Charlottesville faces housing ‘crisis’; new report identifies problems, highlights solutions

Published: Apr. 4, 2022 at 10:37 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Charlottesville has spent nearly $50 million on affordable housing since 2010, but the problems persist.

Monday night, city councilors were briefed on what some believe needs to be done to bring the city closer to a solution.

But before a solution is pitched, a problem needs to be identified -- and many were brought up during Monday’s City Council meeting. In Charlottesville, $1,500 a month can get you about 1,000 square feet, according to Deputy City Manager Sam Sanders. That’s comparable to New Orleans and Las Vegas, two cities with populations at least several times larger than Charlottesville’s.

“If you think about New Orleans and Las Vegas as comparable to the city of Charlottesville, you know we’re in trouble,” Sanders said.

In order to solve that issue, Charlottesville has funneled $46 million into affordable housing since 2010, and it’s seen some results. More than 1,600 affordable units have been constructed and preserved, a new report presented by city officials said.

“Is that good?” Sanders asked. “The answer is yes. But good is relative.”

Now, the city is preparing to raise its financial commitment even more. It’s eyeing $10 million annually.

“It could easily be $20 million, because that’s how much of a crisis we actually face,” Sanders said.

But when it came time for councilors to state a commitment to the $10 million, the answers varied.

“I view the $10 million as a commitment rather than a goal,” Councilor Michael Payne said.

Councilor Brian Pinkston agreed that it’s a commitment, not a goal. But he added, ”maybe over a three-to-five-year span that we average that amount.”

Mayor Lloyd Snook, as he did last week when the religious advocacy group IMPACT asked for his commitment, said he doesn’t make those kinds of commitments.

“[The $10 million] is a strongly held goal, but if we have a financial crisis on the order of COVID or something like that... my marriage survived COVID, some financial commitments from the city did not,” he said.

Sanders said much still needs to be done, including council establishing a clear definition of what is affordable housing, having a clear policy that guides all decisions, and ensuring those dealing with homelessness are included in the spending.

Also on Monday, city councilors moved forward with a plan to raise taxes on meals in the city. The proposal would increase the meals tax rate from 6% to 6.5%. That’s still in line with most Virginia cities, and would give Charlottesville an extra $1.2-to-$1.25 million. Part of the reason for the change is the need for more money to fund school reconfiguration.

Sarah Elaine Hart, a former Charlottesville City Schools employee, called in during the public hearing on the budget.

“Please raise my meals taxes, please raise my property taxes to support our children,” she said. “I don’t believe that could be a misinvestment in any way.

Council is set to approve the budget on Tuesday, April 12.

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