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Charlottesville's largest subsidized housing complex gets new name, more residents

As it prepares to unveil its first new units in 45 years, Charlottesville’s largest federally subsidized housing complex has taken a new name amid the ongoing redevelopment that will nearly triple its population.

What was originally known as Garrett Square and then Friendship Court is now Kindlewood, and new neighbors could arrive as soon as August.

"It’s still surreal and incredible to see the project coming to fruition," city councilor Michael Payne told The Daily Progress. "It’s been so many decades of work from residents, organizers and community members."

Opened in 1978 on an urban renewal tract along the southern edge of Downtown’s commercial corridor, the private complex has long exuded a suburban feel with low-rise structures facing stub streets. Its divorce from the urban fabric was compounded in 1996 when a prior owner, in the name of safety, erected a spike-topped, black, metal fence around the perimeter.

Now owned by a pair of private nonprofit firms, the 150 existing units will be torn down in phases and replaced with more than 400 units plus some eventual retail, according to Sunshine Mathon, the executive director of the Piedmont Housing Alliance, which is the owner overseeing the redevelopment. He has vowed a "reknitting" back into the street grid with new roads and pathways — and no fence.

"Everyone’s front door will face some sort of public right of way," Mathon said last month at a public briefing. "The residents wanted to dismantle the way the community is currently built with everyone’s back door facing the streets."

Resident desires have been a priority, said Mathon, with preventing displacement the greatest of them.

"First and foremost was zero displacement throughout the redevelopment process," said Mathon.

Because the eastern side of the nearly 12-acre site was originally left open, the residents and developers saw a nearly blank canvas for their redevelopment’s first phase. This will consist of 106 units spread across a string of townhouses and an expansive four-story multifamily structure built atop a parking deck.

"We were fortunate to have this open space to build on first," said Mathon. "By the time that’s complete, residents can move into the new buildings."

A lot was at stake, Mathon said, and not just the approximately $10 million the project may be getting from federal, state and local coffers plus another $15 million in tax credit equity. He said that cash-strapped residents depend on this centrally located housing, just two or three blocks from the Downtown Mall.

"If they move out of Kindlewood, then there is almost nowhere they can afford to move in a closeby radius," Mathon said, "so that means disrupting where their kids go to school, where their jobs are and their transportation network."

One eventual feature of the redeveloped site will be an approximately 1-acre park, deeded to the city. And the basketball court and community garden that were displaced for the first phase will reappear later, Mathon said.

Longtime resident Sherwood Rankins said he has been eagerly watching the rise of the multifamily building behind his apartment’s back terrace.

"As you can tell," he told The Daily Progress as he gestured to the taller building, "it’s turning out real nice; it’s a blessing."

Across the way, University of Virginia Medical Center employee Bashir Habibi agreed, and he expressed particular fondness for the new moniker.

"The Kindlewood name is really pretty," Habibi told The Daily Progress. "It feels like kindness and living together and being a nice neighborhood."

Preserving the neighborliness was another goal of the redevelopment, according to Mathon, who said that some of the new units will be available to families in two new income tiers: those making around $25,000-$55,000 and those closer to $55,000-$75,000. Such higher earners will be integrated into the community, Mathon said.

"Part of this is about disrupting the historical stigma of the site," Mathon said. "The risk of creating a divide and perpetuating social isolation was real, so the residents decided instead to take a longer time with the redevelopment process."

Long indeed. The current owners, the Piedmont Housing Alliance and National Housing Trust, bought the complex in 2001 but did not finalize their master plan until 2018. Ground was broken in January 2022.

"It’s taken them a while," said Ed Wayland, who lives in sight of the new townhouses. "But it’s something that the community needs."

Today, the townhouses are close to completion and the multifamily building stands at its full height. Mathon said that 46 existing households will move during late summer and fall, as 60 new households arrive to fill those first 106 units.

On site, there’s a constant hum of pneumatic nail guns and the occasional beeping of a bucket lift as it hoists a worker to affix siding atop a popular brand of green sheathing panels.

Sitting inside the current community center, which will be replaced with a larger one, Payne, who has also served on the advisory committee, seems to relish the changes.

"I think it’s a really beautiful thing," he said, "that I hope can become a model for what redevelopment and housing development can look like in the city."


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