Albemarle County is hoping to start the first phase of an ambitious affordable housing development with $1.25 million in federal funds.

The county has partnered with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville to redevelop the Southwood Mobile Home Park into a mixed-income neighborhood. On Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to endorse the funding application.

“We’re appreciative of the county’s support,” Habitat board member Lori Schweller said after the meeting. “It’s a big project and an exciting project that would really improve the state of affordable housing in the county.”

Habitat plans to expand Southwood over the course of 16 years to include 500 to 800 affordable and market-rate homes – without displacing existing residents. The county already has committed $675,000 and various staff resources to the project.

“[The redevelopment] would improve the living conditions of 350 families who now live in substandard mobile homes,” said Ron White, who oversees housing for the county.

The $1.25 million Community Development Block Grant would pay for 20 affordable units in the first phase. The homes would go on land that does not currently have trailers on it to avoid displacing any residents.

“We’ve been working with a group of early adopters,” said Dan Rosensweig, president and CEO of the local Habitat for Humanity. “[They] will actually design a block or two for themselves … from where the houses go, to the sizes [of houses], to the public space, to how it addresses the street.”

Habitat will combine public and private grants with revenue from selling parcels to other developers to make the project happen.

“There are lots of sources of revenue, but this would be a very, very critical one for us, because it’s capital that comes in early in the project before the other revenue starts to become available,” Rosensweig said.

Early revenue is important to Habitat, because representatives from approximately 100 of the 341 Southwood mobile homes are active in the redevelopment process.

“Once they see something up — when they see the first model village, the second village, the third village — hopefully, that will create excitement and inspire them to get involved as we start to do it phase by phase throughout the rest of the park,” Rosensweig said.

White said that resident hesitation is common for the housing and infrastructure projects he works on.

“Oftentimes … when you go in to talk with the residents about a proposal to improve their community or improve their housing, not everybody jumps on board right away,” he said. “Whether there’s a misunderstanding, mistrust or whatever, they don’t come on board until they see other residents benefiting from the project.”

Rosensweig emphasized that Habitat does not want to coerce residents into participating in the redevelopment.

“We’re taking what feels like a pretty revolutionary approach, which is asking people to raise their hands when they’re ready to go,” Rosensweig said.

A large majority of Southwood households earn less than 60 percent of the area median income. Community Development Block Grants, which are federal funds administered by the state, help pay for housing and infrastructure projects in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.

Recent projects in Albemarle include providing critical home repairs in Alberene and a public sewer project in Oak Hill.

In the past, Albemarle competed for the grants with other localities, but the state is starting an invitation-only process called the Vibrant Communities Initiatives Program.

“The Virginia Housing Development Authority and the Department of Housing and Community Development are looking for ways to support bigger, more impactful projects by combining funding sources and awarding them to bigger, neighborhood-scale-type endeavors,” Rosenweig said.

The state invited Habitat to apply for a $2.25 million bundle of funds through VCI. Albemarle only will oversee the CDBG piece of the funds.

If Southwood receives the funding and all goes according to plan, Habitat will break ground in 2020.

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Emily Hays

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.