Friendship Court Advisory Committee Selects Harkins Builders as General Contractor

 

 

The Friendship Court Advisory Committee selected Harkins Builders as the general contractor for pre-construction services for Phase One of the redevelopment.  The process, which lasted throughout the summer of 2018, began with Piedmont Housing Alliance publishing an RFP, inviting qualified general contractors to apply. Piedmont Housing staff and the Friendship Court Advisory Committee reviewed proposals and conducted interviews with each builder interested in the work.  Each firm went before the Advisory Committee and gave a presentation on their experience and a narrative on how they would approach the Friendship Court redevelopment.  At the conclusion of the interviews, the Committee discussed the merits of each firm. After much deliberation, the Advisory Committee selected Harkins Builders due to their deep experience and clear commitment to building high quality affordable housing.

Harkins Builders, based in Columbia, Md. has a large dedicated division focused on the construction of affordable housing throughout the mid-Atlantic region, from Baltimore to Richmond to Charlotte to Philadelphia. Their expertise and organizational dedication to developing affordable housing is the primary reason the company was selected to work with the Advisory Committee and the rest of the design team to begin the redevelopment of Friendship Court.

Girls at Friendship Court Enjoy Creative Writing Program This Summer

Sonia MontalvoEach Thursday, several girls from the Friendship Court community come together for a creative writing program taught by Sonia Montalvo. Sonia, program staff at the Boys and Girls Club says, “I want to help the girls think differently about things through the creative writing process. Kids are so imaginative, if you can just give them the platform and space, it’s amazing what they can come up with!”

Girls are Alwrite

Sonia has led the girls in “The Girls are Alwrite” reading and writing program, working on activities to help their imaginations flourish.  They started with the idea of how to find beauty in themselves by finding the beauty in stories.  Sonia says, “Sometimes African American girls feel ostracized which makes it hard for them to find their voice.”  During their sessions together, Sonia plans some physical activity which she says helps the girls connect and get their creative juices flowing.

By the end of the seven sessions, the girls will have written one, possibly two stories that they will share with each other.  When they go back to school, Sonia hopes the girls will be able to draw on their experience and be more creative in their schoolwork. 

Sonia and kids

Sonia has help with her newly-formed business from her sister, Tracie Jamison, who acts as treasurer. With a recent grant from Equity Institute in the amount of $3,700, Sonia’s business is officially incorporated and she is working on becoming a 501(c)(3). Piedmont Housing Alliance’s Shelley Murphy connected Sonia to Friendship Court after meeting her through the Dream Builders Academy Business Development Class. During Sonia’s pitch on culmination night, Shelley offered to sponsor five girls from Friendship Court in her workshop and after meeting and discussing the idea with Community Organizer, Claudette Grant, they decided it would be a great fit!

Girls are AlwriteSonia says, “One of my long term goals is to incorporate my program into the local school systems, prominently into those with large African American and Latino populations. I’m working on getting my teaching certificate so that I might be able to do that.”

She added that she has had fun connecting so far with the girls and she says those connections seem to help the girls be more creative. Sonia says, “Creative writing can take a girl’s soul far!”

If you would like to learn more about Sonia’s workshops or The Girls Are Alwrite, feel free to contact her via email at sonia.montalvo11@gmail.com or by phone at 434-981-9998.

Housing Typologies

Housing types montage

When the preliminary Master Plan for the redevelopment of Friendship Court was introduced in late 2016, it proposed replacing the existing townhome-style buildings entirely with apartment-style multi-family buildings.  The intent at the time was to quadruple the number of apartments, from 150 to 600.  Apartment-style buildings were the only way to achieve this number of apartments.

The community as a whole, both from inside and outside of Friendship Court, expressed consistent concerns on multiple aspects of the preliminary Master Plan.  Specifically, pursuing solely apartment-style buildings, and the resulting total number of apartments overall, were raised as primary concerns.  These, and other issues, prompted the need to refine the redevelopment plan in order to properly reflect resident goals.

Currently, nearly all apartments at Friendship Court are two-story townhomes with front doors leading directly outside to sidewalks and/or green spaces.  Many residents, particularly families with young children, have expressed a strong desire to maintain the immediacy of their connection to the outdoors.  For these families, having direct access to the outside is both a lifestyle preference as well as providing a sense of safety and watchful eyes on their children at play.

On the other hand, there are many other residents who are excited at the prospect of an apartment-style building.  Many residents have expressed interest in the amenities provided in multi-family buildings, such as workout rooms, computer labs, and meeting rooms.  Further, for elderly residents, or for those with mobility impairments, the prospect of elevator access and single-level floor plans is deeply welcomed and tremendously beneficial.

