CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - A Charlottesville nonprofit is joining a national effort to address a big issue in the city, but not without push-back.

Habitat for Humanity kicked off its Cost of Home campaign Wednesday morning. Habitat is looking to improve housing affordability by influencing policy and system changes at all levels, starting with the local level.

At the kick-off event in City Space, some community members raised concerns. They believe The truth about Charlottesville as a city should be told before tackling bigger issues.

One woman at the event said it's not just the lower class having issues with affordable housing, but the middle class too. Habitat organizers agree and say a conversation needs to be had where everyone from all backgrounds is at the table.

"We can do this but we have to do this collaboratively," said CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville Dan Rosensweig. "We have to take new approaches. We have to be honest about what got us here and honest about the solutions that are going to carry us forward because it is not a world class community unless everybody can find a place that's suitable for them."

Rosensweig is working with Vice Chair of Charlottesville's Board of Commissioners Latita Talbert on the project. They say 50% of people in Charlottesville pay more than they can afford for housing.

06/12/2019 Press Release from Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville:

Charlottesville, VA (June 12, 2019) — Nearly 19 million households across the United States are spending at least half of their income on a place to live, often forgoing basic necessities such as food and health care to make ends meet. Half of Charlottesville residents pay more than they can afford for housing. As a result, the stability that housing should bring continues to remain out of reach for many people.

Today Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville joined Habitat organizations and partners across the country to launch a new national advocacy and housing solutions campaign. The Cost of Home is aimed at improving home affordability for 10 million people in the U.S. over the next five years, including making significant strides here in Charlottesville.

To commemorate and announce the launch of the campaign, Habitat hosted a Cost of Home Campaign kickoff event on June 12 at CitySpace in partnership with the Charlottesville-Albemarle Affordable Housing Coalition (CHAAHC), a group of local nonprofit housing organizations: Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless, Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, Albemarle Housing Improvement Program, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville, and Piedmont Housing Alliance. The event was attended by more than 60 people, including public officials, beneficiaries of housing programs, non-profit providers and others eager to learn more and play a role in reducing the Cost of Home.

Dan Rosensweig, President & CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville, opened the event by providing a national and local perspective on affordable housing. He noted that 1 of 6 American families pay more than 50% of their income for housing, and affordable housing interventions are needed for 12,000 households in our area. Solving the problem will require dynamic housing solutions along the “housing ladder,” a continuum spanning from emergency shelters, to permanent supported housing, affordable rental and homeownership through market-rate rentals and homeownership. And, it will require collaboration among community organizations and policymakers at the federal, state and local level. “Habitat for Humanity is a can-do organization, and we’re partnering with similar can-do organizations to find solutions,” Rosensweig said.

The highlight of the event was a panel discussion featuring area renters and homeowners who have faced the challenges of navigating our housing system and finding a safe, decent, affordable place to live in our community.

Cheryl James, now a resident of The Crossings, a permanent supportive housing community, recounted her experience with homelessness. “Safety was the biggest issue for me,” she said. If not for moving to The Crossings, she says she would be “in jail, dead or homeless and still suffering.” She encouraged attendees to see the humanity inherent in homelessness. “Homeless people are people too,” she said.

LaTita Talbert discussed her journey from Charlottesville public housing to an Albemarle County apartment secured through a housing voucher. “It was a challenge for me,” she said, “I had to have a determination to continue to move forward.” Now Vice-Chair of the Board of Commissioners for the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority (CRHA), Talbert called for more community support and education about housing resources to help people with low, very low and no income find homes.

Silvan Kasondwa fled his native country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for Uganda, and then emigrated to Charlottesville in 2016. He and his wife stay in Charlottesville because of its high-quality educational system and the opportunities it provides for their five children. Despite their two incomes, however, they wonder if they will ever be able to purchase a home large enough for their entire family in Charlottesville or Albemarle County. “The houses I found would take my whole salary for one month,” he said. He has expanded his search area, despite the transportation challenges moving further away from the city would bring.

Pastor Kendrick Edwards, a homeowner in Charlottesville’s Belmont neighborhood for more than 30 years, has watched his neighborhood change. “Belmont used to be an area where you could purchase a house on a decent salary,” he said. But now he has seen many long-time residents forced to sell their homes due to rising property taxes. He compared the current Charlottesville housing market to properties in the board game Monopoly: “There aren’t many Baltics and Connecticuts in Charlottesville,” he said. “We have a lot of Park Places and Boardwalks.” Edwards called for a re-examination of city tax policies.

In closing the event, CHAAHC member and Piedmont Housing Alliance Executive Director Sunshine Mathon described the Cost of Home campaign as having a “national lens with a focus on local community solutions.” Fundamental to those solutions is the idea that people want choices. “That requires all kinds of housing for all kinds of people in all kinds of places,” Mathon said.

For more information on the goals, strategies and next steps of the Cost of Home campaign, visit the Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville website at: