supervisor Ned Galloway will represent Albemarle. The Charlottesville City Council appointed Councilor Heather Hill to the board on Monday, with Mayor Nikuyah Walker as her alternate, but the TJPDC has not yet approved the appointment.