The bottom line is that residents want choices that match their desires and needs.  As we finalize the refinement of the site plan, residents on the Advisory Committee have discovered the necessity of balancing multiple, sometimes competing, priorities:  creating ample green spaces, adding new affordable units, providing both townhome and apartment housing types, the need for sufficient parking, the cost of construction, etc.

The resulting updated plan does a remarkable job at establishing this balance, providing as much choice in housing types as possible while creating a neighborhood framework that retains desired characteristics and re-knits the community to the surrounding city.

 

Friendship Court Youth Leadership Team Takes Trip to Washington, D.C.

YLT outside AA museum

The Youth Leadership Team and team leaders outside the National Museum of African American History and Culture

For two days in June, the seven members of the Friendship Court Youth Leadership Team toured our nation’s capital with several adult leaders to study urban design, architecture, and community engagement. It was the culmination of a two-year program of civic education to help empower them to be active contributors to Friendship Court’s redevelopment plan. The trip was funded by a grant given to Piedmont Housing Alliance by the Society of Architectural Historians stewarded by board members and UVA Architecture School Professors, Beth Meyer and Barbara Brown Wilson.

The grant, in the amount of $4,990, enabled the team to visit many sites in DC on June 19 and 20. They traveled to Union Station by train early Tuesday morning and enjoyed lunch there along with observing the interior architecture of the building before meeting with Equitable Development Manager, Vaughn Perry to discuss the 11th Street Bridge Park project. Barbara Brown Wilson, assistant professor of environmental planning at the University of Virginia who traveled with the group said, “This has been a two-year program where we’ve all been learning about communities and leadership. Watching some of our recent middle school graduates asking really hard and important questions at the 11th Street Bridge Project just shows their level of sophistication.”  Ty’Quan Mayo asked, “Are they really going to build the 11th Street Bridge?” To which Vaughn Perry answered, “Yes, it better get built. We have worked too hard for this.” Observations and questions were also shared regarding the safety of the space and how emergency vehicles would access the site if needed.

Vice President of Development, Matthew Steenhoek, discusses the District Wharf project, Photo credit Peter Krebs

In the afternoon, the group met with Matthew Steenhoek, who works with PN Hoffman, the developers of DC’s District Wharf, a multi-phased, sustainable, mixed-use project. At the Wharf, they were able to observe an architectural model of the new development along the Potomac River and hear a brief discussion about urban planning and design of buildings and public spaces.  After the discussion, the youth were able to tour the Wharf and see the actual public spaces that were viewed on the architectural model.

Beth Meyer addresses the group inside the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Emilee and Addi

Emilee and Addi during lunch break at the museum

On day two, the youth members were given a special tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture before its usual opening time at 10 in the morning.  The group was given a chance to walk through the expansive museum to learn about our nation’s history and racial inequality.  Youth leadership team member Daemond Nowlin said, “I enjoyed reflecting on the past and learning more about my ancestors.”  After the visit to the museum, the group congregated on the grassy hill near the Washington Monument and listened to Landscape Architect Professor Beth Meyer speak about the design of public spaces and the structural relationships between other adjacent public buildings, such as the Capitol Building, Washington Monument and the White House.

Beth addressing group by the Monument

Beth Meyer addressing the group near the National Monument

In the afternoon, the youth visited a housing development called SeVerna on K, which was completed in 2013 by Grimm + Parker Architects which are also the architects designing the Friendship Court redevelopment. The mixed-style and mixed-income housing complexes are located in the heart of NoMA, a vibrant, multi-generational community, and is a great example of a similar project to that of Friendship Court. Lead architect, Mel Thompson, spoke to the team about the history of the site, after the unsuccessful management of a previous housing development on the site and how now, many displaced residents have returned to the neighborhood, which includes many new amenities, access to transit, and proximity to new schools, a library and a recreation center.  The youth were filled with energy while they walked around the SeVerna on K, a project very similar to the envisioned future of Friendship Court.

Mel Thompson, lead architect, explaining some of the features of the SeVerna on K

Having the opportunity to tour a couple of apartment units and walk through the building and its amenities gave the youth team a feeling of excitement and possibility for what the future Friendship Court might feel like. The tour ended with the youth soaking in the view from the rooftop terrace. It was a wonderful way to end the two-day trip.

