Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Housing Authority plans redevelopment but no reforms

City seeks to redefine public housing: Redevelopment ideas bring hope, skepticism
(By Seth Rosen , October 28, 2007, The Daily Progress, Charlottesville, Virginia)

When community activists and Charlottesville officials describe the potential redevelopment of Westhaven and other public housing complexes, they depict a sweeping, audacious vision.
The goal is ambitious - revamping the public housing sites into mixed-income communities that intermingle market-rate apartments, single-family homes, office space and shops with public housing. Overhauling some of the 11 complexes, supporters of redevelopment say, would not only improve the quality of life for the housing authority’s 1,000 residents but also supply a stepping stone to help them escape poverty.

Renting and selling market-rate units to middle-class families would likely provide the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority with something it desperately needs - a steady stream of revenue to replace dwindling federal subsidies.

But redevelopment will be a massive undertaking, perhaps costing north of $100 million. And though discussion is in its infancy, residents already fear that they could be shipped elsewhere to make room for new tenants, citing the authority’s spotty record as the source of their mistrust.
If done properly, redevelopment can redefine public housing in the region, while providing the authority with financial independence and more money for social programs. If the project stumbles or lacks resident support, it could take a place alongside Vinegar Hill as paragons of city planning gone awry.

The question, then, is whether the housing authority is up to the task. While redevelopment has been on the table at the housing authority for years, the major players are getting serious for the first time.
“Right now, we have these sort of isolated pockets of poverty that we have neglected, and this is an opportunity to change the whole dynamics of poverty in Charlottesville,” said Councilor Dave Norris, who served as chairman of the housing authority’s board earlier this decade.
The stigma associated with public housing and safety concerns could dissuade potential residents from living there, some say. In the past six weeks, there have been two shootings and a stabbing in Westhaven, with 21 crimes reported there so far this year.
Skepticism about the intentions of the housing authority runs deep among many residents. Part of that mistrust stems from Charlottesville’s history and part from past actions of the authority.

Vinegar Hill was a thriving black cultural and business hub in Charlottesville that was razed in the 1960s in the name of urban renewal. Some of the displaced residents relocated to Westhaven. But the area was never redeveloped as promised, and lay fallow for years - fostering resentment in the local black community.

Now, some residents fear that the scenario could play out again. In interviews with Westhaven residents, several said that the phrase “redevelopment” conjured up memories of that misbegotten legacy of city planning.
The housing authority has pledged that everyone who lives in public housing before redevelopment would have a place afterward. But there’s no guarantee that it would be in the same place.

There are other reasons for the suspicion. The housing authority has suffered from a lack of consistent leadership - Schwartz is the fourth head in nine years, though he has been universally praised for his stewardship. The authority has been plagued by staff shortages and maintenance backlogs. For three straight years earlier this decade, the authority was listed as “troubled” by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Residents “have every reason to be distrusting based on the way public housing has been run in the community,” said [Holly] Hatcher, of the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation.

One of the main complaints from residents is that the buildings require major maintenance work. Charlottesville’s stock of public housing has reached middle age, with all the requisite wear and tear that comes with growing older. Westhaven, the largest site with 126 units, is 42 years old; Crescent Halls, with 105 units, just celebrated its 31st birthday. Five of the other sites are at least 26.
The solution, some have surmised, is for the authority to create its own reliable stream of income. And, some say, the best way to do that is to leverage its greatest asset - its 40-some acres. By renting and selling market-rate condos and houses, the authority would have a greater flow of revenue every year.

Full Story at The Daily Progress

No mention of the giant elephant in the room—eminent domain. So far as we know now, redevelopment of Westhaven will not require additional land. If new land were seized, you probably wouldn’t read about it in any local newspaper. This article is newsworthy because it’s the first to acknowledge post-Vinegar Hill urban renewal (Crescent Halls).

For the first time a news article reports 4 public housing sites after 1981. The two most controversial, Garrett Square / Friendship Court and Midway Manor, are not included in the 11 and are no longer called public housing because they’ve been sold to the private sector. They’re subsidized (Section 8 and Social Security) housing and we pretend they never existed.

Levy Avenue for sale: Eminent domain in your face December 15, 2006

False press report on homicide at Friendship Court: Eminent domain of location cover-up December 31, 2006.

6% cut in Housing Authority: Plan to divert 1% property, 25% hotel taxes, January 22, 2007

Cavalier Daily can’t say Westhaven day after Obama visit

Officials aim to revamp low income area: Residents of 10th Street, Page Street wary of public housing project plan
(Cait Speaker, Cavalier Daily Associate Editor)

As the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority looks to redevelop public housing in the 10th Street and Page Street area, residents are increasingly skeptical of the success of such an endeavor.

The Housing Authority plans to build 376 units for about 1,000 people in the area as part of an effort to encourage a mixed-income community that will ultimately better the community financially, according to Noah Schwartz, executive director of the Housing Authority.
Schwartz and Charlottesville Mayor David Brown maintain that the Housing Authority is better posed for success in housing development than ever before.

"The housing board has a very strong board and good leadership, and the City Council has put a large number of funds towards the Housing Authority for projects like this one," Brown said.
The negative result would be similar to the Vinegar Hill housing "disaster" that occurred 40 years ago, Brown said.

Residents of the Vinegar Hill area, where the Omni Hotel is now located downtown, were uprooted by housing redevelopment in the 1960s and many moved to what is now the 10th Street and Page Street area, he added.

Full Story

This story fans fears of eminent domain by implying there would be a new public housing project in a neighborhood that already has one. If it was Westhaven to be redeveloped again, they would have said so, right? The article seems confused with 376 units being the total public housing units, not the 126 at Westhaven.

The story is on the front page to the left of Barack Obama, Democratic Presidential candidate who held a fundraiser at the downtown Pavilion. Westhaven is named for John West, a black real estate developer who first developed Vinegar Hill.

It’s interesting that, when I first viewed this story online, at the bottom of the screen was an ad for the yet-to-be-built Luxury Gleason Condos in the Garrett Street urban renewal zone.

“The Gleason” Upscale Condominiums– On their website, the location’s history begins 1919 when the Gleasons expanded their store which originally opened 1871 at 401 E Main.

Across the street from the Gleason, in 1919, stood the 1820s home of Alexander Garrett, first bursar of UVA and friend of Thomas Jefferson present at Monticello when Jefferson died. Garrett’s mansion was torn down 1952 and Garrett Street developed 1860.

Because of the incredible controversy of razing this neighborhood in the 1970s a full decade after Vinegar Hill, by people like Satyendra Huja now a candidate for City Council, only I am allowed to tell the original history of any part of South Downtown.

Luxury Gleason Condos: urban renewal still not over November 27, 2006


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