Sunday, December 31, 2006

False press report on homicide at Friendship Court: Eminent domain of location cover-up

Truthiness: Sounds true but isn’t.
On the last day of the year, Matt Deegan became the latest local journalist to file a false report on an eminent domain-related story. If one part of a story is inaccurate, how can other parts be trusted?

“Friendship Court is a series of apartment buildings near the Downtown Mall that were built by the National Housing Trust/Enterprise Preservation Corp.,in partnership locally with the Piedmont Housing Alliance, to provide affordable housing for city residents” (“City man killed: Friendship Court visitor shot in gut”, December 31, 2006, The Daily Progress).

Charlottesville online assessment records indicate that PHA purchased the Garrett Square public housing complex on 10/31/2002 at a sale price of $4.8 million Deed Book 876 Page 72 and renamed the complex Friendship Court.

The previous owner, Cavalier Development Company, purchased the newly cleared, 11.758-acre consolidated parcel on 7/12/1977 for $205,103 Deed Book 385 Page 776. The land was acquired for urban renewal in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s by the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority. But the online records don’t go back that far.

The 150-unit public housing project at 400-426 Garrett Street opened in 1979. The Piedmont Housing Alliance was created in 1983 under the name Thomas Jefferson Housing Improvement Corporation.

“II. Agency Description - The Piedmont Housing Alliance is a private, nonprofit organization established in 1983 to address affordable housing and other community development needs on a regional basis within the Thomas Jefferson Planning District. PHA serves six jurisdictions - Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson counties and the City of Charlottesville. Formerly known as the Thomas Jefferson Housing Improvement Corporation (TJHIC), the agency was reorganized in February 1997 into a Community Housing Development Organization (CHDO) and renamed the Piedmont Housing Alliance…” (“About Piedmont Housing Alliance,”

National Housing Trust press release about Garrett Square June 4, 2003 The website doesn’t say when the Trust was established.

“In 1982, legendary urban visionary Jim Rouse and his wife Patty founded Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. (then named The Enterprise Foundation), with the ambitious goal of making sure every American lives in a decent, affordable home. Today, Enterprise is a leading provider of capital and expertise for affordable housing and community development. (Enterprise Preservation website)

Search Charlottesville online assessment records.

1967 map of Garrett Street urban renewal zone. Friendship Court public housing bordered by Garrett, 6th SE, (present-day) Monticello Ave, and 2nd SE. Click image for larger view.

City sees third homicide of 2006
Friendship Court visitor shot in gut

By Matt Deegan / [434] 978-7277, December 30, 2006

A 29-year-old Charlottesville man died Saturday after being shot the night before in a Friendship Court apartment on Garrett Street.

Tobyn Dion Ross was rushed to the University of Virginia Medical Center, where he died Saturday morning from his injuries, according to Charlottesville police.
It was the city’s third homicide in 2006.

Ross was lying on the ground in the parking lot of an apartment complex just before midnight Friday with a gunshot to his abdomen when city police arrived in the 400 block of Garrett Street.

One shot was fired, Barrick said, and there is no evidence that the incident was gang-related. He said there is no known motive for the shooting.

“We have strong leads and hope to make an arrest this weekend,” Barrick said, “but we still need the public’s help if anyone has information.”

Ross was not a resident of Friendship Court, Lt. Michael Dean said.

Ramona Jackson, who is a resident of the housing complex, said she was talking on the phone when she heard what she knew was a gunshot. Jackson then hung up and walked outside. She saw Ross crawling on his knees in the parking lot in front of her, she said.

Medical assistance soon arrived, and Charlottesville Albemarle Rescue Squad workers took off Ross’ coat to reveal a bloodied shirt and treated him, she said.

Jackson, who has lived in Friendship Court for nine years, said there have been incidents of violence in other blocks of Friendship Court in the past.

“I’m ready to get out of here because of this all happening,” Jackson said.
Friendship Court is a series of apartment buildings near the Downtown Mall that were built by the National Housing Trust/Enterprise Preservation Corp., in partnership locally with the Piedmont Housing Alliance, to provide affordable housing for city residents.

The program manager for Urban Vision, a community group that supports Friendship Court residents, said that the complex is a safe neighborhood.

“It’s mostly outsiders coming in,” Kristina Davis said, explaining the violence that has taken place.

Davis visits Friendship Court almost every day on behalf of Urban Vision, which provides programs such as General Equivalen-cy Diploma classes, money management seminars and after school care for residents.

She did not recognize Ross as a Friendship Court resident.

The city’s first homicide of 2006 took place March 17, when 18-year-old Gerald Washington of Charlottes-ville was shot and later died of multiple gun shot wounds. The alleged shooter, a 27-year-old city man, called 911 and told police he had shot a man. The incident is currently under review by the city prosecutor.

Then, on June 18, Lamont Antonio Reaves, 21, of Charlottesville, was shot during an argument on First Street and later died at the UVa Medical Center. Jermaine Leon Thurston, 22, of the city, was charged with one count of second-degree murder, one count of malicious wounding and two counts of use of firearm in the commission of a crime.

Anyone with information on Friday’s shooting is asked to call police Detective D.J. Harris at [434]531-8316 or Detective Logan Woodzell at [434]566-1424.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Update on illegal Habitat houses

"Habitat is not a nonprofit organization that the city can give, or sell, or donate land to. So as a result of this, the Piedmont Housing Alliance has agreed to receive the land and convey it later to Habitat" -- Mr. [Ronald L.] Higgins, city planning manager, Feb. 22, 2005
Charlottesville, Va.—The City Council first entertained the idea of giving surplus land to Habitat for Humanity on February 22, 2005.

But city attorney Craig Brown said the transfer would violate state law prohibiting transfer of public assets to religious organizations. He expected Habitat to be added July 1, ‘05 to the list of religious groups exempted from this law.

Urban planner Ronald L. Higgins, since retired, proposed to make the transfer to Piedmont Housing Alliance, which is legal, who would then transfer the land to Habitat.

I reported on this story in Charlottesville Independent Media and Richmond Indy Media. The local press covered the story but never mentioned this aspect.

