More than a year ago, a national company bought a dilapidated downtown Charlottesville apartment building that houses seniors and people with disabilities of “very low- and extremely-low income” and promised to rebuild it.
In March 2022, the city’s public housing authority issued $23 million in public bonds to help fund the project. The company piled construction materials in the parking lot and promised to begin work that summer.
But months later, the construction supplies disappeared without explanation. And no one — not city officials, not residents, not Charlottesville Tomorrow — has been able to get a straight answer from the company about what is happening since.
The apartment building in question is Midway Manor, a four-story structure that houses about 100 seniors and people with disabilities. Their rents are subsidized by the U.S. Office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The building is more than 40 years old now, and has been plagued with problems for years. The elevator regularly malfunctions, heating and air conditioning units are faulty, appliances are outdated and unreliable, the roof leaks, there are frequently pests, the parking lot is often unlit.
Standard Communities, a company based in California that has a history of buying and renovating low-income and market-rate housing communities across the country, bought Midway Manor from its previous owner in February 2022. When it did, the company made big promises about the building’s future: A massive renovation and rehabilitation of the building, and continued affordability.
In addition to the revenue bonds issued by Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, Standard Communities has said that it would be seeking additional public assistance, including the IRS’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, to fund renovations.
Charlottesville Tomorrow has sent Standard Communities more than a dozen emails in the last 12 months asking for updates to the renovation schedule and the affordability contract, and has not received a single answer.
City officials haven’t received them, either.
Charlottesville City Councilor Michael Payne said he’s heard about some of the reasons for construction delays, like supply chain issues, inflation, and a supposed delay in state funding being disbursed, but nothing concrete.
Apart from the construction timeline, Payne said he is concerned about whether Standard intends to renew its “affordability contract” with HUD. That contract is the only thing guaranteeing that seniors and people with disabilities of what HUD defines as very low- and extremely-low income remain in their homes there.
Payne said he wants “to know with 100% certainty what Standard Communities’ decision is going to be on renewing their contract with HUD.”
Residents are frustrated by what they say is a lack of communication on the part of the owners and the property management company, Franklin Johnston Group. They say that their concerns about the building’s physical condition are not addressed in a timely fashion, and that the notices they do receive, particularly in regards to their subsidies and rent payments, are confusing.
Residents received some correspondence from Standard in late February 2023. The memo stated that “the property will undergo a renovation” in a minimally intrusive manner to residents; and that “the property will remain affordable for the foreseeable future.” It also stated that the amount tenants pay in rent (i.e., the portion not subsidized by HUD) “should not increase” after the renovation.
Residents gathered to discuss this notice, and some said they struggled to understand what, exactly, it was saying. Some parts were too vague, they said, and others were detailed enough to confuse them. They wished for someone from Standard to answer their questions.
One audibly frustrated resident worried about the difference in the use of “will not” and “should not” in the memo and voiced concern about being able to continue living in her apartment. She asked to remain anonymous out of concern that doing so could jeopardize her place at Midway Manor.
Like Payne, Charlottesville’s Fire Marshal Joe Phillips said he has trouble getting answers from Standard Communities for his own office and for residents who ask for his help.
Phillips can only take direct action on fire code violations, and while he said those are always fixed right away, other problems are left to linger. Problems like water pooling in the middle of a living room.
Phillips has taken it upon himself to act as a go-between for residents and the property management company. About a year ago, he took a list of problems with the building directly to the owners.
“They at least talk to us,” he said of building management, “but I don’t think we always get the result we want.”
What do they have to hide?—Midway Manor resident resident Mary Carey asks about Standard Communities, which owns the building
After their Zoom call, those issues were fixed quickly. But in the past year, the list has grown once again, and Phillips is seeking out other solutions. He recently brought the pooling water issue to Patricia Carrington, the city’s property maintenance inspector.
Charlottesville’s Office of Human Rights, which handles complaints of discrimination, has also struggled to get in touch with Standard.
Like Payne and Phillips, Todd Niemeier, director of the OHR, and Paola Covarribuas, a community organizer with the Public Housing Association of Residents, have sought answers to residents’ questions. They sent a letter to Standard at the end of April. The letter praised Standard’s previous work with low-income housing communities elsewhere in the country and asked that Midway Manor residents receive the same treatment. The letter also requested an update on both the renovation timeline and the affordability contract with HUD.
Standard did not respond.
But Standard did call a meeting at Midway Manor on June 7.
Residents invited Councilor Payne, Fire Marshal Phillips, OHR Director Niemeier, community organizer Covarrubias, a Charlottesville Tomorrow reporter, and others who’ve attended the resident association meetings. City officials were unable to attend due to other commitments.
Before the meeting began, Franklin Johnston Group employees asked the Charlottesville Tomorrow reporter to leave. Covarrubias was not allowed in the building. The medical nurse of a resident who was physically unable to attend the meeting, was also asked to leave. Residents objected to their guests being kicked out.
Outside the building, Steven Kahn, senior director of Standard Communities, apologized to those asked to leave. Kahn said that Standard wanted the meeting to be residents-only so that residents felt like they could speak and ask questions freely, “without someone they don’t know watching them.”
Kahn refused to answer questions about the affordability contract or the renovation timeline, saying only that they’d share “meeting notes” and more information no later than Monday, June 12.
At the time of publication, Standard had shared no information with Charlottesville Tomorrow.
Kahn added that of all the projects he’s worked on, this one has been particularly challenging to get going, but would not explain why.
“What do they have to hide?” said resident Mary Carey, who organizes the monthly resident association meeting.
Residents who Charlottesville Tomorrow spoke with after the meeting said that Standard gave them no details about the project timeline. Carey said she didn’t feel like she learned much, and other folks couldn’t remember.
“They haven’t given us anything,” she said. “We have heard this before. On top of that, they did not want us to talk about anything that was going wrong now at Midway Manor.”
More than once throughout the meeting, someone from management asked residents to “be quiet and have some respect for others,” Carey said.
A few days after the meeting, residents received a memo saying that HVAC inspections would begin on June 21, and that a relocation specialist would soon be on site. “We don’t really understand what that means,” said Carey, though she added that a relocation specialist showed up last week.
Late in the day on Friday, June 23, residents received another memo notifying them that the management office would be closed July 3 and 4, and said that a contractor would arrive Tuesday, June 27, to deliver roofing materials. The memo also mentioned that inspections that were supposed to begin last week, would begin now. But Carey is still waiting for answers, and she’s skeptical about what’s being promised now.
“They blew a lot of smoke,” Carey said. “Now let’s see which way it goes.”
More about how we reported this story
Since April 2022, our neighborhoods reporter Erin O’Hare exchanged around 50 emails with Standard Communities representatives, asking for updates about their renovations to Midway Manor. Most of her inquiries were met with promises that that company would provide information “soon.”
Then, on June 7, Standard Communities held a meeting with residents to update them on the project. Residents invited O’Hare to attend, Standard Communities representatives refused to begin the meeting until she left the building.
Outside, a Standard Communities representative promised to send O’Hare “meeting minutes.” He did not, and did not offer comment on this story in time for publishing.