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Community members advocate for nonprofit funding in Charlottesville budget

The city of Charlottesville is reviewing which nonprofit community organizations will receive funding in next year’s budget and advocates for some organizations are asking for increases in funding.

City Council awards nonprofits money through the Vibrant Community Fund, which would provide nearly $2.5 million for organizations in the proposed 2023 fiscal year budget.

The current proposed city budget is more than $216.17, a 12.46% increase from the current fiscal year.

Nonprofits seeking city funding apply to the community fund and panel led by the city’s Office of Human Services scores the applications using a matrix focusing on services provided and other factors.

This year, applicants were required to include diversity, equity and inclusion statements in their proposals. A group of thirteen panelists scored the applications.

For 2023, the city received 42 applications for operational funding, three new start-up applications and 14 applications from arts and cultural organizations. This is the first year there is a start-up funding opportunity.

“We’re looking to set aside funds to provide technical support and/or capacity building for these new start-ups for people that are looking to get something off the ground,” said Hunter Smith, lead planner for the Vibrant Community Fund and planner with the Department of Human Services.

At a city council budget work session on Thursday, supporters voiced frustration that certain organizations did not receive as much funding as requested. The city received a total of $4,294,585 in community fund requests with $1,796,798 going unfunded in the proposed budget.

Several community members asked City Council to provide more funding for the Public Housing Association of Residents, commonly referred to as PHAR.

“I look forward to seeing how this Vibrant Community Fund process can be more equitable. While it is better than in years past – and we certainly appreciate the funding you’ve given PHAR – it disappoints me that each year an organization that is Black-run, Black-led and services primarily Black people has to continuously ask the city for funding,” said Shelby Marie Edwards, executive director of PHAR.

PHAR requested $20,100 for its resident internship program and $40,000 for resident-involved redevelopment. Under the proposed fund budget, PHAR would receive $7,035 for the internship program and $14,000 for redevelopment.

A few members of PHAR’s internship program spoke about the importance of the program in their lives and why it should be fully funded. The internship program is designed to provide employment opportunities for low income residents, as well as teach residents about local government, public speaking and advocacy.

“PHAR has changed my life and has changed the lives of other low income residents,” said Allexis Cooper, a program graduate.

Some speakers voiced concerns about cuts to funding for the Legal Aid Justice Center. City Council allocated $300,000 in American Rescue Plan funds to fund an eviction prevention program in partnership with the center.

The center requested $150,000 in Vibrant Community Fund funding for civil legal services, but would only receive $52,500 under the current draft budget. The law center also requested $100,000 for community advocacy on racial equity. Under the proposed recommendation, the center would receive no funds for that request.

“We are likely to see a large increase in evictions in the coming month,” said Angela Ciolfi, executive director of the legal center. “The city received a lot of praise [for the eviction prevention program]. When the city asked us to take on additional work, and therefore additional expenses, it was with the express premise that our existing level of service was not adequate to meet the overwhelming need for eviction defense and prevention. We have taken all those additional cases.”

Ciolfi said the funding in the budget recommendation would hurt the anti-eviction effort.

“By cutting our Vibrant Community funding in half, the city proposes to undercut its own commitment to protecting the legal rights of low income Charlottesville residents facing eviction, loss of public benefits, debt collection and more,” Ciolfi said.

The city is getting closer to setting its 2023 fiscal year budget and will hold its first public hearing on the spending plan and a real estate tax rate on Monday during the regular City Council meeting.

The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m.

The city will also hold a community budget forum March 23 at 6 p.m., where community members can ask questions about the budget.

City Council will vote to approve the final budget April 12.


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