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August 18, 2009

Council seeks to use federal money to build new affordable housing units

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By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Charlottesville City Council has set its priorities for what affordable housing projects should be first-in-line to receive federal funding in the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2010. Council indicated it wants to use Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding to support projects that seek to add to the City’s affordable housing stock.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20090817-CC-CDBG

Council’s discussion of priorities came during an August 17, 2009 public hearing on both CDBG and Home Investment Partnership (HOME) funding. Both streams of federal funding come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

In the current fiscal year, the City received $533,551 in CDBG funds and another $168,246 in HOME funding. The City then reviewed requests from non-profit organizations to determine what programs will receive the money. In August 2008, Council decided that a priority would be placed on workforce development, economic development and neighborhood stabilization.

For the next fiscal year, Melissa Celii, the City’s Grants Coordinator, asked Council if they wanted to continue with those priorities. While the exact level of funding for next fiscal year is not yet know, Celii predicted it would be at least as much as what was received this year.

Councilor Satyendra Huja said he wanted to see more money going into the construction of new affordable housing units. Councilor David Brown wanted to know that the difference was between CDBG funding and the City’s existing affordable housing fund.  Celii said the major difference was that CDBG funds can only go to qualified non-profit organizations, and that there are only a few in this area. However, anyone can apply for funds from Charlottesville’s affordable housing fund.

Celii also asked Council to designate a priority neighborhood to receive $200,000 in CDBG funds that do not have to go through the City’s proposal submission process. For the past four years, Council has selected the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority (CRHA) to be the “priority neighborhood.” Celii told Council that if it followed the pattern of the last 20 years, the Fifeville neighborhood would be the next one to have a turn at being the CDBG designee.

However, Councilor Huja said because the City’s own funding for affordable housing projects could be reduced next year, he would be inclined not to select a priority neighborhood. Councilors David Brown and Julian Taliaferro agreed, as did Mayor Dave Norris.

“I’m sensitive to the concern that we’re taking off the top $200,000 automatically out of a shrinking pot of money which leaves less for other organizations,” Norris said. He said by not designating a priority neighborhood for CDBG funds, the City would have more flexible to fund its overall priorities.

Crescent-halls
Crescent Halls is managed by the Charlottesville Redevelopment & Housing Authority

However, Councilor Holly Edwards said she had hoped CRHA could have received a fifth year of being the priority neighborhood so that important infrastructure repair work could be completed in the City’s public housing units. The City’s CDBG Task Force had recommended selecting a new neighborhood because the CRHA has approximately $400,000 in unspent CDBG funds.  When Edwards requested more information about that fund balance, Celii said that CRHA had built new elevators at Crescent Halls and installed new roofs at Westhaven. Norris said all of that money has been designated to projects in the City’s public housing stock, and the public should not think the money was going to waste.

CDBG guidelines only allow for 15% of a locality’s funding to be spent on social programs. Edwards asked if it would be possible to “be creative” with that money to promote workforce development. She wanted to have a better sense of how those program were actually working and asked Celii to return back before Council with some hard numbers.

“I’d like to have some specified outcomes,” Edwards said. “We put a lot of money into social programs but I’d like to see us move to the next level of being accountable and seeing how we can really see some accomplishments with the people we say we’re serving.” Specifically, she said she wanted Celii to report on how many get employed, how many people received new skills or certifications, and if people’s incomes increased as a result of their participation. That information should come back before Council as they weigh in on the affordable housing proposals that will be received by the City in advance of next year’s budget development.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 – Staff report from Melissa Celii, the City’s Grants Coordinator
  • 05:30 -  Councilor Satyendra Huja indicates he does not support designating a priority neighborhood
  • 09:30 – Councilor Holly Edwards says she supports CRHA receiving priority funds
  • 12:30 – Edwards asks about 15% cap for social programs
  • 16:30 – Huja wants CRHA to come forward with proposal on play areas in public housing stock

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