If the owners decide to sell, not only will they have to give back to Habitat a percentage of the equity, they’ll also have to explain why the property flipped twice in one day.

Why did the city give the land to PHA who gave the land to Habitat on the same day, September 16, ’05? Why didn’t the city give the land directly to Habitat?

Because that would have been a crime. The deed now records the technicality that facilitated the crime.

Nobody can claim they didn’t know because Higgins proclaimed the donation to be unlawful as he proposed the work-around.

The property is now jinxed. An injustice has occurred albeit in plain view. So far everyone involved has gotten away with it. The property may already have been jinxed by a previous injustice we don’t know about yet.

The decision to use a technicality to break the law will follow these officials and volunteers for the rest of their lives and will follow the property forever.
Thanks, Habitat.

1232 and 1230 Homes Avenue combined into one deed according to online records. The owner is listed as Greater C'ville Habitat For Humanity, Art Peters, 501 Grove Avenue, Charlottesville, VA 22902

Purchased by city for $3,800 on 7/5/1967 Deed Book 289 Page 378.
Purchased by Piedmont Housing Alliance on 9/16/05 for $0 Deed Book 1047 Page 488.
Purchased by Greater C’ville Habitat for Humanity on 9/16/05 for $0 Deed Book 1047 Page 494.

1232 Holmes 0.172 acre assessed at $236,100. LOT 22 BK A SEC 3 WOODHAYVEN
1230 Holmes 0.172 acre assessed at $230,600. Non-tax/Tax-exempt. LOT 21 BK A SEC 3 WOODHAYVEN

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville

Piedmont Housing Alliance

Search Charlottesville’s online assessment records

Council Beat: Habitat for Humanity land grab, 64 signatures in opposition

"Habitat is not a nonprofit organization that the city can give, or sell, or donate land to. So as a result of this, the Piedmont Housing Alliance has agreed to receive the land and convey it later to Habitat" -- Mr. [Ronald L.] Higgins, city planning manager

To become Habitat houses, 1232 & 1230 Holmes Avenue.

Blair Hawkins, Charlottesville Independent Media, Feb. 23, 2005

Tuesday February 22, 2005, City Hall Council Chambers




Mr. Higgins said, "This is a project we've been working on since last spring. We were asked to look at a number of the city surplus lots. We've acquired lots over the years for utility easements, service lines and what have you, and looked at a number of them to see if they could be used for single family housing. We were asked to do this by Habitat. They had approached us about a half a dozen lots to see if any of them could be built on. We discovered 3 lots, 2 on Holmes Avenue...and one on Bering Street which is actually at 5th Street Extended, were suitable for single family development."

There was a meeting with the Ridge Street neighbors, who said they could support the Habitat development. The Holmes Avenue neighbors had concerns whether the subsidized houses would be compatible in appearance and assessment value. "We believe they would be." 70% of existing homes on Holmes are larger than the would-be Habitat houses. "We feel the best use of the property would be to convey it," continued Higgins.

"Habitat is not a nonprofit organization that the city can give, or sell or donate land to. So as a result of this, the Piedmont Housing Alliance has agreed to receive the land and convey it later to Habitat for the purpose of Habitat developing and their program to single family houses." Higgins further said there were other options such as doing nothing, leaving the land vacant and publicly owned, or selling the land on the open market at market rate. An auction is possible.

City attorney Craig Brown said the land could not be donated to Habitat because the nonprofit is a "self-described ecumenical Christian organization." State code seeks to preserve a separation of church and state, except the YMCA, YWCA and Salvation Army are specifically exempted from the law. There was a bill moving through the General Assembly to add Habitat to the list of those operating outside the law, and will likely become state code on July 1.

Overton McGehee, executive director of Greater Charlottesville Habitat for Humanity, spoke as Princess Long, one of the organization's "approved partners," stood next to him. "Thank you for considering giving us these 3 lots. This obviously will help us build more houses this year, because we won't have to spend as much on land this year. I hope you'll view it as an investment in affordable housing." When the homes are finished, they will be appraised, and the value will go into a 3rd mortgage. "If the house is sold, that money will come back to the city, the city affordable housing trust fund, or Piedmont Housing Alliance, or whomever the city designates for that money."

He said Habitat selects families that earn between 25 and 50% of area median income. The families help build one another's homes and their own homes. "The families purchase the homes with an interest free loan" made possible primarily by individual contributions. Two families have selected these lots on Holmes Avenue. Miss Long and Mr. and Mrs. Scott have worked hard on other families' homes and completed the 18-month Homebuyers Club which includes budget counseling. They have the down payment and are ready to become responsible homeowners and good neighbors.

Some neighbors are concerned that the new houses will adversely affect property values. Habitat offers 11 models to choose from so the house should fit in. A front porch would require a variance because of the cliff at rear of property. A back deck near the cliff is easier to handle. The two-story Habitat houses would have 1,200 finished square feet and 600 unfinished. The average home on Holmes is 1,400 and 400 respectively, said McGehee. If the homeowners do not maintain the exterior of the house and the property, Habitat has a covenant in the deed where Habitat will clean or fix the house and bill the family. If they don't pay, Habitat has the right to foreclose.

In response to the concern that the families won't be able to afford rising costs, McGehee said the mortgage is to be paid over a longer term than typical. Habitat believes their families should not pay more than 25% of their income for mortgage, taxes, and insurance. Some neighbors have said they want the land sold on the "open market" but Habitat prefers the transfer be thought of as "an investment in affordable housing."


Adam Peters moved into the Holmes neighborhood 2 years ago with his wife and 2 small children. He has been in and out of some of the houses on Holmes. He's also a longtime volunteer with the Charlottesville Habitat for Humanity since 1996. He's proud of Habitat and the community it fosters, the positive effect it has on people's lives and neighborhoods as a whole. In support of the proposed land transfer, he said the size and design of the houses would fit right in. He's proud of the quality of Habitat houses, more solid because volunteers use "twice as many nails" than a regular construction company would. Many of the houses he has volunteered on have amenities his own home does not, such as central air conditioning, central heat, modern windows that filter out UV rays. He observed that Habitat houses are better maintained than their neighbors' houses. Habitat selects only families of exceptional quality.

