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Local interfaith group rallies in support of affordable housing policies

IMPACT Cville seeks cooperation with local government to increase affordable housing in the region

<p>One initiative addresses the cost of housing for senior citizens, and the other addresses the need for affordable housing for lower-income families in Charlottesville.&nbsp;</p>

One initiative addresses the cost of housing for senior citizens, and the other addresses the need for affordable housing for lower-income families in Charlottesville. 

The local interfaith group IMPACT Cville held a rally Tuesday evening at the Church of the Incarnation to discuss two affordable housing initiatives in the local community that the organization will pursue with local lawmakers, including the Charlottesville City Council and the city’s Housing Advisory Committee. 

According to an IMPACT press release, one initiative addresses the cost of housing for senior citizens in Albemarle County as 2,800 senior households in the county struggle to pay rent and 933 of them pay over 50 percent of their income on housing. 

The other addresses the need for affordable housing for lower-income families in Charlottesville as half of non-student residents in the City are renters, and almost half struggle to pay rent. 

Over 150 people gathered in the church to hear the results of IMPACT’s research and its proposed solutions.

According to their website, IMPACT —which stands for the Interfaith Movement Promoting Action by Congregations Together — is a grassroots organization that seeks to “empower the faith community of greater Charlottesville to create significant social change through unified direct action.”

“IMPACT is a group of 27 faith congregations of all different faiths including Catholic, Christian, Unitarian, Muslim, and Jewish,” said Vikki Bravo, the Caring Committee Chair at Congregation Beth Israel. Congregation Beth Israel is a Jewish community center in Charlottesville and one of the 27 groups that make up IMPACT. 

“Every year, we pick a community problem that’s important to us, and we work to come up with solutions,” Bravo said. “We research the problem and we press our community decision-makers to bring about solutions.”

Reverend Albert Connette, a Pastor at the Olivet Presbyterian Church, said that in the past two decades affordable housing has become a problem in Charlottesville.

“We’ve seen a trend of the costs [of living] going up, increasingly greatly or significantly or rapidly over the last 10, 15 years or more, and of course incomes have not kept up, not increased by similar amounts,” Connette said.

During the event, IMPACT leaders took the stage one by one, including Bravo, Connette and Daniel Xisto and Janie Pudhorodsky, the co-Presidents of IMPACT. Each of them spoke about the need to create more affordable housing options for seniors and lower-income earners in the Charlottesville community.

“Affordable housing is a large and complex issue,” Xisto said. “We believe that everyone deserves a home that is safe, a home that is sanitary, and of course a home that they can afford to live in. The sad reality is that many people in our community don’t have all of these things, and that’s why we’re here today.”

Later, members of IMPACT’s housing committee presented some of the results of their research on the affordable housing crisis in Charlottesville. 

“Over half of non-student residents in Charlottesville rent rather than own, and 48.7 percent of them struggle to pay their rent,” said Fred Schneider, of the Hinton Avenue United Methodist Church.

Sheila Herlihy, coordinator of justice and charity of the Church of the Incarnation, presented some of IMPACT’s proposed solutions to the crisis. 

“After months of research this committee has decided to take a two-pronged approach to the housing crisis in the city,” Herlihy said.

A pamphlet that was handed out to attendees at the start of the rally outlines some of IMPACT’s other suggested solutions to the housing crisis.

“First, we want the city to expedite the approval process for building homes for low-income residents,” the pamphlet reads. “Second, we want to make changes to zoning policies around the city. We seek changing zoning restrictions on multi-dwelling areas that limit the number of units per acre. We want to see more units allowed in these zones. We also want single-family homes to be built on smaller lots than current restrictions allow… These changes will lower the cost of construction and those savings will be passed down to residents." 

Ginny Zeller, a parishioner at Holy Comforter Catholic Church, was among the attendees Tuesday night.

“I’m here because I really like this group of people who gathers and tries to focus in on a few important issues in the community and come together to try to make an impact on those issues,” Zeller said.  

Also in attendance was Jim Morrisard, a parishioner at the same church as Zeller.

“We’re trying to get more of the benefit of this affordable housing for seniors,” Morrisard said. “It’s a real problem, and what else can we do?”

The goal of the rally was not only for IMPACT leadership to present their research findings, but also to propose solutions and allow attendees to hear from other community members. The rally was also intended to advertise and build momentum for the Nehemiah Action Assembly next month. 

The Nehemiah Action Assembly is the largest public meeting of the year, where over a thousand people are expected to show up to petition lawmakers for more sustainable housing policies. It will take place April 24 at the Martin Luther King Jr. Performing Arts Center in Charlottesville.

Bravo said that members of the community could help make a difference in lower-income housing by showing up to the Action next month.

“One of the most important and also easiest things that they can do is come to our big action meeting,” Bravo said. “And the reason that’s important is this is when we stand in front of our decision makers with these solutions.…There have to be a lot of people, or else it won’t get the attention of our decision makers.” 


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