‘Flash Funding' project seeks to design new ‘Vinegar Hill’

Initiative aims to support African-American-led redevelopment


Vinegar Hill was originally a historically African-American community in downtown Charlottesville that was demolished in the early 1960s, resulting in the displacement of a large number of residents.  

Courtesy City of Charlottesville

Over the course of the next six months, several research fellows will be working with the City of Charlottesville, schools all across the University, local entrepreneurs, young African-American leaders in the local area and several community organizations to help design plans for a “new Vinegar Hill.” 

Vinegar Hill was originally a historically African-American community in downtown Charlottesville that was demolished in the early 1960s, resulting in the displacement of a large number of residents. 

Charlottesville’s lack of affordable housing for low-income residents, especially minorities, has received much attention from community activists and organizations. Christine Mahoney, a public policy and politics professor and the director of Social Entrepreneurship at the Batten School, wants to address this issue by supporting African-American led redevelopment in Charlottesville.

The project received funding in part through the University’s Flash Funding initiative, a program announced in September that is supporting projects that aim to address racial tensions in Charlottesville. The initiative awarded a total of $100,000 to various programs across the University with a focus on “uprooting the conscious and unconscious biases and misbeliefs that lead to racial tension.”

“Traditionally in the past, when redevelopment happens, it’s a very top-down process,” Mahoney said. “There’s a number of different areas in the community that are slated for redevelopment, and any alumni that comes back and any student that walks around town can see that there’s a great deal of development going on in Charlottesville generally ... We wanted to try to help support the community and this idea of what would a more African-American led redevelopment initiative look like.”

Mahoney said she hopes to build a plan for the development of a community inspired by celebrating Vinegar Hill — a vibrant, diverse, thriving, mixed-use, mixed-ethnicity and mixed-income community.

“Essentially, we’re going to be doing a year-long research and design thinking process to try to help support the community in ideating what a new Vinegar Hill would look like,” Mahoney said. “That would involve things like social entrepreneurship, supporting small businesses, supporting pathways to careers and a full range of different support that we need to help low-income communities really thrive and move into middle-income and upper-income.”

The group of students, faculty and community members will be creating a plan within the historical context of Vinegar Hill and coming up with the logistics needs for the actual construction to see how low-income families can best be helped.

“As long as we have major socioeconomic gaps between the African-American community and the predominantly white community, we’re going to continue seeing those types of racial disparities,” Mahoney said. “We need to move away from the traditional nonprofit approaches that are just responding to the symptoms of poverty, and we need to begin ending poverty.”

In addition to this housing project, Laura Goldblatt, a postdoctoral fellow in the College, said she received just under $25,000 worth of funding that she will use to host a one-day conference addressing low-income housing in Charlottesville.

“We’re going to be bringing in various public housing advocates from across the country who have been very well recognized as well as scholars who have worked on questions of space and land and relationship to universities and the ways that all of this sort of ties together,” Goldblatt said. 

“[Housing for extremely low income residents] is a big problem right now in Charlottesville, and the city is currently considering all these changes to zoning and development projects,”  Goldblatt added. “The stakes feel very high right now because there’s an opportunity to produce policies that could result in more equitable housing distribution and stable housing for very low-income residents.”

Other funded projects include an initiative that seeks to limit the effects of implicit bias in local teachers, a project that aims to promote diversity in the technology sector and a panel with LGBTQ people of color. 

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