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A Charlottesville housing expert told the City Council recently that a goal adopted in 2010 to increase the number of affordable homes may be unrealistic due to factors such as the high cost of land.
“The 2025 housing goal of having 15 percent supported affordable housing units is a great aspirational goal but it presents some challenges and likely needs to be reevaluated,” said Kathy McHugh, a housing specialist in the Department of Neighborhood Development Services.
McHugh presented a report to Council Jan. 19 that documents the number of supported units that are eligible for families who make less than 80 percent of the area’s annual median income of $84,100, which equates to less than $67,820 for a family of four.
At the time the goal was adopted, McHugh said, there were 1,933 supported units out of a total housing stock of 18,407. That translates to 10.5 percent.
As of December 2015, the number of supported units has increased to 2,006 but the total number of housing units in the city has risen to 19,937. That means on a percentage basis the affordable housing has dropped to about 10.1 percent.
“Construction of new market and purpose-built student housing is increasing the city’s total number of housing units, which negatively impacts our ability to increase the affordable percentage,” McHugh said. “Between City Walk and the Flats [at West Village] alone, the city added roughly 500 new units.”
However, none of those units is reserved for people who make less than the area median income.
The city’s nonprofit partners have added supported units through developments such as the Crossings at Fourth & Preston, Sunrise Court and Belmont Cottages.
McHugh also said the city has retained its larger affordable housing developments.
“Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority properties, Friendship Court, Hearthwood and Greenstone on Fifth have all maintained the units that they started with,” McHugh said.
Greenstone on Fifth, formerly known as Blue Ridge Commons, had all of its 202 units upgraded by owner Community Housing Partners through a new set of low-income housing tax credits made available by the Virginia Housing Development Authority.
Other projects will add some affordable units in coming years.
The Piedmont Housing Alliance and Fountainhead Properties have partnered on a new development called Carlton Views for seniors. In all, there will be 54 new units paid for in part through low-income housing tax credits.
Southern Development recently built seven affordable units with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville as part of the 48-unit Burnett Commons II on Elliott Avenue. Burnett Commons III is across the street and will feature 46 units, with 18 of those affordable.
In December 2013, the City Council allocated funds for construction of Harmony Ridge on Fifth Street Extended which will include at least eight affordable units.
The project originally was being built by Charlottesville Abundant Life Ministries but Habitat for Humanity has purchased the project. As many as 20 units can be built but McHugh said the site plan has not yet been finalized.
McHugh said the human side of housing is often overlooked when the number of units is used as the main metric for success.
“Poverty and self-sufficiency issues impact the ability of people to pay, and housing needs can vary widely across families,” McHugh said. “Building affordable units is part of the answer but we can’t be expected to totally alleviate our problem with that.”
Councilor Wes Bellamy suggested that increasing residential density might be one option.
“Essentially, since we’re landlocked and we want to create affordable housing, I don’t know what else we can do if we don’t have the space,” Bellamy said.
Councilor Kathy Galvin said she wants to encourage the CRHA to become more aggressive about redeveloping its properties while retaining or growing the number of units.
“The biggest engine we’re going to need is a viable redevelopment and housing authority that has the capacity to buy property and redevelop it with their own mission working in partnership with the private sector,” Galvin said.
The CRHA is currently searching for an executive director following the resignation of Constance Dunn last year.
Representatives from the firm RCLCO are expected to go before the City Council on Monday to present their analysis of the greater Charlottesville housing market, as well as policy recommendations.