Area clergy, activists and community members joined in a rousing chorus of “This Little Light of Mine” as they gathered outside Charlottesville City Hall on Monday evening. The group, led by IMPACT Cville, rallied to ask the Planning Commission to recommend allocating $3 million in funding to the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund.
“Down at City Hall, I’m gonna let it shine,” about 50 people sang while holding signs, led by Joshua Scott, IMPACT Cville’s lead organizer.
IMPACT Cville is a group of leaders from 27 congregations in Charlottesville and Albemarle County of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Unitarian Universalist and Buddhist faith traditions. The group’s mission is to empower the faith community of greater Charlottesville to create significant social change through unified direct action.
The Planning Commission will meet on Tuesday night for a public hearing on the Capital Improvement Program. While they will not vote on any action items related to the CIP, they will form recommendations. The draft CIP recommends allocating $925,000 to the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund. The draft CIP includes about $7,325,000 total in funding for various affordable housing projects, not including rent assistance funding.
IMPACT wants the Planning Commission to put more money into the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund specifically and wants City Council to identify dedicated income streams to support affordable housing initiatives. IMPACT’s religious leaders want the community and city officials to understand that affordable housing is a justice issue that affects people across faiths, races and backgrounds.
During the rally, Christian and Jewish religious leaders read statements and prayers, as well as testimonies from city residents struggling to find decent and affordable housing. After each leader shared, the crowd repeated the litany “we lift up this story in hope that justice will rain down.”
Rev. Matt Seaton of Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church said the city needs to put money and action behind its affordable housing plan, not just talking points.
“What is true, friends, is that Charlottesville has the means and the ability to help our neighbors who are in need of affordable housing, but have yet to fully do it,” Seaton said. “There are too many people in our city who cannot afford housing. There are too many people who have grown up in Charlottesville that can no longer afford to live in Charlottesville.”
“Like me!” a homeless person watching the rally responded.
Pastor Liz Emrey of New Beginnings Christian Community shared the stories of members of her congregation who lack hygienic housing but can’t afford to move elsewhere. She said a refugee family in her congregation is living in an apartment that is infested with pests and falling apart, but the family has not been able to get help to afford a safer home.
“The ceiling is now being held up by poles,” Emrey said. “There’s mold on the walls and cockroaches everywhere … we desperately need affordable housing for this family.”
Vikki Bravo, a social justice leader with Congregation Beth Israel, said while IMPACT is grateful the city recently passed a revised Future Land Use Map and Comprehensive Plan that prioritizes affordable housing, it doesn’t mean anything if the city doesn’t put money behind it.
“We’re out of time for excuses … to the Planning Commission, you can and should allocate $3 million annually to the CAHF for the next five years. And we call on the City Council to find dedicated income streams to make that goal possible every year,” Bravo said. “It should have been set up like this years ago. It would truly show that city values helping developers build new affordable homes every year in order to end this crisis. The new [Future] Land Use Map and Affordable Housing Plan don’t mean a thing if we can’t fund our goals.”
Members of IMPACT Cville plan to speak at public comment during Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting and continue to rally for affordable housing in the new year.
“Hardworking people should be able to afford housing and still have money for groceries and other necessities. Everyone should have a stable place to call home no matter how much money we have,” Bravo said.