A program authorized in June by the Charlottesville City Council to get more low-income families into affordable living spaces has yet to issue a single voucher.

“When are these going to hit the street?” asked Dan Rosensweig, a member of the city’s Housing Advisory Committee and executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville. “The recommendation came from the HAC about a year ago to fund the program.”

The current status of the Charlottesville Supplemental Rental Assistance Program came up Wednesday during a HAC meeting in which members discussed projects that have been funded through the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund this calendar year.

The council has allocated $900,000 to the supplemental program this summer and gave their final approval on Oct. 16. The funding is to be used to increase the number of housing vouchers that can be granted by the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

Currently, the CRHA has approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to distribute 531 vouchers, but it only has funding to assign about 400 to qualified households. That means total income of the family must be less than 60 percent of the area’s annual median income.

The current direction from the City Council is to fund as many as 79 additional vouchers for a two-year period. That assumes the council will allocate at least another $900,000 in the next fiscal year.

Grant Duffield, executive director of the CRHA, said he has a contract waiting to be signed that would govern how his agency would implement the program on behalf of the city. He said he needed to speak with his Board of Commissioners before proceeding.

“There are provisions in that contract that are, frankly, problematic and giving us some difficult in moving forward with it,” Duffield said. “The contract language requires that CRHA front the cost of the voucher to the individual recipient and then be reimbursed by the city.”

Stacy Pethia, the city’s housing coordinator, said she disagreed with that interpretation and she asked to meet with Duffield to explain the details.

Julie Jones, chairwoman of the CRHA Board of Commissioners, said she was glad Pethia is willing to meet with Duffield to iron out the disagreements.

“What I’m hearing is that there’s a catch here which we’ll just need to work out in this conversation,” Jones said. “We don’t want anyone to not be able to get a lease because they are waiting for a check. I don’t want any bureaucratic stuff to keep someone from being able to sign a lease.”

While that conversation will happen at a later date, a brief discussion took place at the HAC about the logistics of the program.

“Our infrastructure is in place to be able to begin releasing vouchers as soon as we are clear on what the administrative requirements are,” Duffield said. “It is my understanding that someone CRHA deems is qualified as eligible for a voucher, we submit that information to the [city].”

“You’re doing all of the approving, and you just need to give me all of the paperwork so that I can put in a file,” Pethia said.

Duffield said that did not reflect his understanding of the grant agreement. Pethia said it was important to sit down with Duffield and CRHA staff before they could proceed.

Pethia said the payments would be transferred from the city to the CRHA on a quarterly basis in advance of the CRHA issuing the voucher.

“Thirty days before the next quarterly check comes out, I just need a quarterly report showing who is in there so I know how much money to give out,” Pethia said. “As the new vouchers come in, we add new money to the pot.”

Duffield asked if there would be money if he were to issue a voucher “tomorrow.”

“As soon as you get a person that comes in with a request for tenancy approval and you approve that request for tenancy approval, you send it to me and I can have a check to you within a week,” Pethia said, specifying a two-page form required by HUD. “I’m not going to leave you without money.”

Pethia said she just needed something in writing before she could proceed.

“I can’t release any funds until I have a signed grant agreement,” Pethia said.

Several members of the HAC expressed frustration the program was not yet up and running.

“I don’t care how we make the sausage,” Rosensweig said. “We’ve got a persistent waiting list of close to a thousand people who need housing, and this is the quickest way to get people into housing. It’s unconscionable that people aren’t in housing.”

Other projects that will move forward due to the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund are:
» a new multifamily complex known as Carlton Views II with 48 units;
» rehabilitation of 34 units of existing affordable housing;
» property acquisition for 16 future Habitat for Humanity homes; and
» money that will enable the Albemarle Housing Improvement Program to fix 56 existing homes.

In April, the City Council adopted a budget that increased the amount of taxpayer money that goes into the fund. They allocated $2.5 million to the project in the current fiscal year, up from $1.7 million in fiscal year 2017.

The current five-year capital improvement program calls for $3.4 million in taxpayer money being transferred to the fund in fiscal year 2019, but that won’t be official until after the council adopts a budget in April 2018.