Nov 2 • 19M

November 2, 2022: CAAR reports lower home sales, higher home prices; Regional Transit Vision Plan nearing completion

Plus: The first in a series of Chamber of Commerce questions for Republican Bob Good and Democrat Josh Throneburg

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Regular updates of what's happening in local and regional government in and around Charlottesville, Virginia from an award-winning journalist with nearly thirty years of experience.
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For some reason, November 2 is marked by some as Look for Circles Day. According to one website, “a circle is a shape where all the points in the shape are on the same plane and are equidistant from a single point in the middle, which is known as the center of the circle.” These sorts of definitions permeate Charlottesville Community Engagement, a program that seeks to roll along for many periods to come. I’m your host Sean Tubbs, and I’m a bit roly-poly. 

On today’s program:

  • The area’s association of Realtors releases the latest look at the housing market 

  • Charlottesville opens up applications for the funding of major housing initiatives

  • The Regional Transit Vision is nearing completion 

  • The two candidates for the Fifth Congressional District offer comments to the Chambers of Commerce of Danville, Charlottesville and Lynchburg 

Charlottesville Community Engagement is more of a squiggle than a circle, but well worth reviewing every day to see what shape it takes. Sign up for free, but consider paying to help pay for the spirograph.

First shout-out: Visions of Progress with Dr. John Edwin Mason

In today’s first subscriber-supported shout-out, the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society continues its speaker series on November 10 by welcoming Dr. John Edwin Mason for a discussion of the "Visions of Progress" photography exhibition which is on display at UVA's Small Special Collections Library. Mason teaches African history and the history of photography at the University of Virginia.

The exhibition showcases portraits that African Americans in Central Virginia commissioned from Charlottesville's Holsinger Studio during the first decades of the twentieth century. This is a hybrid program, meaning that you can attend either in-person at Northside Library, or remotely via Facebook Live. Learn more at JMRL

CAAR: Sales continue to slow; Prices continue to climb

Housing sales have been down for five consecutive quarters in the region covered by the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors. The group released their quarterly report today. 

“There were 1,206 home sales in the CAAR region during the third quarter of 2022,” reads page 2 of the report. “This is 192 fewer sales than this time last year, which is a 14 percent drop.”

The report states that one reason is the higher cost of borrowing money. Mortgage rates have also increased with 6.92 percent for a 30-year fixed-rate loan, up 3.87 percent over a year. 

At the same time, the price of homes continues to increase with a median price of $405,000, up 11 percent over the year. That’s despite having more homes on the market. 

“There were 829 active listings on the market at the end of the third quarter, 226 more listings than a year ago, a 37 percent increase,” the report continues. 

The full report can be found on the CAAR website.

The cost of newly constructed homes increased to $466,900 compared to $401,440 in the third quarter of 2022. 

Sales were down across all six localities in the CAAR footprint with Charlottesville the steepest drop at 22 percent with 146 sales. 

The full report can be found on the CAAR website. While you’re there, you’ll see that the organization is hoping to raise $10,000 this year for the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. They are almost halfway there If you want to help them out

Charlottesville seeking applicants for housing funds

Charlottesville City Council adopted an affordable housing plan in March 2021 that calls for $10 million a year in investment in programs and initiatives to expand the amount of units that are guaranteed to be rented or sold to people with incomes below sixty percent of the area median income. 

On Tuesday, the city announced it is seeking proposals from groups for city funding to help subsidize the cost of major projects. 

“This application process is open to those multi-family affordable housing development projects, proposed to be located within City limits, that may be requesting significant investment consideration for which developers may be desiring to ask the City to assist with gap funding,” reads the press release for the announcement

The ideal use of the funding is to help with applications for Low Income Housing Tax Credits, which are distributed by the entity formerly known as the Virginia Housing Development Authority. No set amount is specified and the applications will be used to help make decisions in the Capital Improvement Program budget. 

The current capital improvement includes $3 million for the Charlottesville Housing and Redevelopment Authority in the adopted fiscal year and another $9 million over the following three years. Piedmont Housing Alliance has $2.5 million in the current fiscal year for Friendship Court plus another $7.75 million over the following four years.

To be eligible for funding, groups must be either a nonprofit organization or the CRHA. Applicants must not be in violation of any federal, state, or local regulations and affordability must be for households lower than 60 percent of the area median income for a period of at least 30 years. The preferred term is 99 years. 

