The Piedmont Housing Authority hopes to bring an early childhood center and a workforce development program to Friendship Court. Credit: Credit: Josh Mandell, Charlottesville Tomorrow

The Piedmont Housing Alliance is making plans to bring early childhood services and job training programs to Friendship Court, both during and after its redevelopment.

“This is not just about improving physical buildings,” said Claudette Grant, community organizer for Friendship Court. “It’s about giving people a variety of opportunities that will add value to this community.”

Friendship Court, a 150-unit subsidized housing development, is scheduled to be redeveloped as a mixed-income neighborhood with 600 residential units. Existing residents will be able to remain in the neighborhood, and construction is scheduled to begin in 2019.

The project, expected to be a cornerstone of the city’s Strategic Investment Area south of the Downtown Mall, is expected to take 10 years and cost more than $90 million.

The Friendship Court site is currently owned by the National Housing Trust and the Enterprise Preservation Corp. The Piedmont Housing Alliance is a minority partner that will exercise an option to buy the site outright next year.

The PHA has proposed using 6,000 square feet of community space in the redeveloped Friendship Court for an early childhood center. It also hopes to implement a workforce training program in which Friendship Court residents would receive training in skilled trades and be hired to work on the building effort.

PHA chief operating officer Karen Reifenberger said both programs would help to ensure that the new neighborhood improves quality of life and fosters access to opportunity for residents — goals that Friendship Court Advisory Committee prioritized in its redevelopment master plan.

More than half of Friendship Court’s 500 residents are under the age of 18, and the median household income in the development is less than $11,000.

“It is important for children to have the care and education they need to realize their fullest potential and for their families to have economic opportunities,” Reifenberger said.

Reifenberger said the PHA, as a housing-focused organization, needs outside expertise to plan and implement these services. The PHA used a $4,000 grant from the Initiative for Effective Nonprofits to hire a consultant in March.

Maryfrances Porter of Partnerships for Strategic Impact, a Charlottesville public services consulting firm, will lead the initial planning process for the early childhood center and workforce development program.

“We want these programs to respond to the needs of our residents and align with other initiatives in our community,” Porter said.

The Initiative for Effective Nonprofits is administered by the United Way-Thomas Jefferson Area and the Wardle Family Foundation. Cathy Smith Train, president of the local United Way, said the grant was part of her organization’s ongoing collaboration with the PHA on Friendship Court.

“After doing a lot of listening and gathering information … the consultant will identify potential models for those programs and create a road map to move forward,” she said. (Train also serves on the board of directors of Charlottesville Tomorrow.)

“These action plans will identify which partners are needed and who will lead the process,” said Porter. “The PHA will hand off that process to other entities that are needed to move it forward.”

Porter has assembled two working groups of local leaders in early childhood services and workforce development, along with Friendship Court residents, which will meet through the spring.

Daphne Keiser, strategic planning director for the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center, is a member of the workforce development group. She said CATEC could potentially partner with the PHA to provide job training at Friendship Court.

“There is a great need in our area for individuals to do HVAC, plumbing and electrical work and other building trades,” Keiser said.

Keiser, who supervised the education of young Friendship Court residents as principal of Clark Elementary, said the early childhood center would address a crucial need for many infants and toddlers in Charlottesville.

“The city has preschool programs for 3- and 4-year-olds, but an early childhood program at Friendship Court could capture more students, starting at a much earlier age,” Keiser said.

“Having both services right there in the community for the residents to access is really exciting,” Keiser added. “The early childhood center would allow parents of young children to continue their education, explore job opportunities and develop different skills.”

“The early childhood center could be a collaboration of existing local operators, or it could be a new entity,” said Reifenberger. “It could also be run by an established organization that is based somewhere else but operates here.”

“Like the new housing, the center … would use a sliding scale [for tuition] that’s affordable for people with a variety of incomes, and serves a broad section of the community,” Reifenberger said.

Grant said Friendship Court’s early childhood center might start as a small pilot program before moving into the new facility.

“We would want to make sure it is something that is going to be effective before we go forward with a huge plan,” she said.


Josh Mandell graduated from Yale in 2016 and has been recognized by the Virginia Press Association with five awards for education writing, health, science and environmental writing and multimedia reporting.