Thomas Norford lives directly across the street from the 2 vacant lots. He and his wife have lived at this address for 26 years. Both of them have worked 2 jobs at times to be able to afford this house. Over the years, he has inquired about the lots and was first told that the lots were un-buildable, not suitable for housing. More recently the city said the lots would remain open as access to open space behind the lots to be developed in the county. "Then we suddenly find out the city is considering donating these to Habitat for Humanity for affordable housing."

Has the City Council determined that, in the Woodhayven neighborhood, only lower income people can have ownership of these lots and other community members are not given a chance to own them? "We have invested in preserving our neighborhood as a planned development community. Toward that interest, we have gathered 64 signatures on a petition showing our disapproval to City Council." The group does not believe transfer to Habitat through PHA would be the best use of the land. The land is currently appraised at $64,000. These funds could be used to renovate homes that would be affordable to the working poor. Property values are from $200,000 to $250,000 and assessments rose by 11-14% this past year alone. The average working wage is up 6%. So you're looking at 5% in the hole every year.

According to an AP story, owners of northern Virginia Habitat homes are unable to pay the taxes. The working family would never be able to afford the homes on Holmes Avenue to be valued at $170,000. In northern Virginia the localities have had to use tax abatements and utility abatements so the families could afford to remain in the Habitat home.

Sharon Bishop owns the house adjacent to the property in question. She moved into the Woodhayven neighborhood in 1996. The typical Woodhayven house is a 2,000 square feet brick rancher. The average annual tax is at least $1,500. The Habitat houses would be at least $1,200 a year. Are these potential homeowners set up to fail if they are unable to afford all the expenses? The lots are only 40 feet wide, bordered by a 60 foot cliff. The new houses would not meet the 30-foot setback required by zoning. There could be no back yard, so kids would have to play in the front yard, which is not consistent with the neighborhood. Digging the foundation could jeopardize nearby houses. In closing, she asked that the parcels be put on the open market.

Princess Long, a single mom with 2 sons, would live on one of these lots. She asked that neighbors give her the same opportunity to feel proud of a home she has worked hard for.

Richard Price, by request of the Habitat director, came to speak about the market rate housing project being developed in the Woolen Mills neighborhood to include 2 affordable units. He asked that Council approve the land transfer to Habitat.

Kenneth Jackson said he's "never heard such institutional discrimination in my life." You can serve my burger and wipe my butt but you can't live beside me--to paraphrase Jackson. "Low income people are people too."

The Council then discussed the proposal but postponed a decision until the next meeting on March 7. Councilor Rob Schilling shared that he had already informed Habitat that he opposes the gift transfer, but would support sale at fair market value and otherwise supports the work of Habitat. Mayor David Brown said, "I think unequivocally we should" convey the land to Habitat through PHA for affordable housing.


Institutional discrimination? Who's being discriminated against?

1. The neighbors who sought to purchase the abandoned public lots and then pay taxes on the land. Everyone in the community, except Habitat and the Habitat family, is discriminated against.
2. The Habitat family because they are not allowed to enjoy the financial benefits of their hard work and rising assessments. If they sell, the profit goes back to finance more discrimination.

Who benefits from the discrimination?

1. Habitat gets free land and gets to say they helped a needy family. Why doesn't the city give the land directly to the family so they would have collateral to get a loan to build a house?
2. The city's housing trust fund takes back a lifetime of built-up equity if the Habitat house is ever sold.

What institution is discriminating?

1. The city against working poor trying to rise out of poverty without the "help" that perpetuates a disadvantaged class of citizens.
2. Habitat against Princess Long and the Scotts by writing into the deed that they cannot benefit from their investment the way their neighbors can.

Who are the accomplices?

1. Piedmont Housing Alliance by acting as a middle-man for a transfer otherwise prohibited by state code.

Perhaps the city should wait until July 1 when a new law is expected to add Habitat to a list of entities exempted from the law prohibiting transfer of public assets to religious organizations. How much meaning does a law have if everybody's exempted? What does it mean for the people who are not favored enough to be designated above the law?

Just as you can write into the deed permanent restrictions on the new Habitat owners, it's possible that the city is bound by restrictions it assumed when the land was taken. Almost all public land today was private land at one point. If the land was purchased on the open market, the city would be free to sell or give it away.

But if the land was taken for a specific use, what happens when that use no longer exists? In this case, the city claims the land was acquired for utility easements. If that's the case, the city may not even own the land, but simply be using it for a public purpose. If so, the land should be returned to its rightful owner at no charge who can then sell the parcels in the clear. If the land was taken for a specific purpose and never used for that purpose, it should be returned to its rightful owner along with a penalty for breech of contract.

Ironically, this Council meeting was on the same day the Supreme Court heard a case about land transfers under the guise of eminent domain, better known as urban renewal. At issue is whether government can take property for a public use and then not be bound by that covenant. What the nation needs is for the court to explain the rules of the real estate game clearly and reaffirm that these rules apply equally to everyone.

Charlottesville gives public land to Habitat for Humanity

Blair Hawkins, Charlottesville Independent Media, March 8, 2005

City Council voted 4-1 to donate 3 "surplus city lots" to the Greater Charlottesville Habitat for Humanity for development. Because the transfer is prohibited by state code, Piedmont Housing Alliance will act as middle-man.

Tonight, the City Council voted 4-1 to donate 3 "surplus city lots" to the Greater Charlottesville Habitat for Humanity for development. One lot is on Bering Street in the Tonsler precinct on the less affluent south side of town. The other 2 lots are on Holmes Avenue in the Recreation precinct on the north side of town. A 64-signature petition was presented to Council 2 weeks ago in opposition to the Holmes Avenue transfer.

At the last Council meeting on February 22, city attorney Craig Brown said the transfer was prohibited by state law. He did not indicate tonight that he had been mistaken in his interpretation of the Code of Virginia that prohibits transfer of public assets to religious organizations. He did not cite the specific code. Unlike the YMCA, YWCA, and Salvation Army, Habitat is not yet exempted from this law.

