Decision on Friendship Court and Carlton Views to be announced on Wednesday

After decades of working toward this moment, Joy Johnson, board chairwoman of Charlottesville’s Public Housing Association of Residents, finally can breathe a sigh of relief.

The Virginia Housing Development Authority announced late last week that it plans to allocate federal low-income housing tax credits to Charlottesville’s public housing redevelopment projects. The VHDA Board of Commissioners will make the final decision on the credits Wednesday.

Combined with grants from the city and state and donations from the Dave Matthews Band, the tax credit allocation means that construction of a 62-unit apartment building on South First Street and the renovation of Crescent Halls can start in the new year.

“I’m happy that we reached this milestone, because we can now move on and put some shovel to the dirt — especially for Crescent Halls. People have been beating us up about not being able to do anything for Crescent Halls,” Johnson said.

Crescent Halls, which was built in 1976, has experienced serious maintenance issues with its heating and cooling systems, plumbing and elevators.

PHAR, the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority and a team of developers, architects and other experts led by Riverbend Development maintained an ambitious schedule in early spring to pull together the tax credit application and many of the details of the projects.

After years of organizing to redevelop public housing, many residents had given up on the work ever happening.

“Some people don’t really believe it. They said that when they pull in with the trucks and construction equipment, they’ll believe it,” said PHAR intern and Crescent Halls resident Judy Sandridge.

Renovating Crescent Halls will cost roughly $17 million and will involve a complete redo of every room, new heating and cooling systems and much bigger community rooms, according to Dave Norris, CRHA redevelopment coordinator. The federal tax credits will cover up to $8.75 million of that cost.

Norris said constructing new public housing on the South First Street ball field will cost an estimated $12 million. CRHA won $7.5 million in tax credits for the ball field project.

The Dave Matthews Band, which has ties to Riverbend Development, gave CRHA $5 million for redevelopment. The city pledged $3 million a year over the next five years, which helps cover redevelopment of existing public housing at Westhaven, on South First Street and other sites.

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Despite the marathon of the tax credit application process, Johnson said the hard work was just the beginning.

“It’s about how you disrupt people’s lives and still make them happy and then move them back,” she said.

In addition to planning resident relocation and return, the development team is working with residents to finalize the building designs and set up a Section 3 program so residents can train to be subcontractors during the construction process. The general contractor chosen for redevelopment, Cornelius Griggs of GMA Construction, specializes in Section 3 programs.

The other two Charlottesville projects vying for tax credits this year are the first phase of the Piedmont Housing Alliance’s Friendship Court redevelopment and the third phase of Fountainhead Properties’ Carlton Views.

Both projects look likely to be funded but await the VHDA board’s decision Wednesday.

Friendship Court was the highest-scoring project in the Northwest and North Central Virginia Pool, besting projects in Augusta, Fauquier and Page County.

However, because the number of credits available to the pool was much lower than VHDA’s early estimates, the Piedmont Housing Alliance’s request of nearly $16 million worth of credits exceeded what was available and the project got bumped down to the statewide “tier one” pool.

Sunshine Mathon, PHA executive director, said that although VHDA’s final rankings spreadsheet labels Friendship Court as unfunded, the VHDA board historically has given tax credits to all of the applications in the tier one pool.

“If they chose to not fund Friendship Court, they would be doing something for the first time in the history of the tax credit program in the state, which is that no projects in the Northwest-North Central Pool would be funded,” Mathon said.

Mathon said the VHDA breaks the credits into regional pools to distribute the funding across the state. CRHA competed in a separate category for housing authorities.

Carlton Views III had the second-highest score in the Accessible Supportive Housing Pool, and VHDA staff recommended the project for tax credits. However, the VHDA board has more discretion over the ASH Pool than over the other pools and does not necessarily award credits based on the projects’ scores.

The VHDA board will meet at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Virginia Housing Center in Glen Allen.

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Public Housing Association of Residents intern Mary Coleman celebrates her graduation from the program with catering from Royalty Eats on Friday.

Credit: Ézé Amos/Charlottesville Tomorrow