The five-year capital budget also includes placeholders of $3 million for a Piedmont Housing Alliance project at the site of the Monticello Area Community Action Agency and $1.95 million for Piedmont Housing Alliance at Park Street Christian Church. Council approved rezonings for both earlier this year. 

Applications for funding are due on November 30 at 4 p.m.

An image from the application provides more background on the project.

Regional Transit Vision Plan nearing completion 

Tonight the Board of Commissioners of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission will see the final version of a plan intended to show the way for a more frequent and more reliable public transportation system. 

“The Regional Transit Vision plan is a 28-month $350,000 project supported by the [Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation], the city of Charlottesville, Albemarle County, and the [Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission],” said Lucinda Shannon, a transportation planner with TJPDC. “We used data and community engagement to establish a unified long-term vision for transit services in the Charlottesville area.” 

The work leads into another plan intended to recommend changes in governance structures. Currently the city of Charlottesville owns Charlottesville Area Transit, the University of Virginia owns the University Transit Service, and shareholders including local governments own Jaunt. 

The Regional Transit Partnership was formed in 2017 to serve as an information clearinghouse for transit issues and is attended by top officials at all three transit providers, as well as DRPT officials. The group took a look at the plan at their meeting on October 27, 2022. 

Much of that $350,000 went to either the firm AECOM or the firm Jarrett Walker and Associates. Scudder Wagg works for the latter.

“The initial chapter of the vision is describing why to think about expanding transit and one of the significant reasons why is that transportation costs are pretty high in this region,” Wagg said. “The average household in Albemarle and Charlottesville, the urbanized area, spends about 21 percent of its income on transportation which a bit higher than the 16 percent average for across the United States.” 

Wagg said the current transit system is not doing much to achieve the goal of increasing access to economic opportunity because fixed-route service is not frequent enough.

“Frequency is enormously important to how long you have to wait for the vehicle to show up, how long you have to wait when you are transferring, and therefore how much time you have to spend traveling,” Wagg said. 

As a result, Wagg said transit is not useful for most people who have a choice about how to get around. The first recommendation is to increase service and frequency. 

New route changes for Charlottesville Area Transit were reviewed last year but have been delayed due to a lack of drivers. City Council agreed earlier this fall to increase driver salaries to the highest in the region and at least 15 new applications have been received. 

Wagg said current routes don’t run often enough to be useful for many users (Credit: AECOM / JWA / TJPDC)

The vision provides two potential networks for the region, including outlying counties. One is a system of enhanced service that does not take into consideration any financial constraints. That adds up to a $70 million a year enterprise plus capital costs for a Bus Rapid Transit service similar to the Pulse operated by the Greater Richmond Transit Company as well as more crosstown routes as opposed to the current system where most routes require a downtown transfer. 

The second is a constrained network that factors in potential new sources of revenue. That would allow around $35.5 million a year. This assumes the formation of a transportation authority with taxing power. 

“That’s significantly more than the current overall budget of about $19.5 million a year between CAT and Jaunt today,” Wagg said. “Obviously you have a much smaller budget so we can’t do as much in terms of significant improvements to service. Frequency is expensive. You double the frequency of the route, you double the operating costs in effect.” 

Comments can be mailed to Lucinda Shannon through November 10 and a final plan will be ready by the end of November. I’ll have more from the Regional Transit Partnership in the next installment of the program. If you can’t wait, take a look right now: 

Second Shout-out is for the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards 

In today’s second subscriber-supported shout-out, an area nonprofit wants you to know about what they offer to help you learn how to preserve, protect, and appreciate! The Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards holds several events throughout the year including a walk in western Albemarle County on the morning of November 12 through a well preserved and highly diverse woodland to see naturally occurring winterberry, spicebush, and dogwood laden with red berries. 

In abundance will be nuts from forest oaks, hickories, walnuts as well as orchard grown Chinese chestnuts, walnuts, pecans, and American hazelnuts. Registration is limited. There’s also still time for an online Zoom tree identification class tomorrow night. Visit charlottesvilleareatreestewards.org for more information. 

Fifth District Chambers of Commerce have questions for Good, Throneburg: Opening statements

There are now six days until Election Day and as of yesterday, 688,302 Virginians have voted early. That’s according to data collected by the Virginia Public Access Project. About a tenth of that number comes from the Fifth District where Democrat Josh Throneburg is looking to unseat Republican first-term incumbent Bob Good.

