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April 19, 2012

City and county planning commissioners discuss affordable housing

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DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission continued its $1 million livability project Tuesday with a joint meeting of the Albemarle and Charlottesville Planning Commissions. 
“This project is based on the recognition that this is one community,” said Stephen Williams, the executive director of the TJPDC
The project is funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. One of its goals is to coordinate updates of the Charlottesville Comprehensive Plan, the Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan and the federally mandated Long Range Transportation Plan.
Over the past year, several workshops have been held to provide opportunities for the public to interact with staff and elected and appointed officials on topics ranging from transportation, land use policy and affordable housing
Over 300 people participated in the workshops and more than 700 comments have been received online. 
“A lot of the comments focused on affordable housing and the need to increase affordable housing in the community, both in the city and the county,” said Mandy Burbage, a planner with the TJPDC. “There was interest in ordinances supportive of affordable housing and a review process that made it easier for developers to create it.”
City and county staff briefed commissioners on existing policies in both communities. 
“The city influences housing and policy development through a lot of different means,” said Kathy McHugh, a housing specialist for the city. These include incentivizing and subsidizing home improvements, working with housing nonprofits to encourage development of affordable housing and providing technical support.  
“The big-picture goals for the county are to have a mix of housing types, to provide choice of density in the development areas… and have affordable housing for those who live and work in the county,” said Elaine Echols, the county’s principal planner.
McHugh said one difference between the two communities is that the city is entitled to receive Community Development Block Grant funding directly from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, whereas Albemarle has to compete with other counties in Virginia for funding. 
“We’ve actually quantified in the city the number of [affordable] units that we need,” said city planner Dan Rosensweig, citing a report from the Housing Advisory Committee. “We need 1,408 new supported units by 2025 and 2,350 preserved or added by 2025.” 
In contrast, county commissioners said Albemarle has not clearly identified its needs for affordable housing. 
“We really don’t know what housing stock we have in the county in terms of affordability,” said county commissioner Richard Randolph. “We need to have, within our commission, to have extensive discussion about affordable housing.” 
Rosensweig said he would like to discourage practices that allow developers to make cash payments in order to fulfill requirements to provide affordable housing units as part of new neighborhoods.
“I think it’s too easy, frankly, in the county to buy your way out of on-site affordable housing, yet everyone’s vision is of mixtures of incomes throughout the region,” Rosensweig said. 
County commissioner Bruce Dotson said Albemarle recently dealt with this issue during a rezoning public hearing for Estes Park near Forest Lakes
“I know at least some commissioners felt fairly strongly that they wanted to see the units more than the payments,” Dotson said. “There may be some resonance across the boundaries.” 
Many commissioners were concerned that the TJPDC’s outreach efforts have not attracted a diverse audience.
“I went to all but one of [the workshops] and it seemed like a very homogeneous group,” Rosensweig said. He added he would like the TJPDC to increase efforts to reach out to low-income communities. 
County commissioner Don Franco suggested talking directly with neighborhood associations. City commissioner Natasha Sienitsky suggested meeting with church groups. Summer Frederick, the coordinator of the TJPDC initiative, said outreach was also being conducted in other ways.
“We do have our livability partnership, which is made up of representatives of community organizations,” Frederick said. “They are charged with taking it back to the communities they represent… We hope they facilitate conversations.”
Echols said the next steps in the process will be to develop a joint statement expressing goals for both communities’ comprehensive plans.


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