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Southwood to welcome first families to new homes at dedication ceremony

Charlottesville’s Habitat for Humanity will celebrate a major milestone this Saturday. The organization will be honoring the first 30 families, of the hundreds planned, to move into new residences at the Southwood redevelopment project just outside the city.

“Everyone needs housing. People have a huge stereotype of trailer parks. You find they have one or two or three jobs and they take care of each other’s kids, and so there is a very tight-knit community,” Kelly Eplee, director of donor relations for the Charlottesville Habitat, told The Daily Progress. “These folks are moving from bad housing and a supportive community to new and great housing and get to keep that community and grow it.”

Roughly 20 million people live in trailers nationally, most of whom own their homes but not the land underneath. That is why Habitat leaders believe that the Southwood redevelopment will be the national model of trailer park transformation that works to prevent displacement and promote affordable housing.

“Southwood will provide a blueprint at a never-before-seen level in the country that will show how working with residents to improve their long-term housing, financial and social conditions is completely attainable while also helping lower-income families achieve the dream of own land and a home,” Angela Guzman, a Habitat spokeswoman, told The Daily Progress. “What we are doing is a unique nonprofit and public partnership that has engaged the community already living there to design their future down to where to build sidewalks and parks.”

Habitat’s involvement at what was the Southwood Mobile Home Park dates back to 2007, when the 120-plus-acre trailer park south of the city off Old Lynchburg Road and bordering Biscuit Run Park was acquired to prevent the mass displacement of its residents. But the idea was first floated as early as 2002, according to Eplee.

“Our biggest issue to help give low-income families new and affordable housing has been access to available land,” Eplee said. “We were lucky enough to be sold the trailer park at a subsidized price, because the woman who previously owned it believed so strongly in our idea that she wanted to do whatever she could to help us.”

Since purchasing the Southwood property, Habitat has made it a priority to not evict any resident. It has poured more than $25 million into the project to stabilize operations and ensure a secure future for its residents.

The redeveloped community in Southwood comprises 11 “villages” spread across the expansive property. More than 1,000 new homes are planned, with roughly half of them designed to be affordable, ensuring that residents have access to sustainable and permanent housing options.

That is why the celebration will also welcome more than 20 Southern Development homeowners who have joined the resident-led community.

“The partnership between market-rate driven homes right alongside our habitat homes that look virtually the same will help to reduce divisions based on income and oftentimes race,” Eplee said. “We think that Southwood will become one of the most diverse communities in the city of Charlottesville.”

Crucial to the project’s success is not displacing residents, which planners said will remain paramount throughout the duration of the redevelopment, expected to run until 2037.

“We want to keep the families who want to stay here while their homes are being built to be able to,” Eplee said. “We are working our hardest to ensure everyone stays housed, and so far we have not run into many issues.”

The first new houses at Village I showcase the vision and values of the Southwood project, which emphasize sustainability, diversity and resident ownership. The residences are energy-efficient, accessible and adaptable to the needs of different families. They also reflect the cultural heritage and preferences of the residents, who were involved in every step of the design and construction process, planners said.

Habitat’s vision extends beyond just building affordable homes; its ultimate goal is to hand over complete ownership of the redeveloped community to its residents.

“We want to help these families finance and eventually own their home so they can start building equity,” Eplee said. “These are some of the hardest working people in our communities, and it is time to help them break out of the cycle of having to constantly rent subpar property.”

This commitment to empowering the community ensures that Southwood will become a thriving and self-sustaining neighborhood with a bright future, Eplee and Guzman said.

After 16 years of work, the first new houses now stand tall in Southwood, and families are eager to get their keys.

Saturday’s dedication ceremony is set to start at 10:30 a.m. at Five Pillars Park between Cardinal Lane and Wardell Crest.

“The dedication ceremony is a testament to the perseverance and unity of the Southwood residents, who have actively participated in the planning and development of their new homes,” John Doe, the CEO of the Charlottesville Habitat, said in a statement. “This truly is a people-powered transformation that will positively impact generations to come.”


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