Charlottesville officials are grappling with new data on the need for affordable housing in the city.

A housing needs assessment commissioned by the city estimates that the city currently needs 3,318 new affordable units. The Charlottesville Planning Commission and the Housing Advisory Committee met Tuesday to go over the numbers and consider next steps.

“A serious solution is $50 million, $100 million. If we’re going to define it in that scale, let’s start talking in that scale,” said HAC Chairman Phil d’Oronzio.

Partners for Economic Solutions worked with the Form-Based Codes Institute at Smart Growth America this year to prepare a housing needs assessment and an analysis of city options.

According to the assessment, 1,750 Charlottesville households spend more than half of their income on housing.

“There’s hardly any [income] left after you do that,” said Anita Morrison, principal at Partners for Economic Solutions.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recommends that no family spend more than 30 percent of their household income on housing. HUD labels households that pay more than that threshold as cost-burdened.

PES included 330 senior-headed and 189 homeless households among its count of cost-burdened city residents.

Joy Johnson, a member of HAC and the Public Housing Association of Residents, asked whether the assessment counted all types of homelessness.

“There are a lot of people from our neighborhood who are just in the nursing home because there’s nowhere else for them to go. They may have some health issue, but it’s not nearly enough for them to be in a nursing home,” Johnson said.

Morrison agreed that the report did not include that group. The assessment also did not count people who are homeless but doubled up in the homes of neighbors and family members.

Morrison also analyzed the tools available to the city to fix the affordability crisis. Some, she said, were out of the city’s control.

“Federal support has always been the key contributor to affordable housing. That level of commitment is declining, and there doesn’t seem to be much prospect of it turning around, in the near-term at least,” Morrison said.

Virginia also places limitations on the powers its localities hold. Charlottesville, for example, could not impose a requirement that 15 percent of all new developments be affordable.

The city does have the power to ask for affordability in developments that apply to build more stories than zoning allows. However, when PES factored in the 7 percent profit investors expect from new developments, this solution appeared limited too.

“The idea that this is the magic bullet that’s going to deliver all of our housing needs is unrealistic. You’re talking about two or four units a year from new development, and that assumes that they don’t just go matter of right, which is increasingly of interest to developers,” Morrison said.

Several members of the public asked questions and proposed solutions to the crisis. Legal Aid Justice Center organizer Emily Dreyfus asked HAC about how they plan to craft specific responses to the reports.

“We’ve heard over and over that the Comprehensive Plan process did not include a diverse enough group of people. At least four months ago, the HAC had a meeting where they talked about hiring peer-to-peer outreach workers and a consultant to coordinate that process and to move that forward, and that doesn’t seem to have gone anywhere,” Dreyfus said.

City staff explained that the HAC has to ask City Council for the money to hire the consultant. That council meeting is expected to happen in September.


Emily Hays grew up in Charlottesville and graduated from Yale in 2016. She covered growth, development, and affordable living. Before writing for Charlottesville Tomorrow, she produced a podcast on education and caste in Maharashtra, India.