Albemarle supervisors made a significant advancement Wednesday in the battle to drive down homelessness in the county.
In a unanimous vote, the county’s board of supervisors agreed to spend more than $2 million on affordable housing developments, including one ambitious project that could directly serve nearly half of the area’s unhoused population.
“We talk about eradicating homelessness. People hear that, and it sounds like a moonshot goal,” Scottsville District Supervisor Mike Pruitt told The Daily Progress. “This is a very realistic, concrete, achievable goal. In this one step, we’re getting halfway there.”
Pruitt was referring to Premiere Circle, a project that has been in the works ever since nonprofit developers purchased the Red Carpet Inn off U.S. 29 north of Charlottesville during the pandemic. The intention of the group — consisting of Piedmont Housing Alliance, the Blue Ridge Area Coalition for the Homeless and Virginia Supportive Housing — was to convert the site into affordable quarters for the unhoused.
In February 2021, the Board of Supervisors approved a rezoning of the site to allow the construction of up to 140 affordable units, roughly 40,000 square feet of nonresidential space and up to 16,335 square feet of amenity and green space.
On Wednesday, the board voted to put $700,000 toward the project, with the city of Charlottesville chipping in $750,000. That comes after the county already committed $2.4 million to the project using funds from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan.
The project, expected to wrap in 2026, should be able to provide permanent housing for roughly 80 people experiencing chronic homelessness. Considering the Blue Ridge Area Coalition for the Homeless estimates there are currently 162 unhoused people in the region, those 80 units could provide shelter for nearly half of the area’s homeless.
Premiere Circle, which is being developed by nonprofit Virginia Supportive Housing, will also provide residents with access to case managers, social workers, job training and other opportunities, according to the county. The idea is to help people transition from homelessness to stability, and eventually independent living. Virginia Supportive Housing was also the force behind the Crossings at Fourth and Preston in Charlottesville, a 60-unit building dedicated to housing homeless and low-income individuals constructed in 2012. On average, people live there for 4 1/2 years before moving out, according to Stacy Pethia, Albemarle County’s assistant director of housing.
“We can, and I think we have a moral obligation to, eradicate homelessness,” Pruitt said. “It’s not just something to campaign on. It’s something we can do if we put our minds to it.”
For Pruitt, the newest supervisor on the board who made affordable housing a key part of his successful campaign last year, Premiere Circle is proof that ending homelessness in Charlottesville and surrounding Albemarle County — where the number of people who have fallen into homelessness has increased 24% since 2018 — is not a far-off dream, but an achievable milestone. Furthermore, the city chipping in funds for a county project is evidence that tackling homelessness will require cooperation between both localities.
“When you talk to leaders about homelessness in this space, they emphasize that housing and homelessness are regional problems. We need to continue to think more regionally to combat regional problems,” Pruitt said.
“The goal is to help provide permanent supportive housing and demonstrate we believe in the project,” Charlottesville city spokeswoman Afton Schneider told The Daily Progress. “Obviously, we are always happy to partner with the county to make this community a better place.”
The county also voted Wednesday to fund and expand a preexisting project, approving $1.5 million for Southwood Apartments, part of the Habitat for Humanity-led redevelopment project of the same name that has seen a 120-plus-acre trailer park near Biscuit Run Park south of Charlottesville transformed into a mixed-income neighborhood over the past 17 years. The additional funding will allow units in Southwood Apartments to remain affordable — meaning they’ll be marketed to households making 80% or less of the area’s median income — for 28 more years.
It will also allow for expansion at Southwood, where the first residents moved in last summer.
“There are approximately 300 families that live there now. When redevelopment is finished, probably more than 1,100 families will be able to live there,” Pethia told The Daily Progress. “It’s a huge jump.”
Friday marked the groundbreaking of Hickory Hope, the latest stage in that redevelopment: 121 rental units in two apartment buildings on either side of Hickory Street adjacent to Old Lynchburg Road.
“It’s the rejuvenation of an area that very much needed it,” Supervisor Jim Andrews, who chairs the Albemarle board and represents the Samuel Miller District, told The Daily Progress. Andrews stressed that projects such as Southwood are important for meeting the region’s need for more workforce housing.
Andrews said a significant percentage of the county is "housing burdened," meaning more than 30% of their income goes toward housing costs; some are even paying upwards of 50%.
“That leaves not enough for other necessities, whether it’s health care, transportation or food,” Andrews said.
The money being spent by the county on Southwood and Premiere Circle comes from the county’s affordable housing fund. Each year, the board puts a portion of the county’s budget toward that fund.
“This is, of course, the kind of project that the housing fund was intended to assist,” Andrews said.
While excited about the two developments, Andrews said he believes the county has more work to do.
"I think we’re making progress, but there’s always more to be done. We all know that housing costs in this area are high and have been trending higher,” Andrews said. Residential real estate in the Charlottesville area hit an "all-time high" last year, with a median price tag of $445,900, according to the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors. “We have a significant percentage of people in our area who are finding that they’re in housing that is unaffordable for them.”
Wednesday’s unanimous vote indicates that solving the county’s high housing costs is a high priority for the board.
“This was an easy vote for me. It was a very easy vote for everyone on board,” Pruitt said. “The community as a whole is turning a corner reckoning with housing as a serious crisis, and you’re seeing that reflected in the board’s votes and community fervor around the issue.”