Thanks to all the leaders and chaperones on this trip to include, Claudette Grant, community organizer for Friendship Court, Beth Meyer, landscape architecture professor at the School of Architecture and Piedmont Housing Alliance board member, Barbara Brown Wilson, assistant professor at the School of Architecture and Piedmont Housing Alliance board vice president as well as Margaret Haltom, recent UVA graduate and Peter Krebs, community outreach coordinator with Piedmont Environmental Council.

The program is equipping resident youth leaders with valuable skills, experiences, and networks to both provide input for the redevelopment and to create educational and career opportunities. Piedmont Housing Alliance remains committed to helping the Youth Leadership Team effectively provide input for the redevelopment of their community.  _______________________________________________________

Founded in 1940, the Society of Architectural Historians is an international nonprofit membership organization that promotes the study, interpretation and conservation of architecture, design, landscapes and urbanism worldwide. SAH serves a network of local, national and international institutions and individuals who, by profession or interest, focus on the built environment and its role in shaping contemporary life. SAH promotes meaningful public engagement with the history of the built environment through advocacy efforts, print and online publications, and local, national and international programs.

 

 

Section 8 Renewal Approved!

Friendship Court with playground

For the last 40 years, Friendship Court has been a home for extremely low-income families due to an ongoing financial operating subsidy, federal Project-Based Section 8 rental assistance.

Just over a week ago, we received notification that a new 20-year Section 8 contract for Friendship Court was awarded!  Nearly two years ago, knowing the original Section 8 contract expired this year, we began planning for this new contract.  We are deeply excited that families at Friendship Court have certainty their housing is secure for many years to come.

Why is this important?

The Section 8 contract is important for two reasons.  First, planning a balanced operating budget is critical to long-term financial sustainability for the property.  Second, providing homes for extremely low-income families with rents they can afford requires operational subsidy.  This post will take a look at how Section 8 rental assistance helps balance operating expenses with income sources.

Operating expenses

Operating expenses include debt payments, onsite staff salaries, saving for long-term replacement reserves, and many other costs.  With the exception of debt payments, which can be controlled through subsidizing construction costs, operating expenses generally stay the same no matter how deeply affordable a community is.  In other words, operating expenses stay steady, regardless of how much rent residents pay.

Income source

On the other side of the scale is the primary income source—rental income paid by the families who live in the community.  Because families pay no more than a federally-mandated 30% of their income towards rent when living in subsidized affordable housing, the total amount of rental income to the property depends on the depth of affordability in the community.  In other words, rental income to the property can change dramatically based on the income of residents.

How this works

Generally speaking, with deep construction subsidies keeping debt payments low, operating expenses and rental income can be balanced when the average family in a property has an income of ~50% of the Area Median Income (AMI).

In Charlottesville, if a family of three has a 50% AMI income, they make ~$38,400/year.  As they would pay no more than 30% of their income towards housing, after accounting for utility costs, their monthly rent would be ~$750/month.

At Friendship court, the average family has an income of ~$11,000/year, which is ~15% AMI.  This income translates to an allowable rent close to ~$150/month.  This reduced rental income creates an operating deficit of ~$600/month per apartment.  The resulting rental income to the property is not nearly enough to balance the property’s operating expenses.

Section 8 operating subsidy

The Project-Based Section 8 operating subsidy received from HUD bridges the gap between the operating costs of the property and the available rental income. The renewed 20-year Section 8 contract guarantees affordable rents to the families who call Friendship Court home!

Financing the Friendship Court Redevelopment

Friendship Court montage

Pulling together the financing for affordable rental housing in general is a deeply complex endeavor.  It is not uncommon for a high-quality, mission-focused affordable rental housing development to layer 10-15 sources of funding.  The redevelopment of Friendship Court will be no different.  In fact, it will be more complex than most, given the broad set of resident-driven goals for redevelopment, including creating housing with multiple tiers of affordability and the phasing of development that prevents displacement of existing resident families.

With few exceptions, all rental housing developments have some debt once completed.  The rental revenue from a property covers those debt payments – as well as all other necessary operating costs such as staff, utility bills, building repair reserves, etc.  By definition, affordable housing communities have reduced rental revenue. However, operating costs don’t generally shrink, so the primary method for reducing operating costs to align with the available rental revenue is to decrease the debt burden.  The only way to decrease debt is to introduce front-end subsidies into the development financing.

The backbone subsidy for affordable rental community development nation-wide is Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC).  Effectively, LIHTC financing can account for as much as 40-50% of development costs.  However, LIHTC is a limited federal program, administered by individual states, and is highly competitive.

