March 25, 2021: Public housing board discusses security contract; affordable housing in Albemarle; Carp runs for Council
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In today’s show:
Developers shed some light on how regulatory hurdles can affect cost of housing
Albemarle’s county executive highlights Albemarle’s building boom
Albemarle’s housing plan is going back to the Planning Commission, but supervisors weighed in first
Charlottesville public housing discusses ending a security contract
A fifth candidate emerges in the raced two Democratic nominations for City Council
Today is the deadline for candidates who want to be on the ballot as a party candidate in the Democratic primary on June 8. Candidates for primaries must have all of their paperwork ready by 5 p.m., including 125 signatures. City resident and software engineer Josh Carp announced his bid on Twitter Tuesday evening.
The other candidates in the race are School Board member Juandiego Wade, Charlottesville native and businessman Carl E. Brown, local campaign veteran Yasmine Washington, and 2019 candidate and UVA project manager Brian Pinkston.
Primaries will also be held in the three Supervisor races in Albemarle. Liz Palmer is not running for a third term in the Samuel Miller District, leaving at least one open seat. County registrar Jake Washburne confirmed in an email that Jim Andrews has filed as a Democrat in that race.
Neither Rio District incumbent Ned Gallaway or Jack Jouett incumbent Diantha McKeel have not yet indicated if they will seek new terms.
This first segment is from the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s meeting on Monday, March 22. (watch the video)
Do you or someone you know need assistance paying for where you live? The waiting list for federal vouchers issued by the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority will reopen on March 29 for a brief time, with the window closing on April 2. John Sales is the executive director of CRHA.
“The waitlist is electronic this year and it will be available at portal.cvillerha.com,” Sales said. “That’s on our website. It’s on our Facebook page. And it should be on the news in the next couple of days.”
The CRHA is authorized to issue up to 538 vouchers, which go to individuals to help make up the cost between what they can afford and the open market. Currently, 393 households receive the voucher, and Sales said he is hoping to add between 40 and 50 new ones.
The funding comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but the city of Charlottesville pays $900,000 a year to cover the cost of additional rental assistance. Sales said in an email that 77 households are using that program.
Security contract concerns
Since January, Sentry Force Security has held a contract to patrol CRHA properties. President Tim Sansone addressed the CHRA Board of Commissioners at their meeting at matters from the public and said there has been an increase in illegal activities and that Sentry Force personnel have been coordinating with the Charlottesville Police Department.
“I understand there’s been some dialogue or conversations as far as the scope of our services and the contract that we have with CRHA,” Sansone said. “I think everyone would agree or know that the properties that we’re here to patrol and provide services with are definitely in need of some type of security service or coverage which is what we are providing.”
Sansone said service was reduced in February due to the cost, and he told the CRHA Board that his company would put together a proposal for a lowered price.
The topic came up during a public hearing on the budget for fiscal year 2022. The CRHA fiscal year begins on April 1. Sales said revenue from tenants is expected to be down by $150,000 despite leasing more units. He also said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is requiring CRHA to set aside $500,000 in reserve in order to one day leave “troubled” status. (draft budget)
Much of the discussion, though, dealt with the security issue.
Sales said the CHRA had signed a $240,000 contract under a line item called “Total Protective Services” but that is now expected to not carry on into the next year. Sales became CRHA director last August.
“Solicitation was already out when I got here,” Sales said. “We moved forward with it. After going through numbers, looking at what we’re projected to lose in revenue and the operating fund not catching up for a year, because it’s a year behind…. We really can’t afford this service.”
Sales said the bill from Sentry Force Security for January was $43,000.
“I don’t know any housing authority that can afford that,” Sales said. “That’s about a half million a year. That would by far be the largest contract we have.”
Sales said there are other ways to address security issues, such as hiring someone to check ids before people enter Crescent Halls, for instance.
At the public comment period, Brandon Collins of the Public Housing Association of Residents said he supported the change.
“The current security company and the previous security company really weren’t offering anything, any kind of improvements to resident safety and the housing authority has been very responsive to resident direction on this matter,” Collins said.
Collins said community-based initiatives such as the recently formed B.U.C.K. Squad would be a better use of resources to address safety.
Sansone spoke again during the public hearing for the budget. He said security officers have logged 147 incidents and 23 of those have been violent crime, drug related, or property damage. He said he understood the budget issues.
