Charlottesville is seeking feedback on a bold affordable housing strategy calling for yearly investments of $10 million, radical zoning changes and revised planning processes.
A consultant released a draft of the city’s plan this week, which is part of a larger update to the city’s Comprehensive Plan.
The Comprehensive Plan, which is a guide for local land-use decisions, was last updated in 2013. The zoning code hasn’t been substantially revised since 2003.
Rhodeside and Harwell Inc. is leading the consultant team and received a $926,000 contract to update the Comprehensive Plan and craft the affordable housing plan. The company is also working with Brick & Story, HR&A Advisors and Code Studio.
The consultants held a first round of community engagement sessions over the summer.
FundingThe plan says the city has averaged an $8 million commitment to affordable housing over the past three years, but most of that was in fiscal 2020.
The proposal calls for a yearly dedication of $10 million to affordable housing programs, including direct subsidies and tax relief. The investment should be clearly itemized in the city’s budget with metrics to measure success.
The money would support 4,000 households over 10 years, the plan says.
To increase the allocation, the draft says the city may need to consider creating new fees or taxes to establish a dedicated funding source. Possibilities include utility connection fees on new residential or commercial development, stockpiling interest earned on government accounts or a tax on real estate transfers.
The draft acknowledges the City Council cannot legally bind future councils to spend money, but says the city must make a policy commitment so “community partners can plan around an approach that future city councils will reliably adopt.”
The plan says the money should strategically target households at different levels of area median income, with more investment at lower incomes and less at the higher levels.
For example, it recommends higher-earning individuals have access to some rental assistance programs, while lower incomes would benefit from public housing projects. It also provides different benefits for developers based on the level of affordability they place in units.
The document also briefly discusses the benefits of partnering with Albemarle County and other jurisdictions to create a Regional Housing Trust Fund.
GovernanceThe proposal calls for several changes to city regulations and approval processes to support housing.
It says membership should be reduced on the Housing Advisory Committee and the panel should be restructured.
The plan says the committee’s goal is to advise the city on housing needs, but it needs clear direction and equitable representation.
Under the proposal, membership would be reduced from 21 to between 10 and 15 people. All seats would be appointed by the City Council, rather than the four who are appointed now on top of representatives of various area organizations.
The plan calls for membership to include more representation of people of color, subsidized housing residents and beneficiaries of housing programs. The HAC would continue to provide recommendations on housing policies while monitoring the progress and implementation of the Affordable Housing Plan and issuing an annual report.
On top of HAC, a committee would be appointed to make recommendations about distributions from the Affordable Housing Fund. The city would also standardize a transparent and competitive process to award housing grants and loans.
To protect existing affordable housing, the plan recommends establishing a land bank. Essentially, a land bank purchases affordable housing properties as they come on the market and holds ownership until local nonprofits can purchase them. It can also be used to hold undeveloped property until it can be developed for affordable housing.
The document calls for a variety of changes to zoning regulations and the development approval process to expedite construction and improve flexibility.
The proposed zoning changes focus on increased production of multifamily housing through expanded by-right development. It would allow more accessory dwelling units and create inclusionary zoning districts, which refers to a designation in which developers receive perks for providing more affordable units.
When discussing expanded zoning, the plan says housing availability should be increased in single-family neighborhoods “ that have historically had exclusionary zoning.”
The plan urges the city to support the right of tenants to organize and to create a funding provision to provide legal services to anyone facing an eviction.
The plan details many long-standing challenges to providing affordable housing in the city. Among them are current land-use policies, a housing market lagging behind population growth and the predominance of single-family zoning.
Of 3,310 residential-zoned acres in the city, 2,278 are single-family, 440 are multifamily and 584 are university zoned. The city has about 2,700 renters spending more than half of their income on rent and utilities. Those households earn less than $35,000 a year. An additional 2,200 renters spend less than half, but more than a third of their income on rent.
The city has grown by about 4,800 residents and 11,000 jobs since 2010. However, only 2,600 new housing units have been constructed in that time and a growing University of Virginia student population is further straining the supply.
Rising costs and lower stock has pushed lower-earning households out of the city. The number of households making less than $35,000 a year decreased by 1,500 between 2010 and 2018.
The plan also warns of the impact of the coronavirus on housing as earnings are hit, a new stimulus hasn’t been approved and an eviction moratorium is set to soon expire.
The Comprehensive Plan update is expected to finish in March 2021 and the zoning ordinance will be completed by December 2021.
The consultant team is holding virtual meetings to discuss the affordable housing plan next week.
The interactive webinars are scheduled for 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday and 6:30 to 8 p.m. Nov. 17.
The consultant has started with the Comprehensive Plan revision and also released a draft of a new community values statement and the topic-specific vision statements.
Virtual meetings will be held on the Comprehensive Plan as well in the coming week.
The Comprehensive Plan webinars are scheduled for 10 to 11:30 a.m. Nov. 14 and 6:30 to 8 p.m. Nov. 18.
The consultant is also hosting three virtual office hours to answer questions, which provide the option to call in.
The office hours are 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 13, 5:30 to 7 p.m. Nov. 19 and 5:30 to 7p.m. Nov. 23.
The consultants are finalizing a date and time to host pop-up events for residents to pick up printed materials or ask questions.
For more information or to register for the webinars, visit cvilleplanstogether.com/virtual-meeting.