The redevelopment of Friendship Court absolutely depends on successfully winning LIHTC financing – and all the work of the Friendship Court Advisory Committee over the last year has been focused on achieving resident aspirations and winning LIHTC funding.  However, LIHTC alone is insufficient to “make the numbers work” given the depth of affordability we aim to achieve – we will need those other layered sources, too.

For two reasons, the second most crucial subsidy is local.  First, local financial support provides a meaningful layer of funding.  Second, and perhaps as importantly, we are much more competitive in the LIHTC financing competition with substantial, committed financial support from the municipality.  Fortunately, we live in a city with a strong financial commitment to affordable housing as shown by the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund (CAHF). The CAHF was wisely established more than ten years ago to support affordable housing in our community.

To successfully redevelop Friendship Court, we must close the remaining development financing gap depending largely on support from local, regional, and national foundations as well as private philanthropy.

Successfully financing a high-quality, deeply affordable rental housing community is challenging and resource-intensive. The decisively positive results, however, particularly for the families whose lives will be impacted over the ensuing decades, are unequivocal and critically necessary to address the dire need for housing affordable for low-income families in Charlottesville.

Phased Redevelopment: Our Plan for Zero Displacement of Residents

From the outset of the planning process more than two years ago, one of the first clear decisions was establishing an absolute commitment to zero displacement of Friendship Court families through the redevelopment process. This assurance is made possible by using a strategy of phased development.

The existing open space bordering 6th Street SE at the eastern edge of the site provides a remarkable opportunity to build first before anyone moves. Phase 1 of the redevelopment will be built only on the existing open space to make this strategy feasible.

Phases image amendedOnce Phase 1 construction is complete, approximately 100-110 beautiful new homes will have been built. 40 families from Friendship Court will move into their new homes alongside new additional affordable and market rate apartments. Each phase of development will be integrated with mixed income households.

Phase 2 construction will commence soon after the first 40 Friendship Court families have moved in. The 40 existing apartments they will have just vacated will then be torn down and replaced with a new batch of beautiful homes. This sequence of building first and then moving in will continue until everyone is re-housed through all phases, thereby maintaining zero displacement through the entire process.

The preliminary master plan released in 2016, envisioned seven phases of redevelopment, equating to a lengthy twelve year construction period, or perhaps even longer. One of the most significant concerns we heard from residents at Friendship Court after it was released was that this plan would take too long. In partnership with the Advisory Committee, we refined the plan, reducing the redevelopment to four phases. Four phases was the least number of phases we could devise while also maintaining quality of life through construction and other priorities expressed by Friendship Community community. The revised plan aims to have all Friendship Court families in their new homes within seven years.

The next step in the process is that the City needs to review the overall redevelopment plan to be sure the proposed plan will meet required City codes and necessary infrastructure, such as roads, parking, emergency vehicle access, etc.  On June 13, we submitted this overall Preliminary Site Plan to the City for their review. When the review is completed, we will submit a detailed Phase 1 site plan (hopefully in late summer or early fall of 2018) to obtain the necessary Building Permits for construction.

With permits in hand and financing secured, construction is planned to begin around the beginning of 2020. Phase 1 construction will be completed, with families ideally moving in, towards the end of 2021. Through this process, like every development, we will face some factors that are partially outside our control. Examples include permit and entitlement approval, federal interest rate hikes and impact on financing, etc. As we have been so far, we will continue to do everything we can to mitigate for these factors and are deeply committed to maintaining this timeline.

The advantages of a phased development process to the Friendship Court community are immense. Given the painful legacy of urban renewal and institutionalized racism in our community and across the country, the opportunity to redevelop with zero displacement of community residents is both rare and exceptionally powerful.

Community Gathering Held at Friendship Court

full tent On Friday, June 8, Friendship Court residents gathered for a summer Community Gathering. Residents of Friendship Court along with Piedmont Housing Alliance staff and board members enjoyed spending time together with surrounding neighbors. Kids played, got their faces painted, and enjoyed music, participated in raffles, and ate some food off the grill. “Though the weather was a little unpredictable at the start, those that came out for the event seemed to have a great time,” said Executive Director Sunshine Mathon.

Sunshine and gang

Residents got to learn more about the feedback from Piedmont Housing Alliance’s recent resident survey efforts on different areas including housing types, open spaces, and early childhood education.  They are very grateful for the residents’ participation which is helping shape the plans for the redevelopment of Friendship Court and its future.

