After about three hours of discussion largely centered on affordable housing, the Charlottesville Planning Commission on Tuesday endorsed the city’s five-year Capital Improvement Program budget in a 6-0 vote. The recommendation to the City Council included adding $1 million for the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund for fiscal year 2020, as that line item previously was removed. The affordable housing fund was set at about $3.4 million for the current fiscal year. “We reallocated portions of the affordable housing fund to assist with the funding of public housing redevelopment, as well as adding additional dollars specifically for those projects,” said Ryan Davidson, the city’s senior budget and management analyst. The remainder was split between the city’s supplemental rental assistance program and housing rehabilitation, Davidson said. The supplemental rental assistance program is slated to receive $900,000 in the CIP proposal, and $500,000 is set aside for housing rehabilitation. When the funds were in a lump sum in the affordable housing fund, the Housing Advisory Committee had a process of allocating the money, Dan Rosensweig, a member of HAC and president of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville, said during the public hearing on the CIP. HAC Chairman Phil d’Oronzio said the process is needed so the funds can go to where the need is greatest when the situation arises. “What we got [in the CIP proposal] … is a substantial investment, but really no one here knows at this point what needs to go where,” d’Oronzio said. Rosensweig described the change as “another example … of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.” Lisa Green, chairwoman of the Planning Commission, said a proliferation of siloed information and decisions in relation to housing has led to a feeling of a disconnect. “It’s like an octopus all in a candy jar,” she said in reference to Rosensweig’s comment. “We’ve got to get this together, so we do have a right and a left hand and they’re shaking hands and we get this together.”
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Commissioners, including Jody Lahendro and Lyle Solla-Yates, suggested adjustments in the CIP to keep some funds in the affordable housing fund for projects such as those that addressed homelessness and promoted homeownership. “I feel like we have to put money into the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund to maintain these programs,” Lahendro said. Several residents during the public hearing advocated for the continuation of those funds, and Solla-Yates suggested shifting funds by delaying park projects, such as lights on the rectangular fields in Darden Towe Park, to fulfill that purpose or go toward the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority. A motion to that effect died without a second. Interim City Manager Mike Murphy said the change in the allocation was made in part to strengthen the CRHA’s and Friendship Court’s separate applications for low-income tax credits and to direct funds into programs that keep affordable housing affordable by keeping people in their residences. “I would argue there is still $1.3 million in affordable housing; we’ve told you how it ought to be spent,” he said. “Does that take away some process where the HAC advises staff about allocations that get made with input later from the Planning Commission and council? Perhaps, but I think that it is clear that these are the greatest priorities in housing,” Murphy said. The Planning Commission remained steadfast in its conviction that the affordable housing fund have an allocation, and Lahendro made the motion with no recommendation on where the money should come from. Overall, the five-year CIP has about $125.6 million in projects. For fiscal year 2020, the amount is about $35.3 million, a 51-percent increase over the current fiscal year. A third of the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year is dedicated to affordable housing. The proposal assumes no changes in tax rates. The Planning Commission’s recommendation will be in a memo that the City Council will receive with the CIP package. The council is expected to vote on the budget and the first year of the CIP in April. Tuesday’s meeting began as a joint session with the City Council, but that body lost a quorum before any action was taken in Council Chambers. The Planning Commission’s vote was 6-0, as Commissioner Rory Stolzenberg was absent.