Charlottesville is one step closer to creating a land bank corporation intended to help increase the city’s affordable housing stock. On Tuesday, a subcommittee of the Housing Advisory Committee met to work out kinks in the ordinance that the City Council would need resolved to approve to create the entity.
Some members of the subcommittee expressed concerns that the most recent version of the ordinance did not reflect key public comments about the land bank. The ordinance had previously stated that the corporation would not compete with the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Alliance or any other local housing nonprofit, but that language was missing in the final version.
“If the land bank has the ability to potentially develop property, then it could be a runaround [of] CRHA,” said Dan Rosensweig, a subcommittee member and president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville. “This was a big deal in both comments to council and throughout the two public hearings that we had.”
Subcommittee member and CEO of Pilot Mortgage Phil D’Oronzio explained that some of the language had dropped out of the ordinance because it belonged in the bylaws the land bank would write after forming.
“If we accept that as a premise, then we what we need to do is look at who is going to compose this body,” D’Oronzio said.
There was some disagreement about who the board members of the land bank should be.
“Is it mostly city staff? Is it mostly community members? Is it both?” Ridge Schuyler, HAC member and dean of community self-sufficiency at Piedmont Virginia Community College, said after the meeting. “Because that board of directors is really going to determine how the land bank operates.”
At least two members of the land bank would be participants in assisted housing programs, possibly nominated by the Legal Aid Justice Center or another group with ties to those communities.
The 2016 state law that gives the City Council the ability to create a land bank corporation also requires the City Council to appoint the land bank’s board.
Rosensweig said that tying appointees to the political process, while a good instinct, might make it harder for the corporation to commit to a long-term vision.
“I’ve just been part of too many nonprofits where the creation of the board and the composition of the board is everything,” Rosensweig said. “I’ve seen a lot of them fail because they were unable to move strategically forward.”
Assistant City Manager Mike Murphy suggested having the land bank interview nominees before they were appointed by the City Council could solve that issue.
Councilor Heather Hill said the City Council should see the recommended guidelines for the land bank at the same time as the ordinance so the public could see that their input did not disappear.
One of the potential guidelines that came out of public engagement was giving the land bank the right of first refusal of any city property that might be sold.
“City Council may say that’s crazy, but the consensus of the [subcommittee] very much was, ‘Let’s put that radical idea out there,’ almost as a test to see how committed council was to pulling every lever to address the affordable housing shortage,” Rosensweig said.
Rosensweig said that he would not be disappointed if the council postponed a vote on the right of first refusal, but that it was a topic worth debating.
The final look of the ordinance with an accompanying memo on disagreements and guidelines for the land bank is expected to be worked out by email before the next City Council meeting on April 16.