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March 13, 2009

Is affordable housing available in “The best place to live in America”?

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EDITOR’S NOTE -- March 27, 2009: This story has been corrected in response to the comments from Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris. We regret the error that led to the omission of the Charlottesville Housing Fund initiative and the use of the City's Strategic Investment reserve fund. The original story compared Charlottesville and Albemarle’s operational budgets ONLY and did not include funds set aside for future use. The revised story describes the appropriations made from the Charlottesville Housing Fund and shows $220,000 appropriated in FY 2008-09 as contributing to the City's overall contributions this year. While this mixes dissimilar funding streams, it seems the most accurate way to quantify Charlottesville's contribution and it is an approach we can replicate in future reports.
-- Brian Wheeler, Executive Director, Charlottesville Tomorrow

THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
 
Effective as of November 25, 2007, the minimum entry-level wage for a full time employee of the University of Virginia, the region’s largest employer, is around $21,092 a year ($10.14/hr), qualifying as “very low income” according to HUD. This one person household would be considered cost burdened if their housing costs exceeded $527 each month. The AMI for a one person household in the Charlottesville MSA is about $48,000.
 
THE PIEDMONT HOUSING ALLIANCE
 
The Piedmont Housing Alliance (PHA) is a non-profit organization founded in 1997 that creates housing opportunities for low to moderate income families and individuals in Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson counties and the City of Charlottesville and provides education to help community members become homeowners. 

According to Stu Armstrong, Executive Director of PHA, the shortage of affordable housing is the result of a number of factors including expensive land and the fact that people have unreasonably high expectations of the amount of living space they need while many households may only have one earner.  “We are way over-spaced,” Armstrong said in an interview with Charlottesville Tomorrow on February 10, 2009.  Armstrong also pointed out that “the cost of housing in America has become a dual income model.”

In 1997, PHA was established as a Community Housing Development Organization (CDHO) and in 2001 it was certified by the U.S. Treasury as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI).  As a CDFI, PHA recently received a million dollar grant from the federal government for down payment assistance and qualifies for another $700,000 pending proof that PHA has more projects at the “shovel ready” stage.  Additionally, PHA is certified as a Housing Counseling Agency by HUD and Freddie Mac and more than 3000 families have gone through the counseling.  Over 500 families have gone through the homeownership education process with PHA and gone on to purchase a home.  Additionally, PHA manages the Charlottesville Housing Fund’s asset base.
  
Over the last twelve years, PHA has built and rehabilitated homes in Crozet, Starr Hill and Hinton Avenue.  The recently completed 10th and Page project rehabilitated, completed or assisted thirty-one homes helping provide low mortgage rates to struggling homeowners.  Additionally, PHA helped to build the Hope Community Center on 11th street.  
“We do what the City can’t do and what the private sector won’t do,” said PHA Executive Director Stu Armstrong.
 
PHA’s projects create construction jobs and increase tax revenue in the City and County through enhanced housing stock and increased homeownership.  With the current slowdown in construction, Armstrong says these jobs provide a unique opportunity for economic development, feeding money back into the community.  Between the Crozet Meadows and Monticello Vista projects, 180 full time jobs will be created according to Armstrong. 
 
“We play a vital role, we cannot let our fears related to this economy at a personal level inhibit our investment in this community as a non-profit,” Armstrong said. 
 
While PHA receives funding from both Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville, this funding is typically leveraged 10:1. PHA leverages the localities’ funds by finding matching grants or receiving in kind donations. This means that for the $150,000 given to PHA by the City each year, $1.5 million dollars worth of projects are completed.  According to Armstrong, each project typically has more than seven sources of funding. 
 
“We’ve created $300,000 per year in tax revenue for the city, they’re only giving us $150,000 a year,” said Armstrong, “we’re a great investment in the community because of what we leverage.”
 
THE CHARLOTTESVILLE REDEVELOPMENT AND HOUSING AUTHORITY

The Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority (CRHA) is a separate entity from the City of Charlottesville which receives its funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). CRHA does, however, receive federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds from the City for capital projects and other specific programs.  The CRHA manages 376 public housing units in Charlottesville and administers approximately 300 Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8) rental units that are supported through federal funding. 
 
Approximately 2,000 people are housed through these subsidy programs. Participants typically pay 30% of their income for rent and HUD pays the rest.  While 70% of the public housing households have an annual income under $10,000, 13% have income under $3,000 per year according to the CRHA.
 
In order to encourage homeownership, the CRHA provides loans through the Housing Opportunities Program to assist families in purchasing homes if they do not qualify for large enough mortgages.  Additionally, through their Down Payment & Closing Costs Assistance Program and the Housing Choice Voucher Home Ownership Program the CRHA helps low income families with down payments and closing costs.
 
