$2 million housing fund difficult to account for
“Finding that information is very difficult” – Jim Tolbert, director Neighborhood Develoment Services
Charlottesville, Va.—“Charlottesville spent $2.1 million on affordable housing last fiscal year, yet the city has no record of the numbers of planned or completed affordable units.
“The lack of information flummoxed city councilors Thursday as they started discussions on how to spend the next $1.4 million set aside for the purpose” (“City can’t gauge return on housing outlay: Officials unable to say how many affordable units built” by Rachana Dixit, Oct. 10, 2008, The Daily Progress).
The reporter paraphrases Jim Tolbert that “though the city keeps track of funds allocated to different projects, there is no data on the number of units built using the city funds.”
Even though the previous year’s funds were unaccounted for, the Council discussed how to spend next year’s $1.4 million.
Later on Friday Mayor Dave Norris updated his blog with vague references to different projects. That evening blogger Blair Hawkins posted a comment that was deleted. The comment defended the Progress reporter in a rare instance and is preserved below. I apologize for the harsh tone but not the content.
In Saturday’s Daily Progress, city officials answered a different question: What is the total number of affordable units in the city’s housing stock?
After explaining the difficult nature of bookkeeping, Tolbert says the $2.1 million were spent on 152 units of which 11 were new construction. Why is this so difficult? Just look down the list of checks written on this fund and the reason for each allocation. Then add up the numbers. Is it because something doesn’t add up?
The mayor now says, “We’re trying to meet the needs of both moderate-income families and lower income families. We don’t have to choose one or the other” (“City wrestles with affordable housing numbers: Ever-changing factors make estimates difficult” by Rachana Dixit, Oct. 11, 2005).
According to the reporter, the mayor’s statement stands in contrast to an April memo from Tolbert to the city manager stating that the housing focus had shifted from “preserving the middle-class base to housing the city's working poor and homeless.”
The issue of affordable housing has been contentious for decades. In recent years front-page stories have appeared in the Washington Times and Washington Post documenting corrupt practices of the government-nonprofit-real estate industry in northern Virginia.
We’ve seen it here in Charlottesville. Rob Schilling was the last city councilor (2002-2006) to vote against affordable housing programs when the appropriation was vague and unverifiable.
Why is the public so suspicious? While officials routinely acknowledge the community’s distrust of Council on issues like redevelopment and Jefferson School, they seem surprised when you express skepticism.
The scrutiny of these funds has been growing for years. That’s not because people became distrustful for no reason. But instead, the fund managers have abused the public trust on an ever-growing scale.
Perhaps the manager of this fund should take a class offered by UVA on fund management.
Scrutiny for nonprofit organizations is increasing dramatically. Maintenance of the accounting records are essential for reporting to regulatory bodies and the public in general. Instructor: P. Frank Berry, C.P.A. Thursday, November 6, 9am – 12pm. Zehmer Hall Conference Center.” (“University of Virginia. School of Continuing & Professional Studies. Career & Professional Development. Courses & Programs in Central Virginia Fall 2008.” Page 11)
The issue of how much went to who for what is bound to come up again and again.
Hawkins’ deleted comment:
I don't believe you. Why don't you in this post say how many units the $2.1M paid for? The Progress didn't "imply" but made a clear statement. The only people who don't know this affordable housing mumbo-jumbo is corruption are the corrupt officials who administer the program, such as Mayor Dave Norris. With all due respect.
Thanks Dave. If you could give a link to the specifics where the citizen could verify your statements, amounts, addresses. (Previous comment deleted by blog administrator- Dave?)
Blair -- all of these projects were approved by public vote of City Council in open Council meetings. See, for example, pp. 90-96 of our agenda packet from 12/17/07, where we voted on many of the FY08 Housing Fund allocations:
The above link is the Council agenda for that day. Below is a link to the minutes. On page 10 is the $850,000 to Charlottesville-Albemarle Housing Improvement Program and 14 applications for the funds. The applicants are not listed. Tolbert mentions $1.7 million in affordable housing fund. Not satisfactory. But the meeting dealt with the controversial topics of the new YMCA, Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority, and creating paid ambulance service to duplicate the all-volunteer Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad.
The Council Minutes of 12/17/07
Here’s Norris’ update/correction to Friday’s headlines. This is a common technique of Council. Respond to your request with not quite the information or detail you requested. Then hope the inquirer gives up. No one likes their integrity questioned—especially if you’re not quite telling the truth or the company you represent is known for such shenanigans.
UPDATE: Here's the tally -- for FY08, our $2.15 million in affordable housing funds assisted in the preservation, production or rehabilitation of 152 affordable housing units (75 units at Dogwood Housing, 50 units at Monticello Vista Apartments, 6 home renovations through Albemarle Housing Improvement Program, 10 homes through Habitat for Humanity, 1 home through Piedmont Housing Alliance, 10 rental units through Region Ten Community Services Board). Dollars from this fund were also allocated to the Jefferson Area Board for Aging (JABA) to conduct a homesharing/accessory apartment study, to the Shelter for Help in Emergency (SHE) to provide transitional housing to victims of domestic violence, and to the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority to advance its effort to revitalize our public housing communities.
Blog of Mayor Dave Norris
"Charlottesville Council resolves support of gay civil rights: Dice urban renewal vote postponed" Nov. 17, 2004.
Councilor Kevin LYNCH: Is anyone from PHA here?
[Jim] TOLBERT: Stu Armstrong was here but had to leave.
LYNCH: You've called this the Dice Street Home Improvement, but 3 houses are on 4th St. and 1 on 5th St.
TOLBERT: It's part of the Dice Street neighborhood.
LYNCH: I thought it was the Fifeville neighborhood.
TOLBERT: The neighborhood and police department call it that.
LYNCH: Can you give us an update on the Piedmont Housing Alliance progress on 10th St and 9th/10th? I'm concerned we're getting too far ahead.
TOLBERT: I don't have the numbers. Anderson St. is almost finished and other spot houses. Problem with replanning the property at 10th and Page intersection. They are resolved and moving forward.
LYNCH: In total there were 26 or 28 houses. Anderson is 4 houses.
TOLBERT: At least half the houses are built and occuppied, "probably closer to two thirds."
City manager Gary O'CONNELL: We'll get a status report.
“City confronts rising poverty” by Rachana Dixit, The Daily Progress
The article states $21,000 is the federal poverty level and Charlottesville has about 9,000 residents in poverty—1 in 4. First of three-part series reminiscent of the news stories in the 1960s that led up to the great urban renewal programs of the ‘70s here locally. Despite the flaws and income disparities, poverty has been almost eradicated. The programs were largely successful. The poverty and ramshackle houses of the ‘60s no longer exist. The standard of living today is much higher. The poor are invisible because their actual numbers are tiny.
That’s why the mayor wants to help moderate-income families. All the poor families have been helped, don’t want the help, or don’t think they’re poor. Once we fix all the low-income houses, we have to fix more expensive houses in order to keep the political machine rolling.