Sep 30, 2021 • 16M

September 30, 2021: Regional housing group talks budget, grant opportunities, strategic plan; Smith Aquatic Center to reopen in early 2022

Welcome to the end of the third quarter of 2021!

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Sean Tubbs
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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On today’s Patreon-fueled shout-out:

Fall is here but some days of summer heat may be in the days to come. Either way, tour local energy nonprofit, LEAP, wants you and yours to keep comfortable all year round! LEAP offers FREE home weatherization to income- and age-qualifying residents, so, if you’re age 60 or older, or have an annual household income of less than $74,950, you may qualify for a free energy assessment and home energy improvements such as insulation and air sealing. Sign up today to lower your energy bills, increase comfort, and reduce energy waste at home!

On today’s program:

  • The Central Virginia Regional Housing Partnership updates its members on grants for eviction prevention and affordable unit construction

  • Planning continues for a train station in Christiansburg at the future terminus of Amtrak’s Northeast Regional service

  • The city’s newest indoor pool will remain closed for the rest of the year

September ends with a downward trend away from the COVID surge that’s overtaken Virginia and much of the country. Today the seven-day percent positivity is down to 8.9 today, down from 10.3 on September 1. The seven-day average for new cases has decreased to 2,828. There have been 889 fatalities reported in Virginia since September 1. 

The Blue Ridge Health District reports another 89 cases today and the seven-day percent positivity has dropped to 6.8 percent. 

Charlottesville’s Smith Aquatic and Fitness Center will remain closed through the end of the year. Since opening in 2010, the facility has been plagued with ventilation problems and work is finishing up on a renovation project with a $2.2 million cost. 

“Our goal is to provide a safe, healthy, and inviting aquatic environment for the community and a safe work environment for our staff,” said Deputy City Manager Sam Sanders in a press release that went out on September 27

Smith Aquatic and Fitness Center had been expected to close for repairs in the spring of 2020, but the pandemic shut down all Parks and Recreation facilities. When they began to gradually reopen this year, staffing shortages kept Onesty Pool in Meade Park closed for the entire summer. Smith is now expected to open on January 3. 

Work continues to build a train station in the New River Valley to be ready when the Amtrak Northeast Regional Service is expanded to that location in 2025. On Monday, the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors got a briefing on Monday about progress to form an authority to finance and construct the station. The New River Valley Regional Commission is hoping to create that body by the end of the year. 

In May, Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation allowing the formation of the authority. The group will work off efforts to bring passenger rail back to Christiansburg, including a ridership study from 2015 that projects a ridership of 40,000 a year. (read the study)

According to a presentation to the seven-member Montgomery BOS, the MPO Policy Board for that area has selected a site near the Christiansburg Aquatic Center. Now the authority will work to convince localities in the region to chip in to the debt services to cover the cost of the station, estimated to cost $4.25 million. 

Credit: New River Valley Regional Commission

An Italian company that specializes in cured meats will set up its first operation in the United States in Rockingham County, according to an economic development announcement from Governor Ralph Northam. Veronesi Holding S.p.A. expects to provide about 150 jobs over the next four years in the county’s Innovation Village research and technology park

“The company plans to explore the possibility of working with smaller Virginia farms for its American production needs,” reads a press release about a $3.8 million grant from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund

Veronesi Holding had over €3.1 billion in sales in 2020 and 9,000 employees. The company can get benefits through the Port of Virginia Economic and Infrastructure Development Zone grant program, and tax credits through the Majority Business Facility Job program

In today’s second Substack-supported public service announcement: The Charlottesville Jazz Society at is dedicated to the promotion, preservation, and perpetuation of all that  jazz, and there’s no time like now to find a time to get out and watch people love to play. The Charlottesville Jazz Society keeps a running list of what’s coming up at 

As the newly confirmed executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, one of Christine Jacob’s first jobs will be to secure the financial footing of a regional advisory body created a few years ago to encourage production of more residential units in the region.

“Composed of an overarching consortium of housing interests, the Partnership enhances regional coordination and effectiveness to address the housing needs of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District’s region, with a focus on housing production, diversity, accessibility, cost, location, design, and increasing stability for the region’s residents,” reads the website for the Central Virginia Regional Housing Partnership. 

One of their products so far is a regional housing plan called Planning for Affordability  which includes strategies for each of the six localities. Charlottesville’s chapter echoes the Affordable Housing Plan adopted by Council in March of this year.(download the regional plan). 