In order to get around this legal hurdle, city planning manager Ron Higgins announced at the last meeting that a private developer has agreed to act as a middle man for the donation. "Habitat is not a nonprofit organization that the city can give, or sell, or donate land to. So as a result of this, the Piedmont Housing Alliance has agreed to receive the land and convey it later to Habitat," stated Higgins.

Boldly, the 4 approving Council members, all Democrats, referred to the transaction as if the property were being given to Habitat directly. Apparently, good intention is the basis of their decision to break this law. The sole Republican Rob Schilling opposed the transfer, not because it is illegal, but because he prefers to sell the land. He said the city cannot afford to give away land.

In an unrelated appropriation, the Council voted again along party lines to give Piedmont Housing Alliance $30,000 to continue its redevelopment in the Page and 10th Street neighborhood. Rob Schilling opposed giving PHA the money because the project lacked details on how it would be spent.

Council Beat: Habitat for Humanity land grab, 64 signatures in opposition (Feb 23 2005) (with 3 photos)

I'm just a humble reporter. I report reality as I observe it. The only way I can hold our officials accountable is through freedom of the press.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Levy Avenue for sale: Eminent domain in your face

In January they wanted 30 units, single family houses and townhouses. Now it's 7 houses and a dozen condos. In 2003 they wanted Granny-flat studio apartments above store fronts and a backyard mini-park.

Rents for $1 a year. (Photo August 16, 2002)

The city of Charlottesville and its Housing Authority have been trying to sell the parking lot on Levy Avenue for decades. Nobody knows when the parcel was acquired.

Today’s Daily Progress reports: “The housing authority has owned the land for decades and has wanted to build on it for years.”

At the regular meeting of the Redevelopment Committee of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority on January 10, Howard Evergreen “explained that CRHA has owned, free and clear, nearly one acre on Levy for many years” according to the minutes of the meeting.

Even the city’s online assessment records are blank in the “Transfer” folder that contains sales dates and deed numbers. The address is 405 Levy Avenue, 0.846 acre, assessed at $449,300. Parcel ID 580115000. Lots 2-11 Block 4 Belmont. Use Code “vacant commercial.” Non-tax/tax-exempt. The owner is listed as Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, P.O. Box 1405, Charlottesville, Va. 22902.

Search Charlottesville’s online assessment records.

This property was designated in an urban renewal zone when a 1967 referendum approved the clearance and redevelopment. A 1970 HUD grant of $3 million initially funded the project. I’ve written in the past that this part of Levy was demolished in 1972. But that’s actually the year they demolished the nice houses, the ones contested and saved for last. The true blight was the first to go.

When I photograph the urban renewal archives of the Housing Authority next month, Levy Avenue will be a top priority. Currently, the Housing Authority rents the parking lot to the city as an employee parking lot for one dollar a year.

More Resources

"City has plan for Levy site: Mixed-income idea novel for housing," Jun 19 2003, The Daily Progress. The article doesn’t give the date of purchase or indicate the urban renewal status of the property.

"Levy Avenue Design Workshop," Belmont-Carlton Neighborhood Association Newsletter, Summer 2003.

"This spring, neighborhood residents and city leaders, including Mayor Maurice Cox, gathered for a design workshop sponsored by the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority to explore options for development of the Housing Authority property at 405 Levy Avenue, next to Walker's Auto Repair... On the ground level at the Avon Street and 6th Street corners of the property, participants recommended higher density buildings, housing apartments above, and uses like cafe, video store, laundromat for the spaces at sidewalk level. At the center of the block, participants recommended construction of rowhouses, like those in Richmond's Fan District, with a shared private park/garden behind, and garages with 'Granny-flat'studio apartments."

1967 map of Garrett Street urban renewal zone showing Levy sticking out on east side of zone.

Levy Avenue for sale, eminent domain bills to be heard Monday March 20, 2006

[...] Mr. Evergreen summarized the committee’s efforts to develop housing at the Levy Avenue site to date. He explained that CRHA has owned, free and clear, nearly one acre on Levy for many years. With the intent to build affordable housing on that site, the committee released an RFP for architectural services in February, 2005. From that RFP, the committee chose to negotiate with one architect. From that negotiation, it was determined that the cost of the proposed architectural services was beyond what CRHA was willing to commit to.

The committee then re-thought the process and decided to pursue an architecture/builder team in an effort to create positive synergy and lower the cost. An RFP for those services was released in July, 2005. Though the committee held a number of discussions with interested firms, with the award date looming and many questions still to be considered, the committee decided not to make an award at that time and to re-think the project again.

While considering the RFP process for the third time, the committee received guidance from CRHA’s legal representation that suggested a combined RFP for architectural and construction services was not the optimum route. Further, it was strongly suggested that the committee develop a more concrete set of ideas as to what this project would look like before writing and issuing an RFP for architectural services.

Today’s meeting, with two new committee members (architects) was being held to try and come up with a more detailed project plan to serve as the basis to issue and RFP for architectural services. [...]

Belmont-area development considered
Affordable housing planned

By John Yellig / 978-7245, December 15, 2006

The Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority would like to redevelop a 0.9-acre site in Belmont into a mixed-income, mixed-use development in partnership with a locally based nonprofit group.

Representatives from the authority and the Blue Moon Fund met at City Hall with neighborhood residents Thursday to discuss the project, which would include seven 1,500-square-foot houses and a dozen 1,300-square-foot condominiums on a piece of housing authority property at the corner of Garrett Street and Sixth Street Southeast.

The site, colloquially known as the Levy Avenue lot, is currently vacant except for a parking lot used by city employees.

Half of the units would be sold at market value, the other half to low-income people, preferably housing authority residents, authority Executive Director Noah Schwartz said.

Most of the funding for the project would come from the Blue Moon Fund, an internationally active philanthropic foundation based in Charlottesville. The two organizations have signed a letter of intent.

Schwartz emphasized that the proposed project, which he hopes to complete in three years, remains in a conceptual stage.

“We’re presenting it to the neighborhood just to get their 2 cents,” Schwartz said. “This is just a starting place to talk about it.”

The two condo buildings would have three floors apiece. The first floors would be for commercial space, where a business incubator or local nonprofits might be located.
The entire project would be constructed using Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design building techniques. Schwartz hopes the structures can be built to a platinum rating under the green building system.