On March 12, 2009, it was announced that the CRHA will receive around $797,000 from the federal government as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in order to improve and modernize some aging public housing buildings.
CRHA MAP 
Map of CRHA Properties
(Source: CRHA)
 
HABITAT FOR HUMANITY OF GREATER CHARLOTTESVILLE
 
Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville (Habitat) is a non-profit organization working to provide more opportunities for affordable homeownership in Charlottesville and the surrounding area.  Through volunteer labor and homebuyer “sweat equity” Habitat develops land and constructs mixed-income communities.  Habitat partner families are then given interest-free mortgages which allow them to build their personal wealth.  Since 1991 Habitat has built 79 homes: 38 in the City, 25 in Albemarle County and the balance in Louisa and Greene.
 
Each of the developments that habitat is working on has access to City bus lines. Currently, Habitat is constructing 18 units in Fifeville (8 have been built, 4 are under construction and the remaining 6 will be constructed in late 2009).  These units will be sold to households that earn 25 to 60% of the AMI with several additional units being sold at fair market value. 
 
Habitat is also transforming Sunrise Trailer Park in Belmont replacing the 17 trailers with 48 townhouses and condominiums.  This planned neighborhood will include affordable units directed towards current residents of the trailer park and additional families who qualify for Habitat homes. 
 
Habitat is working to develop a mixed-income community at the site of the 100 acre Southwood Mobile Home Park near the rezoned Biscuit Run Community.   This development will replace the 353 trailers with at least 500 high-density mixed-income units.   According to Ken Hankins, Chief Operating Officer of Habitat, an existing building in Southwood was recently renovated and now serves as the Southwood Community Center.   The Community Center includes the property management office, a community room available for classes and programs, a tripling of the space for the Boys and Girls Club for the additional children that are expected to move to the area with the new development and a new outdoor ball court.

An in-depth report on the affordable living choices in our community.  By Charlottesville Tomorrow's Fania Gordon

In their operating budgets for Fiscal Year 2008-09, the City of Charlottesville dedicated $1.61 million and Albemarle County dedicated $2.04 million to assisting with affordable housing in the community.  In addition, Charlottesville has allocated another $220,000 from the Charlottesville Housing Fund during the current year.

There are many causes for the local shortage of affordable housing and local governments and organizations have different ideas about the best solutions.   This report sets out some of the basic definitions that are necessary to understand the affordable housing problem, identifies the local agencies working to fix it, and outlines how local money is being spent to address affordability in the area.

AFFORDABILITY AND INCOME
Housing affordability is determined by the percent of a household’s income spent on housing.  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recommends that a household pay no more than 30% of its income for housing and housing related costs such as homeowners insurance and utilities.  Households that pay more that 30% considered cost burdened.  


Alc-income Housing affordability numbers are determined by income levels for the metropolitan statistical area (MSA).  The Charlottesville MSA consists of the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson Counties. According to HUD, a family of four in the Charlottesville MSA earning the area median income (AMI) of $68,500 should pay no more than  $1,712 each month for housing related expenses.  The AMI varies depending on household size.

There are different AMI groups to be considered when discussing affordability issues.  Households earning 60-80% of the AMI are considered low income, those earning 30-60% are very low income and those earning less than 30% of the AMI (~$20,000) are considered extremely low income.

In order to identify the number of community residents that are cost burdened by their housing expenses, statistics from the American Community Survey and National Decennial Census can be examined.  However, census data regarding rent as a proportion of household income is skewed in Albemarle and Charlottesville because it includes UVA students’ households which have low incomes but may receive assistance paying rent.

An examination of Charlottesville and Albemarle households reveals that 53% of renters in Albemarle and 57% of renters in Charlottesville with household annual incomes of $20,000 to $50,000 pay more than 30% of their household incomes towards rent. (U.S. Census)

However, the problem of a shortage of affordable housing is more complicated than examining incomes and ensuring that an adequate number of units exist for households at each income level; it is not only people who qualify as “low income” that try to save money on housing.  Since people with higher incomes and University students look for inexpensive housing within the City and there are a limited number of affordable rental units, low-income earners have to spend a higher portion of their pay on rent in order to be competitive in the rental market.  The situation has been exacerbated by the slowdown in the housing market; as the demand for rental units grows, rental prices within the City and County are increasing while unemployment is on the rise and salaries are staying the same or decreasing.

AFFORDABILITY AND TRANSPORTATION
While the limited number of available affordable housing units may limit a resident’s ability to acquire housing, location of affordable housing is an important factor in determining whether an area has adequate affordable housing stock.  Affordable housing units that lack access to reliable public transportation and other public services may limit a resident’s ability to access employment opportunities, particularly those that provide opportunity for advancement.  Easy access to public transportation is essential for those who may not be able to afford cars, lack driver’s licenses or need special services or assistance.

