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U.Va. to recommit to affordable housing initiative at community engagement event Thursday

Students and community members are encouraged to submit questions about the initiative ahead of time

<p>Students and community members are encouraged to register for the event to submit questions to University leadership. A captioned recording of the event will be posted online following the event.&nbsp;</p>

Students and community members are encouraged to register for the event to submit questions to University leadership. A captioned recording of the event will be posted online following the event. 

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The University is hosting an event to kick off the community engagement effort for its affordable housing initiative, which aims to support the development of over 1,000 housing units in the local community. The event will take place virtually Thursday from 7 to 8:15 p.m. and will provide an overview of the initiative’s past and future work. University President Jim Ryan and Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis will answer questions posed by the Charlottesville community.

Students and community members are encouraged to register for the event to submit questions to University leadership. A captioned recording of the event will be posted online following the event. 

“Hearing from the community will be critical for this initial phase of our work,” Davis said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “We hope to hear from a wide cross section of the community on how they see the University contributing to an affordable housing solution … one of the things we will be listening for throughout this process is what criteria matter to our community when it comes to affordable housing and how we can complement existing efforts in this area.”

The University announced in March 2020 that it would support the development of 1,000 to 1,500 affordable housing units in Charlottesville and Albemarle County, but the project was delayed shortly thereafter due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thursday’s event will mark a recommitment to these plans, which will use land owned by the U.Va. Foundation for the projects to keep housing costs low. The University owns approximately 16.5 million gross square feet of space in 554 buildings and across 1,708 acres of land.

“As an anchor institution, we feel a responsibility to be a good neighbor,” Ryan said in March 2020. “One of the most pressing needs in our region is affordable housing.”

According to a 2019 report from the University-Community Working Group more than 3,300 Charlottesville residents could not afford housing while the area’s average rent increased 42 percent from 2011 to 2018. The average median rent cost for a one-bedroom apartment in Charlottesville is $1,140, while the average salary is $60,000.

The advisory group was initially appointed in 2018 by Ryan to determine the most important priorities in strengthening the University’s relationship with surrounding communities, which led to the creation of the President’s Council on Community-U.Va. Relations in October 2019.

The report also outlined three other major priorities for the community — providing living wages for all University employees and contractors, ensuring access to affordable health-care and securing equitable and high-quality opportunities for youth education. The University increased its minimum wage to $15 starting in January 2020.

“The pandemic has only exacerbated the issues that these working groups were formed to address, so their work is now more important than ever,” Ryan said in February after the University announced that community projects would resume. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed unique challenges to addressing Charlottesville’s unhoused population, given that shelters needed more space to socially distance beds.

After the 2019 report was published, the President’s Council on U.Va. Community Partnerships — which is made up of members of the community working group who serve in more permanent roles — formed four specialized committees to address the issues detailed in the report. Comprising both University officials and community partners, the Affordable Housing Advisory Group was created to give recommendations on topics related to the construction of the new housing units, such as site selection, development strategy and community engagement.  

“Home is where the heart is, and our goal is to make it possible for more members of our community to have access to affordable housing,” said Davis, who serves as the group’s chair. “Our work is really just beginning following the pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The project marks a step toward fulfilling the goals of the University’s Good Neighbor Program, one of a set of proposed initiatives in the University’s 2030 Plan. The program promises to address challenges including housing, living wages, local educational opportunities and access to healthcare in partnership with communities in Charlottesville and surrounding counties.

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