Charlottesville and Albemarle County officials pledged support for affordable housing, climate and transportation initiatives this week but said planning and realistic expectations are important.
The officials made their comments at the IMPACT Nehemiah Action conference Tuesday evening. IMPACT is an interfaith social justice organization that pushes city and county officials to take action on social issues.
Close to 200 people gathered in person at the event at the Church of the Incarnation with about 450 people participating virtually.
“We’re all here because we care. The question is, are we turning that care into action?” said Jim Bleakley, co-president of IMPACT and pastor of Charlottesville Vineyard Church.
Sarah Kelley, lead apostle at Faith, Hope and Love Church, led the audience in a thematic rendition of “This Little Light of Mine” with the lyric “for affordable housing, I’m gonna let it shine.”
While the event was spirited, leaders acknowledged conversations with public officials can be passionate and intense, especially when there are disagreements.
“Seeing our spokespersons repeatedly ask or challenge these officials will probably make many of us uncomfortable. There is tension in the air tonight,” said Carissa Phillips, treasurer of IMPACT. “But every day, there is tension for those of us who battle with these problems daily.”
IMPACT is asking the city for an ongoing allocation of $3 million in the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund (CAHF) starting in the upcoming Fiscal Year 2023 budget.
“I think we can use our surplus money to get $3 million in affordable housing funding,” councilor Michael Payne said.
Payne said there are different ways that could happen and that it wouldn’t necessarily mean $3 million directly to the fund. It could be a combination of funding, with $1 million to the fund and $2 million to a proposed affordable housing project like the one on Park Street Christian Church’s campus, for example.
Mayor Lloyd Snook voiced support for Payne’s idea, but cautioned the future is unknown.
“I am all in favor of $3 million [but] a number on a budget isn’t a commitment. A number on a budget, for example, did not survive COVID,” Snook said. “I don’t like being asked to make commitments that later circumstances may prove unwise.”
Snook said he does want to prioritize funding for affordable housing, but is hesitant to make promises when he can’t control outside factors like the pandemic.
“We’re going to spend that kind of money on new projects. But if you want a commitment, if you want a promise, if you want something you can take to the bank and yell at me when I run for re-election, I don’t want to give that to you because that’s not how government works,” Snook said.
Snook also emphasized the city does not build affordable housing projects, but subsidizes them.
When asked by IMPACT leaders, Payne and Snook both agreed to support Charlottesville Area Transit’s budget request for 10 new drivers and also support a goal of limiting wait times to 15 minutes by 2025.
IMPACT is asking Albemarle County to fully establish the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and conduct a study to identify and dedicate at least $5 million in additional income sources for the fund.
County supervisors Ann Mallek and Ned Gallaway supported the goal and committed to $5 million but said planning must be done.
“Staff will be bringing back the plan to get that created. We still have to figure out the legal creation of it, the governance of it and how it will work to dispense funds,” Gallaway said.
There will likely be more than $5 million in the county’s Housing Fund reserve by the end of the current fiscal year. That money is made up of existing reserve money and money from the county’s last fiscal year surplus.
The recommended budget for the next fiscal year, however, does not include any new transfers into the fund.
According to the county’s budget, the reserve is “intended to support housing initiatives that are one-time costs.”
In the next fiscal year budget the county plans to use $10 million of its American Rescue Plan Act funding to reimburse public safety employee pay. That creates a reserve in the funds for which nonprofits were able to apply.
About $2.4 million is recommended to go to Virginia Supportive Housing’s Premier Circle permanent supportive housing project. That will provide 80 permanent affordable studio apartments with services for homeless and low-income adults from Albemarle and Charlottesville.