Facepainted attendeeDenise from PVCCDenise McClanahan, outreach manager at PVCC, was available to speak with about upcoming classes and programs as well as the Office of Human Rights with the City of Charlottesville who was offering information about upcoming events they are offering. Dinner was provided by Mel’s and Afghan Kabob. Thanks to all the other partners who helped make this possible, including Expressions Face Painting, Coria RVA was once again our DJ, the Party Starts Here, and Virginia Tent Rental.

Project Manager Beth Kennan said, “The Community Gatherings are a great way to get know the residents, and they are fun too! We are so grateful to our partners, both businesses and individuals that work as a team to make the Community Gatherings happen. We look forward to having one again in the Fall.”

DJ

Facepainted kids

Piedmont Housing Alliance sponsors community gatherings and events several times each year, in addition to ongoing programs and activities at the community center. Piedmont Housing is grateful to our residents, the Friendship Court Advisory Committee, and the Youth Leadership Team for ongoing guidance and support in preparing for these gatherings. To stay connected to happenings in the community, sign up for e-news here, see the monthly newsletters here and follow us on Facebook.

Happy Summer!

 

Friendship Court Advisory Committee Accomplishments To Date

Over the last two years, the Friendship Court Advisory Committee has provided crucial advocacy for the Friendship Court community through its thoughtful guidance and a clear conviction of purpose – the redevelopment of Friendship Court must unequivocally keep the aspirations and needs of the residents as its core focus.

The Advisory Committee is a team of nine Friendship Court residents elected by their neighbors and six members of the at-large Charlottesville community. They have met at least monthly over the past two years, sometimes twice a month during heavy work times.

Grimm+ Parker charette

In addition to engaging with fellow residents to gather insight and share information about the progress of redevelopment planning, the Advisory Committee members have been co-designing the redevelopment in partnership with other members of the design team, Grimm + Parker Architects, Timmons Group civil engineers, and Piedmont Housing Alliance staff. Part of this work is experiential, including design “charrettes” (charrettes are facilitated design brainstorm exercises) and educational trips to established mixed-income communities and successful early childhood education centers in other cities.

bus tour inside

The work the Advisory Committee has accomplished to date is extraordinary. Their commitment and vision have been, and will continue to be, vital to the success of redevelopment. We are deeply grateful for their time and devotion.

 

The Spring 2018 Update on the Friendship Court Redevelopment

For the last 40 years, Friendship Court has been a place to call home for hundreds of families. For some, the community has been a vital stepping stone, a refuge during times of financial crisis or the first step towards self-determination. For others, especially families or individuals who depend on small, fixed incomes such as disability or social security, Friendship Court has been, and will likely continue to be, a lasting home. At the same time, some families who arrive at Friendship Court hoping for stability become entangled in the veiled web of systemic hurdles that make it so difficult for anyone to fracture generational cycles of poverty.

Nevertheless, for all the families who have called the community home over the last four decades, and for the rest of us who recognize the necessity of supporting our neighbors and families during periods of vulnerability, Friendship Court has provided critical civic infrastructure that benefits all of us – the entire community of Charlottesville.

So why are we redeveloping Friendship Court? We are doing so because it is time. It’s time to replace the 40-year old buildings that are approaching the end of their useful life. It’s time to rewrite the stigma of economic and social isolation. It’s time to engage the residents with earnest transparency and committed partnership. Though redevelopment alone can’t redress the full history of structural racism and other systemized inequities, the work of redevelopment will continue to be fundamentally rooted in bending the arc of the future.

Courtyard conversationsOver the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing more details of the work we’ve accomplished so far in partnership with the residents. The focus of our work over recent months has been taking the early master plan that was released in late 2016 and listening to the community, collecting the emerging comments and concerns. In partnership with an amazing design team, inclusive of residents and community advocates on the Advisory Committee (who we’ll share more about in a future post), we have been hard at work refining the plan to address critical issues.

How many new apartments should be built? What types of housing will be built? Where will the open and green spaces be located and what character will they take? What will the income mix of future residents be? How does a new, reconnected neighborhood get built while also retaining the existent sense of culture and place? How will the redevelopment balance zero displacement while minimizing the overall timeline? How do we maintain a positive quality of life during each phase of construction?

As we begin to unveil this resident-led work, you will see a site framework that reconciles these difficult questions remarkably well. While we know a great deal of complex work and difficult decisions remain in front of us, we have built a thoughtful foundation that will lead us all, the entire community of Charlottesville, towards a more equitable and accountable future.

Visit www.friendshipcourtapartments.com to learn more and follow the community’s progress by subscribing to e-news updates.