If built, the project could be the second development constructed to LEED standards in that neighborhood. A nine-story condominium tower is proposed for Avon Street, just west of the Belmont Bridge.

“We’re hoping to create a model to be replicated,” Blue Moon Fund CEO and President Diane Miller said, calling it a “jewel of a project.

“I think it is how Charlottesville needs to be looking at how downtown real estate needs to be developed.”

The housing authority has owned the land for decades and has wanted to build on it for years.

Pressure from developers to sell the property has been mounting recently, said Jason Halbert, a member of the authority’s Board of Commissioners.

“I think we’re sitting on a potentially giant gift of generosity,” he said of the proposed partnership with the Blue Moon Fund.

Belmont Avenue resident and green architect Greg Jackson applauded the proposal.
“The green is absolutely an excellent path, if not imperative, for what development should be,” Jackson said. “That’s pretty impressive.”

The authority and the Blue Moon Fund plan to hold another meeting about the proposal in January.

"Council Beat: Parade of grievances, Housing Authority report"
Levy Avenue parking lot rents for $1 a year

Blair Hawkins, Jan 19, 2005, Charlottesville Independent Media (defunct)

At the Tuesday meeting, a day later than usual due to the Martin Luther King holiday, the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority said it wants to resume the "redevelopment" part of its mission as well as continue its public housing charge. Executive director since the summer, Paul Chedda said the agency needs to become more like a private developer in response to declining federal funding and should seek various sources of funding, similar to the Piedmont Housing Alliance model.

CRHA board chairman Howard Evergreen said the agency rents out the former 600 block of Levy Avenue as a parking lot to the city for one dollar a year and that this land should be sold for development of mixed-use condos. Several of the councilors agreed that more urban renewal is called for. The agency did not identify the true owners of the parking lot.

None of the councilors asked how the agency plans to deal with a Supreme Court ruling expected later this year on the Constitutionality of forced land transfers from one private party to another for the purpose of economic development and increasing real estate assessments. The city attorney did not offer advice. If the court rules in favor of property rights, federal funding of urban renewal would be halted altogether. The urban renewal of Garrett Street was funded by a $3 million federal grant approved in 1970. The high court will hear oral arguments in a Connecticut urban renewal case on February 22.

None of the councilors inquired about the status of the Housing Authority historical archives despite an email last week informing them that the agency had ignored a request from the public since last March. Councilor Blake Caravati did respond by email that he will investigate. Councilor Rob Schilling responded by email thanking me for my interest in this important issue. I forwarded a copy of the petition to the Institute for Justice. ( )


City manager Gary O'CONNELL: Anounced the Council Report reform. From now on, councilors will, from time to time, report on the boards and commisions on which they serve. These reports will normally occur at the end of the meeting. But the first such report will be given by Hamilton in conjunction with the Housing Authority report since she serves on the Housing Task Force. The purpose of the informal reports is to foster better communication.

Councilor Kendra HAMILTON: Housing Authority has a $5.5 million budget, the vast majority from HUD (Housing and Urban Development federal subsidy program) for public housing and Section 8 subsidized rental housing. CRHA manages 376 public housing units and 345 Section 8 apartment units. Most familiar public housing would be Westhaven and Crescent Halls elderly highrise on South First Street. CRHA manages 2 other programs for first-time or low-to-moderate income home buyers: down payment and closing cost assistance program funded by HUD and HOP(Housing Opportunities Partnership) that provides a loan up to $15,000 to fund the gap between house cost and what you can afford if you qualify. It's basically a small authority. I was appointed to the Housing Task Force in June and we first met in July.

Previously, the authority had been "limping along" under part-time director and assistant city manager Rochelle Small-Toney and a national search for a full-time executive director was underway. There were significant problems: the building and property maintenance operation appeared to have ceased to function at some point. Simple repairs were difficult to get done. Apartment turnovers were taking too long. Managing the authority and managing the staff were difficult. Relationship between staff and residents had deteriorated. "At the first meeting I attended, I have to say I was astonished. I had never seen such a level of hostility and vitriol in a public setting. And I was seriously wondering what I had gotten myself into."

Capital improvements did not take place over the life of the facilities and there has been serious neglect. CRHA faces budget cuts because it relies heavily on federal funding which is being cut. In 6 months so far, she has seen significant positive changes. We completed a national search and hired an executive director in August 2004. The first thing the new director did was go out into the community and talk to people, residents, service providers, staff, finding out where the overlap is, how Housing Authority fits in. The director instituted a series of cost reductions and staff reorganization. What that means is the troubled maintence department was basically gutted, reduced to 2 employees, and everything outsourced such as apartment turnovers and work orders. We're in the midst of hiring a permanent maintenance director who would oversee maintenance and direct the redevelopment effort.

"This was one of the big lacks, is that the Redevelopment portion of the Housing Authority's title had been neglected over the years." Now we're in a state where work orders actually result in repairs. Apartment turnovers have been reduced to a more appropriate level. The new director had an innovative idea in bridge building and plans are underway to build a new accredited state-of-the-art early childcare daycare facility where public housing kids and market rate kids could go in partnership with the United Way, Parks and Recreation, PVCC, Charlottesville city schools, UVa, MACAA, Westhaven clinic, Department of Social Services, and so on.

These are some exciting things. But we still face challenges. The previous interim director commissioned a full facilities audit to assess current resources and create 20 year capital maintenance plan. The figures for deferred maintenance needs are staggering: $1 million for South First Street site, $1.7 million for Crescent Halls, $1.3 million for all of our scattered sites, $5.5 million for Westhaven. We have an ongoing challenge to maintain our funding. CRHA survived the 2002 funding cuts. There are plans to "slice and dice" community block grant we depend on in all neighborhoods.

Councilor Rob SCHILLING: Thanks to Kendra for her report and her service. Would the $5.5 million for Westhaven upgrade be better spent to redevelop the site?

Paul CHEDDA, executive director of Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority: The infrastructure of Westhaven has big problems. But where would the residents go during construction? We have challenges with funding. Can we afford to rebuild that structure? Needs to be conversation with residents, staff, and city at large.