WORKFORCE HOUSING
In 2000, 6,133 people came to work in Charlottesville and 9,160 workers came to work in Albemarle County every day from Louisa, Greene, Nelson and Fluvanna Counties according to the TJPDC’s State of Housing Report.  Housing activists have attributed this high commuter volume to the shortage of affordable housing for people who work in Albemarle and Charlottesville area, many of whom fulfill necessary community functions such as teachers, firefighters and police officers.

RegionalDotDensity     
Map 1 Population Density for Charlottesville and surrounding areas (Source: TJPDC)

As the cost of living continues to increase, people are moving across county lines where homeownership and rental costs are less prohibitive than in Albemarle and Charlottesville.  Fluvanna and Greene Counties have their highest population densities directly across the county line and close to the major highways that provide access to Charlottesville and Albemarle.  (See Map 1) The high volume of workers commuting into and out of the area every day contributes to traffic congestion, leads to increased spending on road expansion projects and leads to diminished local air quality due to pollution from car exhaust. 

Many workers who are vital to the community compete for a limited number of affordable units.  According to the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission Housing Analysis, entry-level firefighters and police officers could only afford 129 of the single-family homes and 42 of the condominiums sold in the Planning District between 2004 and 2005.

“Prohibitively high housing costs are a key factor in many recruits’ decision not to join the Charlottesville Police Department,” according to the Charlottesville Police Department Foundation website. The Charlottesville Police Department Foundation is currently sponsoring a program to assist five Police Officers each year with home buying costs. 

The Charlottesville Areas Association of REALTORS (CAAR) created a Work Force Housing Fund to assist those people who serve essential community functions to purchase homes near to where they work.  The Fund is based at the Charlottesville Albemarle Community Foundation and administered by the Piedmont Housing Alliance.

CITY OF CHARLOTTESVILLE CURRENT INITIATIVES

In their FY08-09 budget, the City included:

  • $95,546 for the Albemarle Housing Improvement Program (AHIP) that assists low income City residents who need to make improvements to their homes, in order to rehabilitate them.  AHIP counsels city residents on improvements, taxes, legal matters and credit.
  • $142,106 for the Piedmont Housing Alliance (PHA) to towards housing and community development opportunities. 
  • $511,026 for the Affordability Tax Grant Program that assists homeowners who need assistance paying their real estate taxes.
  • $789,722 for rent and tax relief for the elderly and disabled.

Another initiative outside the operational budget is the Charlottesville Housing Fund.  According to Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris, the fund was capitalized with $2.15 million in FY2007-08 and another $1.4 million for the Fund was included in the FY2008-09 Capital Improvement Program. The final decisions regarding how these funds will be allocated are expected by May of 2009. As of March 27, 2009, $220,000 from the fund has been allocated in FY2008-09. According to the City, $2.6 million was allocated the year before with the largest amount received by Dogwood Housing ($850,000).

According to Charlottesville’s adopted budget, the “mission of the Fund is to meet the housing challenges facing our residents by dedicating, consolidating and expanding financial support for the preservation and production of affordable housing in our community.”  

The full list of Objectives for the Use of the Charlottesville Housing Fund and criteria for awarding funds was approved on November 3, 2008 and can be found on the Charlottesville Housing Fund website.

Some of the types of projects for which the Charlottesville Housing Fund can be used include:

* Redevelopment of CRHA Properties
* Homeowner Rehabilitation.
* Flexible revolving loan program.
* Rental Subsidies
* Development of Single Resident Occupancy (SRO) units

Additionally, according to Mayor Norris, in FY 2008-09, the City agreed to designate $1 million of the $4 million from the economic development Strategic Investment Fund to create a revolving loan program to encourage the development of new mixed-use projects that include affordable units.  As of March 27, 2009 there have been no applications for this low interest loan .


Alc-budgets2009-corrected2 ALBEMARLE COUNTY CURRENT INITIATIVES
In their FY 08/09 budget, the County included:

  • $416,328 for AHIP, who rehabilitated 31 homes in the County and assisted homeowners with 49 emergency home repairs in 2007.
  • $113,396 for PHA, who in 2007, assisted 38 families with down payment assistance in the County.
    • Both AHIP and PHA use that money to leverage other state, federal and private funds and 480 families with rental assistance.   
  • $435,928 for the Housing Choice Voucher Program
  • $250,000 for the Community Development Loan Fund
  • $40,000 for the Woods Edge Rental Subsidy.
  • $678,638 for tax relief for the elderly and disabled.


Through the Housing Choice Voucher Program (otherwise known as Section 8 vouchers), Albemarle County assisted more than 480 families with rent payments in 2007.  This totaled over $2.5 million in federal money paid directly to private landlords.    Additionally, through the Homebuyer Assistance Program, Albemarle County works with the Piedmont Housing Alliance to help first time homebuyers with down payment or closing costs.    In 2007, the Homebuyer Assistance Program leveraged funds and mortgage financing from the Virginia Housing Development Authority and dispersed 38 loans to first time homebuyers.  County funding made up 11% of the expenditures for affordable housing with the balance coming from the state, federal government and private sources. 

