As Charlottesville’s public housing agency settles in under a new executive director, the City Council held a work session Monday to get acquainted with the body whose members they appoint to oversee its management.
“We have several new members of City Council and several new members of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority,” said Mayor Mike Signer. “There are big decisions ahead for CRHA and some points at which council could be involved.”
The rare joint meeting was welcomed by the chairwoman of the CRHA’s Board of Commissioners.
“As you know, we both serve a really vital group of citizens here in Charlottesville and we have a lot of potential in the people we house, as well as our properties,” said Julie Jones.
Grant Duffield, who began as the authority’s executive director in late May, briefed councilors and CRHA commissioners on the history of the agency and how it currently operates.
CRHA was created by the council in 1954 after a study was done that found a “shortage of safe and sanitary housing” for low-income families. A series of referendums allowed for the entity to eventually move forward with the clearing of homes and businesses in both the Vinegar Hill and Garrett Street neighborhoods.
Various public housing sites were built across Charlottesville beginning with Westhaven in 1965.
Duffield explained how the agency’s budget of $6.28 million is put together through six sources, including around $1.25 million in rent from tenants.
“Public housing isn’t free housing,” Duffield said. “Public housing is housing that is provided at no more than 30 percent of a family’s annual income.”
The bulk of funding comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides an operating subsidy of $1.4 million and a capital subsidy of $483,000.
The federal government also provides CRHA with $310,000 to manage a housing choice program and another $2.8 million in funds that pass through the CRHA on their way to participating landlords.
“We currently have about 400 housing choice vouchers in the community,” Duffield said, adding that these vouchers travel with individuals to wherever they would like to go as long as they are eligible.
In addition to multi-family complexes, CRHA also owns several single-family homes across the city that were purchased in the 1980s. Jones said it is no longer the policy of the agency to purchase individual sites.
“It was sort of the beginning of the trend of decentralizing families and aiming for mixed-income neighborhoods,” Jones said. “I think our goal is to work with the families that are in those houses now but to actually turn those back into privately owned properties.”
Jones said those units eventually would be replaced in keeping with the CRHA’s commitment to keep 376 publicly maintained homes.
Jones said many of the CRHA’s woes are due to financial problems in the recent past.
“When I first came on the board three years ago, we passed a deficit budget to the tune of $300,000 in the red,” Jones said. “It ended up by the end of the year only being around $100,000 in the red and that was mostly due to staff cuts the CRHA made to stem our losses.”
Duffield said HUD officials no longer have concerns with the finances of the organization. He also said he is seeing cooperation from city government, even though the CRHA is a legally separate entity.
“The city did a wonderful job of coming in and assisting our maintenance staff to help us come through a recent HUD inspection,” Duffield said. “The work they oversaw and performed was critical to us being able to pass.”
Duffield said the CRHA still has a few key positions that are vacant, including a maintenance supervisor.
“We are recruiting to fill those and really taking this opportunity to look at our organizational structure and make some determinations about whether we are best meeting the needs of our residents,” Duffield said, adding that he also welcomes the work of the Public Housing Association of Residents.
However, Jones said adding some positions could take work because the existing budget does not allow for much expansion.
“To date, the HUD subsidy in our budget is able to cover the essential positions,” Jones said. “It doesn’t cover some of the positions I see [that could] enhance outreach, communications and really truly allowing us to be able to dig into family self-sufficiency work.”
Jones said this is the first year the CRHA has been able to pass a budget in the black. Now the goal is to continue seeking ways to improve the agency’s finances and structure.
“We’ve got a real heavy emphasis on reorienting our organization to be resident-centric and that is going to require additional resources above and beyond what HUD necessarily sees as essential,” Duffield said.
Councilors and authority commissioners spent the final portion of the meeting trying to explore ways they could work together. They discussed potential grant applications and how best to utilize a new position of redevelopment specialist that was authorized by the council in April as part of the city’s current budget.