A change of the guard is taking place in Charlottesville government as a new person settles in as the city’s expert on housing policy.
“Affordable housing is something I’m very passionate about because I see it as the basis for every family’s success,” said Stacy Pethia, who began work earlier this month as the city’s new housing program coordinator.
Pethia succeeds Kathy McHugh, who has been the city’s housing specialist for more than six years. McHugh is leaving to attend seminary school in rural Colorado.
“It’s going to be a real treat for me at 55 years of age to go and do that,” McHugh said, adding that it will be the first time she’s been able to go to college full-time.
One of the tasks of the housing coordinator is to run meetings of the Housing Advisory Committee. The group has spent most of this year reviewing a comprehensive housing study conducted by the firm RCLCO that came with several pages of recommendations.
“It’s certainly been the focus of the HAC’s subcommittee efforts to talk about what those are, how to refine and make them better,” McHugh said. “When we took it to the HAC, we made it better because we walked through their general ideas and expanded upon those.”
The Housing Advisory Committee wrapped up its review of the recommendations Wednesday.
“I don’t know if anyone knows exactly how much work Kathy put into this to come up with a process and to reinvent the process,” said Dan Rosensweig, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville.
Pethia will continue to work to refine the recommendations.
In January, McHugh told the City Council that she thought it would be difficult to attain the council’s Comprehensive Plan goal of designating 15 percent of Charlottesville’s total housing as supported housing.
At the end of 2015, the actual figure was 10.1 percent.
McHugh said that while the number of supported units has gone up, the total number of dwelling units also has increased.
“We’ve been experiencing a bit of a boom, particularly in multi-family housing development,” McHugh said. “I was concerned about the perception from the public that I keep coming and giving updates and we’re just maintaining.”
The council opted to keep the aspirational goal of 15 percent.
McHugh said she would like to see the city also work toward yearly benchmarks to track what new units are coming online.
The housing position also oversees the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund. Among other things, the fund helps incentivize or work with nonprofit groups such as Habitat for Humanity and the Piedmont Housing Alliance to build affordable units.
McHugh said the city is not able to use that money to build its own homes.
“Virginia code is written such that the city actually has no ability to even have a development arm to build housing if there is a redevelopment and housing authority within your corporate limits,” McHugh said. “In this case, we have [the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority]. They’re the entity that can do that, not us.”
When developers seek a rezoning, they are required by city code to designate 15 percent of units as affordable or to pay into the city housing fund. McHugh has been steadily trying to introduce policies to encourage developers to actually build the units.
“They were just modifications to the ordinance itself to really try to get a commitment of units rather than the payment of cash,” McHugh said. “We’re still continuing to tweak that to see if we can get units.”
Pethia’s last job was working for the Pittsburgh Housing Authority, where she served as the landlord outreach coordinator.
“My primary job was to recruit private-market landlords to rent to voucher-holder families and to keep the ones we had,” Pethia said.
Before that she studied mixed-income housing development policy in England and served as a housing planner for the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments.
Pethia said she wanted a position that would allow her to broaden her work implementing housing policy.