“I would hope that we could all agree that security is definitely a need at these properties,” Sansone said. “In January when we are at full staffing level we were patrolling concurrently with [Charlottesville Police Department].”
Sansone said he warned that without security, the number of violent incidents would continue as the weather gets warm. That’s the same message that the head of the B.U.C.K. Squad told Council earlier this month.
Sansone said that could leave the CRHA with liability issues if someone they hire to run the door at Crescent Halls is injured in an incident. The CRHA’s attorney, David Oberg, later disputed that notion and said they’d be covered by worker’s compensation.
Sansone offered a lower rate for Sentry Force’s services albeit with lower service.
“I’d just strongly discourage the Board from considering removing all security presence as a whole, especially with the summer months coming up.
Sales said the new proposal was for $180,000 and he thought that the authority could only afford about $9,000 a month. Sansone continued his pitch.
“It’s not going be the same exact same service level as having what we had done in January but it would be able to provide a deterrent and a presence because if people start seeing that there is no security at all at these properties, then the word is going to get out and you’re going to see a lot more activity happening at these properties, especially with the summer months coming up.”
There were murders at South First Street on November 5 and December 27 of last year, as well as numerous reports of shots fired.
Mayor Nikuyah Walker, who sits on the CHRA Board, acknowledged the summer months could lead to an uptick in violence and she wants to find a solution to prevent future issues.
“It is something that we need to figure out but I think that we need to work with the families that live there with CRHA, with the Safety Committee,” Walker said. “It isn’t something I don’t think we can delay.”
Walker said Council is considering proposals to fund both Peace in the Street and B.U.C.K. Squad.
“But there are also some things that they can’t do that we wouldn’t want them to do just for safety reasons,” Walker said.
The CRHA will vote on the budget at a meeting on March 30.
Kathleen Glenn-Matthews, the operations director for CRHA, gave an update on redevelopment efforts. Groundbreaking for the first phase of South First Street’s redevelopment was held on March 7.
“And we are in the planning process as we really closed on Crescent Halls to go ahead and get a similar event in place there and we hope to have some announcement soon once I talk to the Crescent Halls residents association about times that will for them,” Glenn-Matthews said.
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How much of a role does local policy play in determining the cost of housing? That was one theme of a panel discussion held on March 18, 2021 by the Central Virginia Regional Housing Partnership. (watch the video)
“There are a lot of factors that go into making something affordable, many of which we just don’t control locally,” said Charlie Armstrong, the vice president of land development for Southern Development, one of the area’s most active property developers.
Every structure you see in America is reviewed at multiple levels of government to make sure the edifice conforms to rules. Armstrong said too much land use regulation increases the cost of housing and that localities can play a role through their own policies.
“We as a community really do this to ourselves,” Armstrong said. “We intentionally through our Comprehensive Plans and our zoning ordinances limit the supply of land for new homes. We intentionally as a community limit the density of new homes that is allowed on any one piece of land.”
Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan sets aside roughly 5 percent of the county’s 726 square miles for residential development. Armstrong said the community’s choice to let the rest of the county be rural has impacts on the cost of housing. Limited supply drives up the cost because those with more money can offer higher prices.
For the land that is available, it can be time-consuming and expensive to navigate through the zoning and special use permit process that can unlock higher residential densities.
Chris Henry of the Stony Point Development Group said housing was more affordable in the past because developers did not have to comply with regulations to reduce stormwater runoff, as well as requirements to build sidewalks and other public infrastructure.
“Municipalities used to be in the business of even in some cases of building roads,” Henry said. “They would put in stormwater and things like that. A lot of that has been pushed off to the private sector for various reasons, a lot of them are reasonable. But it’s added to the cost of homes.”
For more on this discussion, I’ve got an article in this week’s C-Ville Weekly that goes into more detail. You can also watch the whole presentation on the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission’s YouTube page.
Let’s go back for a moment to the March 17, 2021 meeting of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors. Things are being built in the county. Here’s County Executive Jeffrey Richardson.
“2020 was the greatest volume of building permits in over nine years,” Richardson said. “Just 9.7 percent of building permits were issued in the rural area. Over 90 percent of the building permits were issued in the development area.”
According to the year-end building report for 2020, about a quarter of the units were single family detached, and the rest are a mixture of townhomes, multifamily and other forms of housing.
In all, 1,143 certificates of occupancy were issued in Albemarle in 2020, with a similar ratio between development and rural areas.
