A dream was realized in Charlottesville on Saturday.
So said community members and stakeholders at a celebration for Kindlewood, formerly known as Friendship Court, a federally subsidized development that many hope can become a model for affordable housing in the city.
“I can’t wait until I move in there,” Pamela Buckner told The Daily Progress, waving her arms in the air as she followed a two-man drum line.
Buckner was part of a 20-person parade that marched from Second Street Southeast to the newly finished building at Sixth Street Southeast and Monticello Avenue.
There they were greeted by balloons, a large “Kindlewood” banner and 100 people who had gathered to celebrate the first residents moving from their old Friendship Court apartments into the new Kindlewood building earlier this week.
Buckner won’t move into Kindlewood until 2026, but she was still eager to show support for her neighbors and a project that has been in the works for decades.
“They are beautiful too. They are gorgeous,” Buckner said of the new buildings. After living in Friendship Court for 17 years, she said she’s never seen a project like this in the city.
“I’m grateful and blessed,” she said, excited that in time she’ll have a brand-new two-bedroom apartment to share with Precious, her “buck wild” cat.
The joyous occasion was not simply a celebration of a newly constructed building; it was an opportunity to recognize the successful collaboration between community members, nonprofit groups and a city that spent years putting the plan together.
It was also a moment to reflect on a dark history.
City Council Member Michael Payne, who served on the project’s advisory committee, was among the speakers invited to speak at the event.
“It’s a day of reflection for me,” he told the crowd. “Because I think the city council and the city has to be honest, which is that the city has committed great sins against this community over a period of many decades.”
“There were years in which the city ignored this community, did not invest in it and viewed it not as a community of families that make the city great, but a problem that needed to be gotten rid of,” Payne said.
Sunshine Mathon, executive director of the Piedmont Housing Alliance, the owner overseeing the redevelopment, looked even further back in time.
As one of the city’s historically Black neighborhoods Vinegar Hill was razed in the 1960s, Mathon said, businesses and residences were “systematically dismantled through the ugly false promise of urban renewal.”
Decades before, at least 51 enslaved people were held in bondage on this property, Mathon said, reading the names of each of them. Before that, it was inhabited by the Monacan Indian Nation.
“This land is the ancestral home of incredibly resilient human beings who stand today upright a culture and people who have survived attempted genocide and cultural erasure,” Mathon said, asking his audience for a moment of silence in their memory.
When Myrtle Houchens took the microphone, the community liaison and former resident of the neighborhood said she couldn’t find the words to describe the day. But she tried.
“Behold the beauty,” she said. “Every tear that I shed today is happiness, tears of hopefulness, tears that we’ve made it. And there’s so much more to be done.”
Her closing line was literally true. The development is still in its early stages. It will not be entirely finished for another eight years.
By then, residents will be moved into 400 new and affordable apartments in a Kindlewood that will include a park, garden, basketball court, child care center, community resource center and more. Solar panels will be installed on the roofs to help make the buildings sustainable and save residents money on energy bills.
Twenty families were moved into the new building over five days. The Amids were one of them.
After emigrating to Charlottesville in 2017 from Afghanistan, Fraidoon Amid sat with his three children in a brand-new residence that smelled of fresh paint. He and his neighbor’s kids ran around the apartment, delighted by the new home.
Their “tiny” previous apartment didn’t have a microwave or a dishwasher, Amid’s 9-year-old son told The Daily Progress.
“We went from old to brand new. It’s actually nice,” Fraidoon Amid added with a laugh, holding his blue-eyed 10-month-old son in his arms. “I was very happy. I told my wife, ‘Thank God who gave us everything.’”
Payne told The Daily Progress he came to the celebration in part to see families such as Amid’s move into their new homes.
“It’s been something that’s really been decades in the works, and I think it’s also a model for what community development and affordable housing development can look like in the city and seeing that it can actually happen,” Payne said. “Resident-led, resident involvement, intentional partnerships between nonprofits, the community and the city to create actual affordable housing, not just market-rate development.”
In a lot of ways, Kindlewood could indeed be a model for affordable housing in the city, Mayor Lloyd Snook told The Daily Progress.
“At the time the resident planning process got started back in 2017, people were saying, ‘What? You’re crazy. Why don’t the folks with all the money just go ahead and make all the decisions?’” Snook said.
That’s the way things had been done for years, according to the mayor. But this community decided they were going to do things differently.
“And it has been a process that’s had a few bumps to work out, but it’s a really, really good result,” he said.
New City Manager Sam Sanders was also in attendance on Saturday, joining the parade through the development. It’s the partnership between the community, the city and developers that makes the real difference, he told The Daily Progress just before the festivities.
“We have a great need for housing and we can’t always produce it at the rate that we need it,” Sanders said. “The city can’t do it all by itself so we rely on partners and that’s why it’s important to have groups like the Piedmont Housing Alliance that can do that work.”
“If you’re going to do development here in Charlottesville, you need to make sure that the community is engaged,” Sanders said.