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3 affordable housing projects in Charlottesville awarded more than $13M

Charlottesville is one step closer to constructing three affordable housing projects across the city thanks to $13.6 million the commonwealth has awarded a local nonprofit housing developer and property manager.

Earlier this month, Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office announced that it would be doling out $129 million in Affordable and Special Needs Housing loans to 78 housing projects across Virginia.

A share of the combined federal and state resources will go to three Piedmont Housing Alliance projects in Charlottesville: 501 Cherry Ave., Kindlewood Phase 2 and the redevelopment of the Monticello Area Community Action Agency site on Park Street. The projects have been awarded $6.8 million, $2.8 million and $4 million, respectively.

The Cherry Avenue and Kindlewood developments will both include affordable apartments which the housing alliance hopes will help alleviate Charlottesville’s housing crisis. Cherry Avenue is expected to include 70 apartments and Kindlewood another 100. There are also plans for Habitat for Humanity-built residences on the site of the Monticello Area Community Action Agency.

It’s good news, officials say, for a city where the number of people who have fallen into homelessness has grown by 25% since 2018 and the median sales price of a single-family house is $435,000, roughly 22% higher than the rest of the nation and 14% higher than the rest of Virginia, according to data compiled by the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors and real estate listing site Zillow.

It’s also good news because the Charlottesville projects could have been in peril if not for the funding. In an era of high construction costs, nonprofit developers such as the Piedmont Housing Alliance rely on a combination of federal, state and local funds in order to build affordable housing units. It requires significant logistical planning, as the nonprofit has to apply for funding from multiple different sources, needing many things to line up in order to fully fund a project.

Piedmont Executive Director Sunshine Mathon said he was relieved to learn the commonwealth would be awarding the organization the money.

“These funds are crucial to the success and viability of projects we work on. If we didn’t have them at all, I don’t know how they’d be built,” Mathon told The Daily Progress.

He compares nonprofit development to “financial architecture.” It starts with building a foundation, then walls, a roof and the rest; it’s a process of building resources, with each one creating the scaffolding that helps the developer pursue the next source of funding.

So while the recently announced funding will get the Piedmont Housing Alliance closer to its total fundraising goal, it will also help convince other sources to contribute as well.

“We’re bringing together various sources, and every time we lock one down, it’s a sigh of relief, but also frankly helps us leverage the pursuit of additional resources,” Mathon said.

If the housing alliance’s application had been denied, it would have had the opportunity to try again. But that would have slowed down the entire planning process — and raised questions about whether the organization would be able to fund the projects.

“This isn’t extra money. We were hoping and relying on this,” Mathon said. “If we it had not received it, it would’ve been a giant gaping hole in those project budgets.”

The first phase of Kindlewood was completed in August. When the entire project is completed over the next eight years, 400 affordable units are expected to be housed in the complex that will include a park, garden, basketball court, child care center, community resource center and more. Solar panels will be installed on the rooftops to help make the buildings more sustainable and save residents money on energy bills.

Phase 2 will include 100 units as well as the construction of the community resource center.

Much still has to fall into place for the dream scenario at 501 Cherry Avenue to be realized. In addition to the affordable apartments, the Piedmont Housing Alliance, working with Charlottesville developer Woodard Properties, hopes to include a grocery store in the building so residents will have easy access to fresh and healthy food. It also plans to include space for the Music Resource Center, a local nonprofit that serves underprivileged youth.

Among other things, the Monticello Area Community Action Agency offers free early childhood education to Charlottesville-area residents. There are a number of classrooms at its Park Street facility, located near Route 250 and McIntire Park. A couple years ago, the nonprofit organization partnered with the Piedmont Housing Alliance to redevelop the site with the goal of building a mixture of affordable rental units and single-family residences.

“We went through the rezoning process with the city a year and a half ago, and we got pretty resounding support from the Planning Commission and City Council with the goal of building affordable housing in a part of the city that really has no affordability,” Mathon said.

Habitat for Humanity is also partnering with the groups to help build 20 affordable residences on the site as well as a classroom for the early learning center.

In order to receive the Affordable and Special Needs Housing funds, projects must promise to deliver affordable apartments at 80% below area median income. But Mathon said that alone would not have resulted in the housing alliance being awarded money. By planning to build a wide range of affordable units, anywhere from 30% to 80% below area median income, the organization significantly improved its chances of beating out other projects in the competitive process.

“You apply for each project, and each stands on its own merits in competition for funds. Inevitably, there are more proposals than funds available, particularly in an age where there’s a high cost of development,” said Mathon. “A rating criteria is used to rank projects and works down sequence of highest rated all the way down until the money runs out.”

The money is a meaningful step toward completing the projects, although Piedmont will need to collect more revenue over the coming months. If all goes well, construction on Kindlewood Phase 2 will begin in July with the goal of opening in late 2025. The hope is that the Cherry Avenue project and construction at the Monticello Area Community Action Agency can begin early next year, a process that could take 16 to 18 months.

“One caveat with all of these is we are highly dependent on state and federal and local agencies to provide final approvals, and often their timelines disrupt the best-laid plans,” said Mathon. “Some things are outside of our control that we have to manage.”

The Piedmont Housing Alliance is the successor of the Thomas Jefferson Housing Improvement Commission, which was founded in 1983 by Jane Saunier as part of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.

Its service area includes the counties of Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson as well as the city of Charlottesville.

Those services include:

■ The management of 14 properties in the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle and Nelson counties.

■ A U.S. Treasury-certified lending program.

■ Community Housing Development Organization-certified housing development.

■ And a U.S. Housing and Urban Development-approved housing counseling program which provides one-on-one coaching for homebuying, credit improvement, debt reduction, savings programs, fair housing and foreclosure prevention.


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