At the partnership’s meeting on September 22, Jacobs told the partnership’s board members that a sustainable budget is required going forward. The FY22 budget has been reduced from $95,000 to $65,000. (watch the meeting on YouTube)

“Originally what we had was that the TJPDC would contribute from its per capital regional fund $25,000 and we would be asking an immediate one-time ask from our local governments but pro-rated per capita,” Jacobs said. “We would be asking of you all partners within the CVRHP to contribute and then also seeking grants and scholarships.” 

Jacobs said asking local governments for funding out of the budget cycle is unusual so the idea of asking for funding was dropped. 

“It is assuming that we will run a very lean FY22 year focusing the majority of our energy and staff time on strategic planning,” Jacobs said. 

However, this is the beginning of the FY23 budget cycle for most localities, so this is a good time to make a request for ongoing funding. Jacobs is aiming for a $72,000 budget for the year that runs July 1, 2022 though June 30, 2023. 

Staff with the partnership are finalizing their work on implementing a $20,000 planning grant to help prevent or reduce evictions. Ian Baxter is the staff member for the regional housing partnership.

“That’s the Virginia Eviction Reduction Pilot planning grant, it’s kind of a mouthful,” Baxter said. “What we’re doing with now is we’ve contracted services from the UVA Equity Center to create a comprehensive eviction database to sort of determine where evictions are happening and which property companies are evicting the most people or bringing the most judgements or cases.”

Baxter said the TJPDC will apply for a follow-up grant to implement some of the recommendations. In the meantime, some of the work involves the city of Charlottesville.

“We’re working with the city of Charlottesville who are donating some staff time to do some focus groups with tenants, landlords, and judges here in the region and really thinking about what some of the best practices are in terms of reducing eviction in our region,” Baxter said. 

Implementation could include stabilization services, rental assistance, financial counseling, or other ways to keep people in the homes they are renting. 

Another grant the regional housing partnership will administer is direct funding from Virginia Housing for actual construction of units. 

“We ended up receiving $2 million to develop at least 20 units of affordable housing by June 2023,” Baxter said.  

Baxter said the process for how the choices will be made is still being developed and a draft will be circulated by the end of October.

There were other updates at the partnership including one from Thomas Haro, the executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless. He said that while there are at least some more permanent shelters due to his agency’s use of the Red Carpet Inn in Premier Circle, there are not enough as winter approaches.

“We’re trying to figure out how to get additional shelter capacity this winter,” Haro said. “So focusing on that with some community partners and trying to figure out the best way to bring that through.” 

As the partnership prepares a strategic plan, Haro said he would like to see language to ask developers to consider building units in new developments for homeless individuals. 

“There are ways to incorporate units specifically designated for people experiencing homelessness, particularly chronic homelessness,” Haro said. “There are ways to make it really sustainable. It works. The data is really supportive if you have supportive services in the picture. But without really specially holding aside those units for people experiencing homeless, it is difficult for people to get into units.”

Albemarle Supervisor Diantha McKeel said she sees an opportunity in the strategic plan.

“If we could think about how we might better communicate and educate the public about affordable housing and what it really means or what it is,” McKeel said. 

Jessie Ferguson of the Nelson County Board of Supervisors agreed with McKeel and said it is time to stop demonizing those on government or philanthropic support.

“It’s your neighbor, it’s the guy at the grocery store, it’s your police officer, actually,” Ferguson said. ”People don’t realize how personal this is.”

Ferguson he hopes Nelson County will allow more residential units to be built by-right.

An update on UVA’s housing initiative

The University of Virginia continues to work toward its goal of working with a private developer to build up to 1,500 affordable units on land that either UVA or the UVA Foundations. The company Northern Urban Real Estate Ventures has been hired to come up with a plan through their community engagement efforts. 

Colette Sheehy is UVA’s Senior Vice President for Operations and State Government Relations. 

“We continue to work with our consultant and try to offer some educational videos for the public,” Sheehy said. “There are two of them up on our website currently.”

The titles of these videos are Zoning and Matter of Right Development and The Development Process and Financing Overview. There will be more videos in the series and can be seen here.  

Sheehy shared one piece of feedback the consultant has received so far from members of the community. 

“It’s important to them that we consider the economic opportunity that a project like this would offer to the community and therefore try to use local businesses and local contractors to the degree that that’s possible,” Sheehy said.

Sheehy said the idea had been to circulate a list of potential sites by the end of September, but they are not quite ready to do so.  More on that in future installments of the show.