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Charlottesville Housing Authority eyes Downtown Mall office for new HQ

Charlottesville’s housing authority is combining plans to relocate its headquarters to the Downtown Mall with its mission of providing affordable housing.

Currently, the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s physical address is listed at 500 First St. S, within the Crescent Halls public housing complex.

The authority is closing in on a $2.65 million deal — $100,000 below listing price — to purchase a building on the city’s Downtown Mall with plans to house not only its headquarters in the structure, but affordable housing and incubator space for aspiring business owners.

The building has always housed office, retail and housing, said Executive Director John Sales.

“Previous usage is staying the same,” he told The Daily Progress. “It will be residential, commercial and office space.”

The four-story, 22,872-square-foot building at 310-312 E. Main St. is known for its full-glass facade, rare on the brick-heavy Downtown Mall.

In the past, it’s been home to an Indian restaurant, a cabinet manufacturer, an Italian restaurant, an escape room and, at one time, offices for tech firm WillowTree apps.

Throughout its history, though, it has also had three three-bedroom apartments on its top floor.

The housing authority wants to convert those three into five: three one-bedroom units, one two-bedroom unit and one three-bedroom unit. Sales estimates the conversion, along with renovations to the roof, elevator and other parts of the property will cost roughly $1 million.

While the hope is to make the apartments affordable, whether or not that will come to fruition depends on grant money. The housing authority won’t know if it’s been awarded those grants until this summer. How affordable the apartments will be will depend on how much money the authority is awarded, if any. In the event the grants are denied, the five apartments will be rented at market rate.

Sales estimates for that prime real estate, market rate could mean anywhere between $2,000 to $3,500 per month.

“There’s only one way to make this property affordable and that’s with additional subsidies,” Sales said. “That’s our goal, but everyone has to have a backup plan, so our backup plan would be for them to be market rate.”

If the authority is able to get the state and federal funding it wants, the units could be made affordable at 60% to 80% of the area median income, possibly even lower. But with the fate of the grants currently unknown, the authority is unable to make any promises.

“We haven’t been able to make a commitment yet, because if we aren’t able to tap into additional subsides then those units won’t be affordable,” Sales said.

Providing affordable housing is but one goal. The authority also wants to provide economic opportunities.

People looking to expand their business or start a new one may be able to do so at the property. The authority wants to work with local partners to create a business incubator space so that entrepreneurs can use the facility on the cheap. Much like rent on the top floor, it hasn’t yet been determined exactly what that program will look like, but considering much of the space was designed for restaurant use, there is a good chance the businesses will be food related.

“It’s not your typical office space, where you have a graphic designer or such. We’re looking to broaden the horizon, so it could have something to do with cooking, restaurants or catering,” Sales said.

The authority is slated to close on the property in February.

City councilor Michael Payne said the purchase is being made solely by the authority, so City Hall doesn’t have a joint stake in the building. Nonetheless, he finds it to be exciting news as the building could be used for office space, affordable housing and to promote minority-owned, local businesses in a bustling part of the city.

“Bigger picture, I think it’s part of [the authority] taking more direct involvement in creating avenues for community wealth building,” Payne said.


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