Norris hopes to secure fixed affordable housing allotment
Even in tight fiscal times, mayor’s platform item could see political support
Changes to City Council's political climate this year may provide more support for a measure that would allocate a fixed amount of the city's funds toward affordable housing.
With the support of two key Council members - Kristin Szakos, who was just elected last November, and Vice Mayor Holly Edwards - Mayor Dave Norris may now able to be able to bring in dollar power to bolster an issue at the top of his platform.
"What's clear is that you can pay all the lip service you want to affordable housing," Norris said. "But if you actually want to make a serious commitment to producing affordable housing [and] preserving affordable housing, you've got to bring more financial resources to the table."
Norris attempted to create a fixed allotment of funds for affordable housing twice in years past, but the motion failed because certain Council members opposed it.
The Charlottesville Housing Fund has slowly declined since the 2008 fiscal year, when it had $2.15 million. That figure fell to $1.4 million in 2009 and finally to $1 million in 2010.
"It's still higher than it was," Norris said, noting that $400,000 was allocated to the fund in 2006. "But it's not where it really needs to be if we want to make a bigger impact."
The housing fund is currently subject to annual budget decisions by Council. The resulting fluctuations, however, may send the wrong message to private investors involved in affordable housing projects, Norris said.
"We want to get it to where it's [a] sustained commitment that ... the developers of [housing projects] can rely on and plan on," he said. "If they know there are funds available, it gives them the ability to plan for the future."
But Norris and his supporters have met opposition from those Council members who have been uneasy about the idea of an inflexible commitment to one facet of the city budget.
"We try to do the best with the resources we have," Council member Satyendra Huja said. "[But] if you precondition the amount for one subject matter, it limits what resources you have for another subject matter." For example, public education, safety and health are other essential areas toward which the Council must budget its funds, he said.
As Council debates the matter, Charlottesville's Housing Advisory Committee is now compiling a report on housing project recommendations. Despite the political opposition and a "tight year financially [and] budget-wise," Norris said he still sees room for an increase.
"We have the political support now to do more than we did this current year," he said.
-Katherine Raichlen contributed to this article.