Howard EVERGREEN, chairman of CRHA oversight committee: The figure we got for redeveloping Westhaven is closer to $10 million. We want to sell the Levy Avenue parking lot, that we rent to the city for a dollar a year, for mixed-income mixed-use private and commercial development. We want to put the redevelopment back in our name and ensure some affordable component.

Councilor Kevin LYNCH: Anything left of HOPE VI funds?

CHEDDA: The funds are being phased out. If we are to do anything, we need to look for funding elsewhere.

Councilor Blake CARAVATI: "I've go a few scars that I don't show" from when he served. Concerned about future funding streams that simply maintain present level of service. Concerned about housing vouchers that go unseated, when a house cannot be found in the city to satisfy a voucher.

CHEDDA: First step is to tighten our own belts, do more with less, cutbacks and layoffs, streamlining. Second, we cannot rely on federal funding alone. Do we become more like a private developer and diversify funding streams? Third thing is partnership. It is clear that Housing Authority cannot do this alone. As a community, we need to put our money where our mouth is.

BROWN: Thanked the speakers and moved on to next agenda item.

[End of report]

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Deeds and Toscano: Eminent domain not a problem in Va.

Charlottesville, Va.-- Thursday afternoon Delegate David Toscano (57th) and state Senator Creigh Deeds (25th) appeared on WINA’s “Charlottesville Right Now” with host Coy Barefoot.

Barefoot asked about eminent domain in the upcoming session of the General Assembly because “a lot of people” are concerned about this issue. The two Democrats dismissed all those people by saying it’s not a problem in Virginia and we don’t have Kelo-type abuses.

Toscano characterized bills introduced last session to limit eminent domain to public use as bills that would eliminate all bona fide uses of eminent domain.

Neither representative mentioned a single eminent domain loophole that needs to be closed. Deeds and Toscano support any use of eminent domain so there was no reason for them to acknowledge any alleged abuse.

Barefoot allowed his guests to dismiss his question by not asking any number of simple followups like:

So you think it’s okay for an agency to acquire land for a reservoir and never build the reservoir and keep the land anyway?

Or maybe this: So you don’t see any need to change the law so whatever happened at Vinegar Hill doesn’t happen again?

Either question would have exposed Deeds and Toscano as supporters of unlimited eminent domain. To them the abuses are invisible and always will be. Complaints about Vinegar Hill are no reason to stop seizing property for economic development.

By summarily dismissing the entire body of evidence on this issue, the two Democrats dismissed two constituent groups: blacks and elderly. The NAACP and AARP wrote friend of the court briefs asking the Supreme Court to decide the Kelo case in favor of the property owners. Historically, the elderly and minorities have been most at risk of eminent domain.

The League of Cities and Municipalities wrote a court brief in favor of the unlimited interpretation the Supreme Court handed down.

Toscano has a long record of complicity. He was a city councilor on June 5, 2000, when I delivered my first speech on urban renewal. The City Council Chamber was filled with black people because the public hearing to name the 9th-10th Connector after Sally Hemings was on the agenda. The speech received a thunderous applause.

Six years later Toscano has done nothing to address the concerns expressed that night. This afternoon he dismissed all those people again.

“Response to David Toscano and Tammy Londeree on my endorsement of Rob Schilling published on George Loper's blog” April 30, 2006 – Toscano claims credit for stripping eminent domain from Charlottesville charter amendment introduced in ’06 session. In so doing, he claims the bill was passed, then amended by him and later passed again. The Daily Progress reported that a Senate committee, not the House of Delegates, made the changes.

“The letter that stopped Charlottesville’s eminent domain amendment” Jan. 8, 2006 – Includes text of proposed Section 50.7, passed by the Council Nov. 21, 2005, introduced by Blake Caravati who only weeks later announced he would not seek reelection. The amendment passed 4-1. For: Kendra Hamilton, David Brown, Kevin Lynch, Blake Caravati. Against: Rob Schilling.

WINA makes its audio archives of “Charlottesville Right Now” available at

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Va lawmakers gearing up for eminent domain in '07 session

A provision in the constitution that allows lawmakers to define public use for condemnation purposes undermines the purpose of having a constitution...A debtor who refuses to pay his bills in Virginia is given more rights than a property owner.

Legislator: Domain bills coming
Cuccinelli wants advisory votes on what tack Virginians think should be taken -- if any

December 13, 2006

Expect several bills in the 2007 General Assembly designed to reel in government's use of eminent-domain powers, says Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, R-Fairfax.

It will be a do-over for Virginia lawmakers.

In reaction to a controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision, the General Assembly tried and failed this year to pass legislation to restrict the use of condemnation power.

In the upcoming assembly session, Cuccinelli plans to call for an advisory referendum on what sort of constitutional amendment, if any, should be adopted to limit eminent domain.

Cuccinelli wants the voters' opinion on two competing approaches that generally reflect bills that were debated by this year's General Assembly.

One of the bills clearly stated that condemnation could not be used primarily for economic development projects. Another would have limited condemnation but allowed it for existing purposes such as blight removal. However, when lawmakers got around to the issue at the end of the assembly session, they decided not to act rather than pass a bill hastily.

A referendum could help break the legislative logjam on eminent domain, Cuccinelli said. Lawmakers resist referendums, but property rights are at the foundation of government, he said.

State law and the state constitution need to be changed to restrict eminent-domain abuses, Cuccinelli said. A provision in the constitution that allows lawmakers to define public use for condemnation purposes undermines the purpose of having a constitution, he said.

"What we're talking about here is the restraining of government power," Cuccinelli said. "Developers get government to do their dirty work for them," he said.

The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in a Connecticut case last year focused the public's attention on eminent domain. The court in Kelo v. City of New London ruled that the U.S. Constitution does not bar government from condemning private property and turning it over to another private party for economic development. The high court said, however, that the states were free to put stronger limits on the use of eminent-domain power.

Cuccinelli was one of the three speakers at a news conference in Richmond yesterday sponsored by the Virginia Institute of Public Policy, a libertarian policy group based in Northern Virginia. The institute released a new report on the use and abuse of eminent domain in Virginia.