Both candidates sat down virtually with leaders from the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance, and the Danville-Pittsylvania Chamber of Commerce.

The written version of the newsletter will have have a few quotes. You can hear the whole answers in the podcast version of the newsletter. Between now and them, I’ll have one question per day. 

Today, opening statements from both candidates. Let’s begin with Bob Good, who served on the Campbell County Board of Supervisors before his election to the House of Representatives in 2020. 

“I have been very active in the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance going back some 17 years since I moved back to Lynchburg,” Good said. “For those who don’t know, I grew up in the Lynchburg area. I attended Liberty University for my undergraduate finance degree and my MBA shortly thereafter. I worked with Citi Group for 17 years and then 15 years at Liberty as the chief fundraiser for the athletics department.” 

“What I’m most proud of during my time in Congress would be how we have lead with constituent service and case work,” Good continues. “We have resolved over 3,000 cases for the citizens of the Fifth District and helped recover over $14 million that was owed to constituents of the Fifth District by their federal government. That doesn’t mean we went up to Washington and got money to bring home to the district, per se. What it means is that they were owed money by the [Internal Revenue Service], the [Veterans’ Administration], Medicare, or some other federal agency and they reached out to a Congressional office for help. We’re currently working some 700 cases right now.” 

Good said a majority of cases involve veterans. He also said there has been another 50,000 in written responses to community members asking questions. 

This will be the first election under the new boundaries for Virginia’s Congressional Districts.

“We’re excited about the redistricting of the Fifth which will make a lot more sense geographically for the constituents,” Good said. “I think the Supreme Court did a good job there in starting over there with the districts which just make more geographic sense and allows the constituents to have their representative closer to them, hopefully more visible and more frequently in their respective city or county and I think they got it right in the Fifth District. We hate that we’re losing the areas we are but excited about the areas we are picking up. Now we’re kind of three hours end to end instead of five hours end to end which is just better to keep communities of interest together.” 

Next, Democrat Josh Thronenburg had his chance to introduce himself. 

“I live in Charlottesville with my wife and my two daughters,” Throneburg said. “My background is I grew up in a farming community in rural Illinois out in those cornfields that go forever and those tiny towns that dot them. That’s where I grew up, Loved it. Farming and agricultural community and it’s wonderful. My family also had a small business. My grandfather and his brother started a small grain elevator that kind of grew over time and became a pretty substantial business in our community.”

“I have spent most of my life, my vocational life, as a pastor,” Throneburg continued. “I am an ordained minister and that is what I have loved doing and have spent many many years, 15 years or so, pastoring in a local church and that’s been wonderful. My wife and I have also owned a small business here in Charlottesville and enjoyed that. That’s my basic story.”

“I think what inspired me  to run for Congress is that as a parent the thing you want most in this world is for you kids to have a future that is healthy and safe and equitable and flourishing,” Throneburg said. “That’s what you want and I think there are a lot of things in our country where the trajectory of certain things is concerning to a parent, especially as you can probably tell, I’m a white male but everyone else in my family are women and they’re all women of color. My oldest daughter is adopted from Haiti and my youngest daughter is biracial because my wife is Korean-American. You want to make sure that what they are walking into is a world where they can grow and flourish and I think that there are some threats to that and that’s really what inspired my candidacy.” 

This series will continue in the next newsletter. Other topics include national defense, regulation and taxation, workforce development, public safety, public health, and the role of higher education. 

Thank you to the Charlottesville Chamber of Commerce for permission to use the audio and the two other for participating.

Reading material of note:

Haushaltsführung for #452 

Thanks today to Tatyanna Patten for providing the voice of one of the press release soundbites in the podcast version. She wants you to go visit the Rivanna Conservation Alliance at rivannariver.org. Thanks to Doug Eddy for providing the other. He wants you to try to be kind to one another. 

Thanks to all of the paying subscribers to the newsletter, who keep the items of information inching along. If you would like to join them, the best way is to subscribe right here in Substack at either $5 a month, $50 a year, or $200 a year. There are the occasional items of “first-look” content, such as the upcoming summary of property transactions in Charlottesville. 

If you do subscribe, Ting will match your first payment. And even if you opt not to do so, Ting would still like your business for high-speed internet service and if you sign up through a link in the newsletter you will get free installation, a $75 gift card to the Downtown Mall, and a second month for free. Just enter the promo code COMMUNITY.

When will the next installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement be sent out? This is a good question. Look for the circles for the answer.