The Albemarle County Office of Housing’s Family Self-Sufficiency Program coordinates existing community services in order to help families currently receiving rental subsidies to become more self-sufficient.  This “one-stop” housing office offers services including counseling, workshops, and job training.

Albemarle County was awarded a $700,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) in 2007 to assist with rehabilitation and preservation of existing affordable units and construction of 38 new rental units for low-income elderly residents.  Furthermore, the revised Zoning Ordinance provides density bonuses for developers provided half of their additional units meet the County’s definition of affordable housing.

Alc-done-units2009

PROFFERED AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Albemarle County defines proffers as “voluntary offers by a landowner to perform an act, contribute money or donate land in order to mitigate the impacts of new development that result from a rezoning.” The Albemarle County Affordable Housing Policy sets forth the goal that at least 15% of all units developed under a rezoning or special use permit should be proffered as affordable housing for those making 80% of the AMI.  Alternatively,  the developer may contribute cash to the County to support attainment of affordable housing goals.  In their report, the Affordable Housing Joint Task Force recommended that the County restructure this target to specify that affordable housing be included for those in the extremely low, very low, and low income categories.

Since the Affordable Housing Policy was adopted in 2004, 1,622 affordable units have been proffered.  While nine proffered units have been completed, seven are under construction and twenty-five are in the final site plan review stage.  When these proffered  units are completed, the housing stock in the County that is affordable to families making 80% of the AMI will be dramatically increased.

Alc-all-units2009

Alc-all-units-table2009

Since 2004, more than $1.5 Million in cash proffers for affordable housing have been offered to the County and of that about $400,000 has been collected. Presently, several major residential and mixed-use developments include affordable housing proffers in the County:

  • Belvedere - 103 units & $500,000
  • Biscuit Run - 455 units
  • Cascadia - 50 units
  • Hollymead Town Center - 245 units
  • North Pointe - 110 units and $300,000
  • Old Trail Village - 330 units
  • Rivanna Village - 78 units
  • Wickham Pond - 16 units

These proffered units are required to be affordable to residents earning 80% of the AMI and are generally intended for purchase whereas public housing is generally directed at families earning incomes at or below 30% of the AMI.

COMMUNITY LAND TRUSTS
In the fall of 2008 the Thomas Jefferson Community Land Trust nonprofit was incorporated with the support of the TJPDC. Community Land Trusts (CLT) aim to make private homeownership more affordable, allowing individuals to build wealth.  A CLT acts as steward of the land, owning it and leasing it out to homeowners therefore allowing individuals to purchase homes without purchasing the land upon which they are built, ensuring long term affordability.  Seventy-five percent of the homes on Thomas Jefferson CLT owned land will be targeted to households earning below 80% of the AMI and the household income would be capped at 120% of the AMI.

CONCLUSION
In October 2008, the Charlottesville Albemarle UVA Joint Task Force on Affordable Housing presented its draft recommendations to the Albemarle and Charlottesville Planning Commissions.  The main recommendation of the task force was for the establishment of a committed, permanent, dedicated source of annual affordable housing funds from the City and the County outside of their existing operating budgets.  In preliminary discussions it was suggested that UVA should dedicate annual funding to affordable housing projects in the area, however, University officials deemed this type of dedicated funding to be outside of the mission of the University.

On January 22, 2009, the Task Force released their final report with specific recommendations on what is needed in order to address the region’s affordable housing problems.  The Task Force agreed that increasing local funding in order to leverage other funds should be the top priority of Charlottesville and Albemarle.  They recommended that proffer policies be revised to address long-term affordability and ensure that existing units remain affordable.  The Task Force further recommended that the Human Resource Departments of the City, County and University develop standards for establishing a local living wage for employees and contracted workers whenever possible.

The Joint Task Force presented its recommendations to the City Council on February 2, 2009, the County Board of Supervisors on February 11, 2009, and the Planning and Coordination Council, representing UVA, Albemarle and Charlottesville on February 19, 2009.  While none of the recommendations were immediately adopted by any of the bodies, the Board of Supervisors asked for more information on implementing some of them, specifically deed restrictions which would require that affordable units remain affordable after their first sale.  James City County mandates deed restrictions on affordable units that are then monitored by the developers, preventing the burden of monitoring from being placed on planning staff, according to Ron White, Albemarle’s Chief of Housing.

Additionally, City Council and the Board of Supervisors expressed interest in pursuing federal funding for development of single room occupancy units (SROs) to address the needs of extremely low income individuals within the City where they could have excellent access to public services.

Fania Gordon

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