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City Council discusses affordable housing, proposed 2023 budget

Members approved a development proposal that would create 28 units of affordable housing

<p>Members of the public are encouraged to attend the April 7 budgeting work session, April 12 budget approval meeting and April 18 traditional City Council meeting.&nbsp;</p>

Members of the public are encouraged to attend the April 7 budgeting work session, April 12 budget approval meeting and April 18 traditional City Council meeting. 

During Monday’s meeting, members of City Council heard comments from the public regarding its proposed budget for fiscal year 2023 and passed a contested vote to allow the development of affordable housing on Grove Street.  

Deputy City Manager Sam Sanders presented the results of a recent report on Charlottesville’s affordable housing initiatives crafted by HR&A consultants — a group hired by the City to look into Charlottesville’s current affordable housing stock. According to the report, the City has invested $46.7 million into affordable housing, constructed and preserved 1,611 affordable units and served 640 additional households — usually through supporting homeless services — since 2010.

Sanders said this indicates a willingness by the City to address issues of affordable housing, but he said that there are always opportunities to do more.

“You will never spend enough on affordable housing,” Sanders said. “I think most communities have found that around this country — and because the markets are constantly changing — we always have to do a little bit more.” 

Per a 2018 Housing Needs Assessment, 23 percent of Charlottesville renters are spending more than half of their income on rent — the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development says that affordable housing should cost no more than 30 percent of the household’s income. For an apartment to be affordable for a low-income family making 30 percent of the area median income, rent would need to be around $520 per month, but the average rent for apartments in and around the City is $1,384. 

Sanders identified several specific areas in which the City could improve affordable housing programs. According to Sanders, the City currently does not currently operate under a unified, working definition of what affordable housing entails, does not have a measure for how long affordable housing developments will remain affordable and does not have a comprehensive housing policy. 

Sanders suggested that the Council take the HR&A affordable housing plan as a roadmap for the future to improve the City’s affordable housing program and develop a more comprehensive program. The three major recommendations issued in the plan include dedicating $10 million to affordable housing annually, allocating funding to train and support nonprofit organizations and community members who wish to aid in developing affordable housing policy and adopting inclusionary zoning reforms — including limiting single-use zoning designations which contribute to high property costs.

Council also discussed a rezoning request on Grove Street that would allow for the development of 28 new affordable housing units. Councilmembers Michael Payne and Sena Magill offered criticism of the proposal, with both saying that the project did not reach their ideal goals for breadth of affordability — how many people would be able to afford the housing — or length of affordability  — how long the development would remain affordable after its development. 

Magill also expressed concern that the proposed development would likely be used by University students and employees as opposed to Charlottesville residents unaffiliated with the University. 

“Even if [the project] gets more deeply affordable … [the project] fits student housing, that’s more than likely who is probably going to live there,” Magill said. “Nothing wrong with that, but I don’t think we are going to get deeply affordable in this project.”

As part of a plan to develop affordable housing in Charlottesville after housing prices in the area have continued to rise, the University has entered into the third phase — a request for qualifications from potential development partners —  of an ongoing multi-year affordable housing project. 

The University’s plan to develop 1,000 to 1,500 affordable housing units in Charlottesville was first introduced by University President Jim Ryan in 2020. Ryan’s announcement came after the University-Community Working Group identified affordable housing as one of the ways that the University could strengthen its relationship with the Charlottesville area.

The proposal ultimately passed 4-1 with Councilmember Payne as the only dissenter. 

Krisy Hammil, senior budget and management analyst, presented Council with an updated overview of the fiscal year 2023 budget, which would take effect in July. According to Hammil, the budget office estimates that if City Council does not alter resident’s personal property tax, there will be just over $3.7 million in new revenue that can be used to amend the estimated revenue for FY 2023 from $216 million to $219.9 million. Council is also considering increasing the property tax for residents.  

Hammil also addressed potential amendments to the Capital Improvements Program plan. The CIP provides funding for infrastructure projects in the City.

The amendments include reducing the amount of money dedicated to school reconfiguration from $75 million to $68.8 million, allocating $4.9 million to transportation services and allocating $4.95 million to affordable housing.

Hammil told Council members that budget season — the time during which the Budget Office and City Council work together to prepare and approve the City budget for the next fiscal year —  is coming to a close, with one more work session scheduled for April 7 before Council votes to approve the new budget or not. According to Mayor Lloyd Snook, Council aims to have worked out any questions and concerns about the proposed budget to allow for a quick approval. 

“We’re rounding the corner, we’re almost there,” Hammil said. “We have a work session scheduled for this Thursday night where we’ll be talking about the remaining issues and hopefully be wrapping this up. The public is invited to attend.” 

Dr. Denise Bonds, director of the Blue Ridge Health District, presented the status of COVID-19 within the Charlottesville community. According to Bonds, Charlottesville has seen very few new cases in the past week — the daily case count for Charlottesville was six cases Monday —  and is currently considered by the Centers for Disease Control to have a low community COVID-19 level. 

City Council then moved into public hearings on a proposed meal tax increase from 6 percent to 6.5 percent. Under the current meal tax rate, all businesses in the City are required to levy a 6 percent tax on all prepared food and beverages, including alcoholic drinks. According to Mayor Lloyd Snook, the meal tax increase would bring in approximately $1.2 million in revenue for the City. This revenue would be marked for use on several city priorities, including capital projects and the school reconfiguration project which would renovate Buford Middle School to serve sixth through eighth graders and complete light renovations on Walker Upper Elementary School.  

Former Charlottesville Police Officer Alexander Burner urged City Council to fund the Charlottesville Police Department, stating that Charlottesville has a higher crime rate than other localities of a similar population, including Harrisonburg. For fiscal year 2022, the Charlottesville Police Department’s budget was $18,909,968. According to the FBI Crime Data Explorer, in 2020 there were 170 incidents of violent crime in Charlottesville, compared to 93 incidents in Harrisonburg.  

City Council will meet April 12 to formally approve its 2023 fiscal year budget. Members of the public are encouraged to attend Thursday’s budgeting work session, April 12 budget approval meeting and April 18 traditional City Council meeting.