Entrance to Friendship Court neighborhood from Monticello Ave


The concept for the redevelopment of both Friendship Court and Charlottesville’s public housing sites involves creating mixed-income neighborhoods, but the idea concerns many existing residents and their advocates.

“The Strategic Investment Area is generally calling for an increase in density, but we’re not really sure how that housing is going to be tiered,” said Kim Rolla, a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center.

As of 2012, there were 1,345 homes within the 330 acres of the SIA’s boundaries. Analysts with Cunningham | Quill Architects estimated that could nearly double to 2,645 if the area is fully built out.

According to the SIA plan, the area between Elliott Avenue and Garrett Street was a mixed-income neighborhood until urban renewal in the 1970s that eliminated some city streets to create large blocks.

“The super-block configuration of public and assisted housing has served to isolate these areas from other parts of the neighborhood,” reads the plan, which goes on to outline several strategies for how affordable units could be mixed in with market-rate units.

But some people want a better understanding of how that will affect the support networks and community that exists at those sites today.

“If you talk to families who live there, most of them would not have a place of their own without a place like Friendship Court and public housing,” said Nikayuh Walker, a social justice activist who lived at Friendship Court from 1998 to 2005.

For a sense of what the private market can yield, the website HotPads currently lists a $2,500 monthly rent for a two-bedroom in the Gleason building just across the street from Friendship Court.

In comparison, the median annual income of Friendship Court residents is $10,800.

The current owners of the 150-unit complex are able to keep rents affordable for those with extremely low incomes because of federal and state housing vouchers. The current contract expires in late 2018, and the Piedmont Housing Alliance will take an option to purchase the property at that time.

“We are absolutely committed to keeping 150 affordable homes at Friendship Court and the Section 8 assistance that makes it affordable for those families that currently live there,” said Frank Grosch, CEO of the nonprofit alliance.

However, Rolla said there’s no legal requirement that the Piedmont Housing Alliance renew the contract for the project-based vouchers that are in place now. There is a possibility the vouchers could be converted to ones that stay with individuals who can then move to other communities.

“That would mean the composition of Friendship Court would change pretty drastically,” Rolla said.

To help educate residents of Friendship Court, the Legal Aid Justice Center has helped to organize a tenants association similar to the Public Housing Association of Residents.

“We are absolutely committed to keeping 150 affordable homes at Friendship Court and the Section 8 assistance that makes it affordable for those families that currently live there.”

Frank Grosch, CEO, Piedmont Housing Alliance

“I feel like we have accomplished things that we wanted as far as getting residents active and aware of the situation,” said Toni Eubanks, who at one time was working with the Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative in its efforts to engage residents in the planning process.

Rolla said she thinks the entire community needs a better understanding of the different types of affordable housing.

“There’s a severe shorting of affordable housing in Charlottesville,” Rolla said. “Not only do we want to preserve the existing housing stock but we need to increase our affordable housing in Charlottesville.”

Walker agrees.

“If you’re talking about affordable for someone who lives in Friendship Court or public housing, that is very different from talking about [workforce housing] for librarians, police officers and teachers. And that is very different from people who can afford to live in the Gleason.”

Under the existing Downtown Extended zoning, as many as 500 units could be built at the Friendship Court site. While the PHA has vowed to keep the Section 8 in place, the question is to whom will the additional units be targeted.

Grosch said he defines mixed-income housing as consisting of the 150 subsidized units in addition to workforce housing and market-rate housing, but he stresses that there is no plan yet.

“There is an enormous potential in that site,” Grosch said. “Unlike a private developer, our mission is to unlock the value of that site for the benefit of the people who live there now.”

That could include non-commercial space for a health care clinic and child care facilities.

The PHA will form an advisory committee to oversee the development and the City Council will get the chance to appoint one or more of its members. At least four or five residents will serve on the committee.

Meanwhile, the 188 units of public housing owned and operated by the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority in the SIA also are expected to be redeveloped at some point in the future. The long-term affordability of those units is guaranteed.

“Public housing exists in perpetuity,” Rolla said. “Every year, there are appropriations for public housing,” but the amount given goes down over time, “which is why the stock is in the condition that it’s in.”

Incoming Councilor Wes Bellamy said the communication of the goals of the Friendship Court redevelopment needs to be consistent.

“This will indeed be new and strange and scary and difficult for many,” Bellamy said, adding that he moved from a neighborhood that was all subsidized housing to subsidized housing within a mixed-income neighborhood in Atlanta during his childhood.

“It was difficult at first but it wound up being fine and then great,” Bellamy said. “But the conversation must be intentional and we have to be willing to deal with the difficult conversations and not scurry away.”

as appearing this week in The Daily Progress

Monday: The Strategic Investment Area

Tuesday: The beginnings of a new civic plaza

Wednesday: Mixed-use, mixed-income — mixed feelings