On Monday night, City Council considered whether to establish a land bank corporation, a nonprofit entity that could buy and sell land to increase the number of affordable housing units in Charlottesville.
After 40 minutes of presentation and discussion, City Council deferred the decision on the land bank corporation to a work session on June 4.
“I want to make sure that we get this right. We’re so close here and there’s enough people that are weighing in and are really passionate about this. I think there are some subtleties and I just don’t think that we’re going to get there tonight,” said City Councilor Heather Hill.
Investing in affordable housing has been one of Charlottesville’s priorities after the white supremacist rally on Aug. 12, said City Manager Maurice Jones.
“One of the areas that folks focused on last year was attempts to restore faith in local government. City Council has taken some significant steps to do that,” Jones said.
In its most recently adopted budget, the city allocated $3.4 million to the city’s affordable housing fund and $500,000 to the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority.
Mayor Nikuyah Walker asked Phil d’Oronzio, who chairs the Housing Advisory Committee, to clarify what the HAC thought the land bank would contribute to this effort.
“What Charlottesville needs is as many tools as it can possibly have in its toolbox to address affordable housing,” D’Oronzio said.
City Councilor Kathy Galvin seconded D’Oronzio’s toolbox analogy.
“There’s hundreds of acres of asphalt and old, underutilized buildings, and we’re not doing anything with them,” Galvin said. “I’m looking for tools that will let us fix that stuff up and flip it, so that it can be turned into something usable and necessary.”
The land bank corporation would be a fully independent nonprofit, acting City Attorney Lisa Robertson reminded City Council.
“That’s part of what makes a land bank flexible, if flexibility is what you’re looking for,” Robertson said. “Once you establish priorities for the uses to which land can be put when it’s sold – not who it can be sold to – then you’re done, in my opinion.”
More specifics about how the land bank should implement those priorities should go in the by-laws, D’Oronzio argued.
“The thing that really makes this a very distinctive entity is that the board is composed almost exclusively of community members and that is not the way land banks are generally,” D’Oronzio said.
Brandon Collins, who is an organizer with the Charlottesville Public Housing Association of Residents, expressed concerns about what the land bank could become without more city control.
“Myself and many of my colleagues were opposed to the land bank until we sat down with the HAC, and we kind of tolerated the idea of a land bank when they came forward with some fairly big ideas – in terms of it had to only be used for affordable housing,” Collins said.
“And here we are again, looking at the land bank, with very little change in the ordinance for you to consider, except that it does sort of mention affordable housing, but it does not in any way shape or form tell you affordable for whom.”
Walker expressed a similar concern about the ordinance’s vague language.
“They have to have a list of what they think they’re going to land bank. What does that look like in Charlottesville? Whose property are we talking about?” Walker asked.
City Council hopes to work out some of the disagreements in the June 4 work session.
Earlier in the meeting, City Council set aside $488,779.94 in federal funding for several community organizations to use for housing and public service projects. Recipients of the Community Development Block Grants and HOME Investment Partnerships include the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless, Albemarle Housing Improvement Program, and down-payment assistance at Habitat for Humanity and the Piedmont Housing Alliance.