Supervisor Ann Mallek said in the mid 2000’s, the ratio was 50:50. She said there is a potential danger in over-development of the growth areas.
“Because of all the work that’s been done for 30 years to have our development areas be places where people want to live and how important it is that we’re so careful about not messing that up, whether it is not addressing the shortcomings we have for infrastructure or making it so crowded that people don’t want to be there,”
Supervisor Diantha McKeel said there are challenges in the development that have to be addressed.
“We have to keep focused on getting the infrastructure built to handle all of these folks,” McKeel said.
Later in the evening, the Board of Supervisors had an update and public hearing on the county’s housing plan which has been under development since July 2019. It builds off of a housing study conducted by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission in March of that year. An updated draft of the Housing Albemarle was made available in the Supervisors’ packet. (March 17 draft)
“The report identified more than 10,000 renters and homeowners who are paying more than the recommended 30 percent of their incomes towards housing costs,” said Stacy Pethia, the county’s housing coordinator. “The proposed policy includes 12 policy objectives and 39 correspondending strategies and action steps.”
These range from increasing the overall supply of housing to promoting mixed-income development in the designated growth areas. The plan also calls for the creation of an affordable housing trust fund.
Pethia did not go into details on March 17.
At the very beginning of her presentation, Pethia said the item would be going back to the Planning Commission after the public hearing. Supervisors had the chance to ask questions before people spoke. Supervisor Liz Palmer drew attention to Objective 8, which calls reductions in regulatory barriers to affordable housing. One strategy would allow accessory external dwelling units in all of the county’s residential zoning districts.
“Maybe I’m reading more into that then I should but does that mean that any place in the whole county can have a dwelling unit, an accessory dwelling unit?” Palmer asked.
“Yes, that is the intent behind that,” Pethia said.
Pethia said an ordinance would be developed first that would set guidelines for such a program.
Supervisor Diantha McKeel also had some concerns about the idea, especially in already established neighborhoods.
“To go back into older neighborhoods, retrofit for something they weren’t built for,” McKeel said. “These accessory units work perfectly in Belvedere. Belvedere was built for them.”
At the public hearing many speakers represented the group IMPACT, which is holding their annual Nehemiah event on March 25 to ask Supervisors to commit to affordable housing. One of them is Vicki Bravo.
“Our interfaith group of 25 congregations representing 15,000 people,” Bravo said. “We congratulate you on your excellent housing policy and we look forward to celebrating its approval. We are pleased that the policy includes the creation of an affordable housing trust fund, the best practice around the country of creating affordable housing.
Following the public hearing, Supervisors had the change to make their comments. Supervisor Ann Mallek said she was concerned the way Objective 1 is phrased would open the door to changes in zoning the community would not support.
“Increase the supply of housing to meet the diverse housing needs of all current and future Albemarle County residents, that’s what it says,” Mallek said. “That is not possible. We need to take out the word ‘all’ and understand that we are going to do our very best to increase the supply to meet the needs of residents but I don’t want to see this used as an excuse to throw everything under the bus because it’s a completely unattainable objective.”
Mallek said many older neighborhoods cannot support additional density because they weren’t built for it.
“The streets are ten feet wide,” Mallek said. “The right of way goes to the edge of the pavement. There is no place for sidewalks or bikes lanes or the extra traffic with doubling the units on that street.”
Supervisor Donna Price said the county would have to come to some new conclusion if it wants to maintain the growth management policy that’s been in place since 1980.
“If we want to maintain our policy of five percent development area and 95 percent rural area, that means we will have to fill in substantial density into the five percent that we’ve got,” Price said. “In order to do that, I believe we have to recognize that the historic suburban neighborhood model of detached single-family homes is insufficient to meet the current and future needs.”
Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley said Albemarle is in a dilemma because existing residents of the designated growth area are resisting additional homes.
“And people don’t want the density increased,” LaPisto-Kirtley said. “They don’t want the buildings to go higher. So that means eventually do we go out into the rural areas? We have to make a decision. It’s going to be a tough decision.”
LaPisto-Kirtley said she would prefer not to expand the development area but instead build more multifamily units and townhomes.
Supervisor Ned Gallaway said he wanted more information about the details of how the trust fund would work, and was confident he would get them as the Plan works its way back through the Planning Commission.
“And we have an opportunity here to have some robust conversations around these specific things because it’s going back to the Planning Commission,” Gallaway said.
The housing plan could go back before the Planning Commission as early as May.
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