The Virginia Supreme Court in many cases has given less protection to property owners than the federal court did in the Connecticut case, said Jeremy Hopkins, a property-rights lawyer and the report's author. A debtor who refuses to pay his bills in Virginia is given more rights than a property owner, Hopkins said.

Those with condemnation authority, which includes private utilities, constitute a powerful lobby in Virginia, Hopkins said. Lawmakers who sit on key assembly committees vote on eminent-domain legislation even though they have conflicts of interests from the stock they own and the gifts and donations they receive from lobbyists, he said.

The only way Virginians will get meaningful eminent-domain reform is when people stand up and hold their representatives accountable, Hopkins said.

Contact staff writer Greg Edwards at or (804) 649-6390.

Eminent domain stars reveal legislative agenda June 29, 2006

Jefferson Area Libertarians' Bill of Rights Day Friday December 15, 2006

The Bill of Rights is 215 years young! We will read the Bill of Rights aloud, speak about its profound impact on freedom, and of recent events injurious to its purpose.

The first event will be in downtown Waynesboro from 12:00 to 12:30 p.m. at the Municipal Building at the corner of Main Street and Wayne Avenue.

The second event will be at the center of the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville from 4:00 to 4:30 p.m. (Main St. & 2nd St. East, next to the fountain)

-- John Munchmeyer

See also: Libertarian Party of Virginia

Monday, December 11, 2006

Urban renewal archives now open to public by appointment

Letter from assistant city manager

November 28, 2006

Dear Mr. Hawkins,

I am writing in response to the concern that you expressed at City Council meeting of November 20th about the accessibility of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s photographs of areas and housing in the city that were demolished during the period of urban renewal.

The photographs are as accessible to you and anyone that would like to see them as they were when you called me in the past and made your request to see them and photograph them. You should recall that at your request and convenience at that time I invited you to come to the City Hall and the photographs were made available for you to copy which you took photographs. I also told you at that time that I would be happy to help you in any way that I could with your research and I later called you again to share with you that I had found a photograph of the house that you lived in as a child and made that photograph available to you.

As I had also shared with you, the materials have been entrusted to University of Virginia professor Dr. Scot French for a digital project that combines this information along with databases of the Charlottesville Albemarle Historical Society and other research. When completed, the end result will be a comprehensive record of property owners, tenants, records and photographs of each parcel in this area. My agreement with Dr. French is that the original materials will be returned to CRHA in catalogue, in addition to a digitized format.

I would agree that the process is taking a long time, and I am aware that there has been reorganization at the Carter Woodson Institute and a change in the assigned intern which combined, may have impacted this project. However, I continue to support Dr. French’s project and the partnership with the historical society because when completed the end result is such that it will be of great benefit to researchers and scholars that are interested in the photographic records of this period that will be accessible via the Internet. You may also be interested to know that Dr. French and the intern met this past September with about 20 residents that once lived on Vinegar Hill, Kathleen Glen of CRHA and I to update us on their progress. Needless to say, the former residents provided a great deal of information to them that helped guide this project. Their memories of the "good days on the Hill" were educational, inspirational, and undersored the importance of documenting oral histories.

Dr. French also provided an update of the project at a local history meeting at Kenwood this past fall and the scholars and researchers were enthusiastic about the goal of the project. Again, I contend that sharing of this information and collaboration with the university and the historical society to document and record this information will be a greater asset to future researchers and interested parties, even though it is a very long process. Another benefit to this approach is that this work is being done at no cost to the city or CRHA which is a significant savings in additional staff and equipment to accomplish this task.

Although I am not currently holding this information, I will be happy to arrange a time for you to meet with Dr. French, the intern that has been assigned to this project, Kathleem Glen and I. The information that you wish to see and or be provided copies of will be made available to you as I have done in the past at your request.

It would be very helpful if you could send or call me with several dates and times that you are available to meet at Dr. French’s office. Even if you are not interested in a particular photograph, I would encourage you to meet with us and be better informed about this project and perhaps share some of your oral histories and research.

I can be reached by phone at 970-3101 or email at

Very Sincerely,
Rochelle D. Small-Toney
Assistant City Manager

Cc: Gary O’Connell [city manager]
City Councilors
Noah Schwartz [CRHA director]
Kathleen Glen

Hawkins' response

December 11, 2006

Rochelle D. Small-Toney
Office of the City Manager
P.O. Box 911
Charlottesville, Va. 22902

Dear Ms. Small-Toney,

Thank you for taking the time to write me a letter on this topic. While I have documented a different version of recent history than your letter expresses, even so I would like to put any feelings of distrust behind us.

As a gesture of good will and cooperation, I would like to share with you the roots of Jefferson School, which may interest you since you are in charge of the Jefferson School preservation project. The Cville Weekly and Daily Progress have recently reported that the school began in 1894, and I believe that’s the position of the Jefferson School Committee.

Jefferson School opened in the fall of 1865 following the Civil War. By November 1865 the institution had 90 pupils. Attached is a hardcopy of relevant excerpts from Albemarle, Jefferson’s County, 1727-1976, by John Hammond Moore of the Albemarle County Historical Society. I think if more people knew the full history of Jefferson School, the school building would be easier to save although we have been unable to save the school itself.

I would like to make an appointment to view the archives. I will do as I have done in the past. I’ll set up my digital camera at the edge of a table where the light is the best. Then slide document after document under the camera. I don’t think anyone believes the entire archives were available to me in the past and I took only eighteen photographs, and that required two separate trips.

When I first spoke with you on March 25, 2004, you and your secretary Jamie Robinette agreed that documents had disappeared from the archives over the years, hence the need for preservation. What is the total number of documents that you entrusted to Dr. Scot French? How many were photos and how many were text documents?

I’d like to make an appointment in January 2007 to view and photograph the entire surviving archival record or as many documents as I can. The best time for me would be a Friday afternoon around 3pm or in the evening 5-8pm or on the weekend. How about Friday, January 5th?

My purpose is not to copy Charlottesville’s record of urban renewal and public housing, but to copy what’s left of that record at the Housing Authority. The archives have been so tampered with over the years that now the story is about what information officials deemed suitable to survive the intellectual purge, and who have been the custodians of the archives. Needless to say, the archives are being added to as CRHA sells other properties acquired for this purpose, or acquires any new property.

