As the cost of housing in Charlottesville continues to increase, City Council has been briefed on a needs assessment intended to inform policy changes to increase the number of affordable units within the city’s borders.
“I know of a couple members of Charlottesville advisory boards recently who have moved to the county because they were able to buy a house for about 50 percent of what they would buy in the city, and it’s only a 10-minute drive away,” said Councilor Mike Signer.
The city hired the group Partners for Economic Solutions in February to conduct the study as part of a contract extension for another project. The Form Based Code Institute has been working for the city to analyze whether zoning in a section of the city’s Strategic Investment Area could be changed in order to encourage developers to build affordable units.
The Form Based Code Institute has since become part of the group Smart Growth America. The group has been paid at least $256,300 to date for both products.
According to the housing needs assessment, the average rent in Charlottesville increased by 18 percent from 2013 to 2018, and residents experienced a rent increase of 9 percent in 2017.
The housing needs assessment looked at several affected groups in Charlottesville, including the homeless population, cost-burdened families and individuals.
According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, families who use more than 30 percent of their income for housing are considered cost-burdened.
There are currently 1,651 households on the waitlist for public housing and vouchers issued by the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority. Households on the waitlist can expect an eight-year wait until they have access to these options.
“Since we’re coming to terms with the historical legacy in our community and we know the racial makeup of this community and its foundation … unless we understand that we have to undo what we have done, then we are never going to fix this,” said Mayor Nikuyah Walker.
The report’s presentation provided elaborate data about the current lack of affordable housing options in Charlottesville and what the future holds.
In order to keep up with current trends and needs, Charlottesville’s available affordable housing will need to grow to 4,000 units over next 23 years.
One mechanism by which the council can increase the number of affordable units is the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund. Councilors allocated $3.4 million to the fund for the fiscal year beginning July 1, an increase from $2.5 million in the current fiscal year.
Councilor Wes Bellamy expressed an interest in finding ways to build units to immediately begin helping families.
“When I see 3,300 units, my mind immediately goes to, ‘if we can get 20 units here, let’s get 20 units,’… that’s 20 families that we can get off the street now,” said Bellamy.
The report used area median income, or AMI, as an assessment tool for the analysis.
“There are several families within CRHA housing that no longer are below 30 percent of AMI and would move out if they had an opportunity, but there is not that next level of housing for them
to move out,” said Anita Morrison, founding principal of the Partners for Economic Solutions.
Charlottesville currently provides 700 Section 8 vouchers funded by HUD. This year, City Council agreed to spend $900,000 from the affordable housing fund on a program to increase that number.
“Many of the vouchers distributed are taken outside of the city because of the lack of subsidized housing options [in Charlottesville] that meet the needs of people with vouchers,” said Morrison.
Albemarle County has the largest population and fastest growth rate in the region. According to the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, it has an estimated
population of 107,697.
The city’s Housing Advisory Committee plans to develop a housing development strategy, along with a public outreach process expected to start within the coming months.