Blair Hawkins

Monday, December 04, 2006

Origins of Jefferson School and Public Education in Virginia

( Albemarle: Jefferson’s County, 1727-1976. John Hammond Moore, 1976. The Albemarle County Historical Society. 532 pages. Excerpts from pages 230 to 234. The book’s index references Jefferson School two dozen times across two hundred pages. )

[…]“things” never actually return fully to their old ways, especially after so profound an upheaval as that which convulsed Albemarle during the years 1860 to 1870. In no realm is this more apparent than in public education.

The Freedmen’s schools established in the county faced considerable opposition, but the seed of learning, once planted, was never snuffed out, and in time these institutions and their successors gained recognition as a permanent contribution of Reconstruction years. While hopes of the freedmen for immediate social and political equality were doomed to disappointment, these classrooms, often desperately in need of public funds, nevertheless continued to function.

And, at the same time, their presence fostered grudging acceptance of similar schools for less affluent whites as well. Thus, by a strange twist of fate, the death of slavery, an institution which Thomas Jefferson often deplored, brought into being a program of basic education even more sweeping than the one he once proposed, a development which undoubtedly would have had his wholehearted approval.

Freedmen’s schools were launched in the fall of 1865 with the arrival in Charlottesville of a Yankee schoolmarm, Anna Gardner. These schools were financed mainly by the New England Freedmen’s Aid Society with some assistance from local citizens of both races.

Anna Gardner, fifty years old and member of the seventh generation of a Nantucket family, possessed impeccable abolitionist credentials. At the age of twenty-five she was instrumental in organizing the first antislavery meeting held on her native island.

She subsequently became an avid admirer of William Lloyd Garrison and, with the coming of the war, followed in the wake of Union armies teaching ex-slaves how to read and write. Miss Gardner, who was in the Carolinas for two years before coming to Albemarle, was a lady of tireless energy and real ability and had a sincere regard for the freedmen’s welfare.

She viewed the former master class with proper abolitionist disdain, “those alien and hostile people…primitive in appearance and habits.”

Throughout her five-year sojourn in Charlottesville, she doubted the good intentions of most local whites toward blacks and, once her school was established at “Mudwall,” feared “those subtle, slippery Virginians” would resort to some legal chicanery to close it down. To her the University of Virginia was a place of special wickedness. She constantly deplored its “baleful shadow” over her classrooms and daily expressed fears they might be attacked during a noisy undergraduate calathump, “the terror of the place.”

Reports from Captain William Tidball (1866-67) indicate Miss Gardner’s misgivings were somewhat exaggerated. Influential whites, he said, agreed that immediate education of ex-slaves was a “great necessity,” but he conceded widespread suspicion of public schools existed. […]

In the same report Tidball pointed directly to the major source of local irritation. Whites, he emphasized, resented “the social and political doctrines taught by Miss Gardner and her colleagues.” And, as political passions mounted during the late 1860s, so did resentment.

No doubt exists that such doctrines were being taught since Miss Gardner, in an exchange of letters with the Chronicle’s editor, even boasted of doing so. Early in 1867 she wrote J. C. Southall requesting a donation of printed diplomas for her projected teacher training institution, Jefferson School.

After two years in Charlottesville her appeal begins with these revealing words: “Not knowing any Southerner personally….” Southall replied that he indeed was interested in the Negro’s welfare but feared Miss Gardner was more “political missionary” than teacher. If wrong, he added that he would gladly supply the materials requested free of charge. Within forty-eight hours Southall received this answer.

Mr. J. C. Southall, I teach IN SCHOOL and OUT, so far as my political influence extends, the fundamental principles of “politics” and “sociology” apply, viz. – “Whatever you would that men should do to you, do ye even so unto them.”

Yours in behalf of truth and justice,
Anna Gardner.

This determined Yankee spinster first set up class in “Mudwall,” the old Delevan Hospital. By November 1865, assisted by R. A. Musgrove, a local white who already was operating a tuition school for 32 blacks, the institution had 90 pupils. In this free school special emphasis was placed upon arithmetic and training of the more able as teachers. By April 1866 three more instructors had been added to cope with an enrollment of 241. […]

In March 1867 the Charlottesville schools for freedmen had four teachers and 280 pupils, 100 of them over sixteen years of age. All studied writing and arithmetic, 40 were “in alphabet,” 60 “read easy lessons,” none were yet “in higher branches,” and 30 had been free before the war.

A year later eight day schools were operating within the county, four of them in Charlottesville. In addition there were six Sabbath schools and two night schools located in Charlottesville and Scottsville.

By 1869 enough students had completed elementary work to justify a graded system. Two of the Charlottesville schools became primaries, both taught by freedmen, one of whom (judged by reports [Tidball] submitted) was almost illiterate. Each school had some 60 students and held classes six hours a day, eighteen days per month.

Above these was the intermediate Lincoln School, taught by Philenae Caskie of Boston. It had an enrollment of 50, 27 of them males. Jefferson School, presided over by Miss Gardner, was the capstone of this system. This institution was designed to train teachers. It also had 50 students, with girls slightly outnumbering boys. […]

With the departure of Miss Gardner and her colleagues for colder climes, the Negro schools of Albemarle declined for a time, but within a decade the teachers they trained, aided by the dedication of State Superintendent W. H. Ruffner, created a reasonably adequate system. Ruffner, by the way, received substantial assistance from Professor John B. Minor in drafting the original bill which established the state’s public school system.

The two men met at Minor’s home, Pavilion X on the Lawn at the University of Virginia, in April 1870 and spent four days pouring over legal and technical details. Although the General Assembly later amended their proposals somewhat, in large measure the design of the Old Dominion’s first system of free, public education was fashioned during these discussions. […]

Transcribed by Blair Hawkins December 4, 2006.

“Board votes to split Jefferson Preschool into six parts,” Jan. 18, 2002. The Daily Progress.
“Plans for Jefferson School shelved,” Jan. 31, 2002. The Daily Progress.