Tag Archives: 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.

 

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.

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.

 

Behind the Scenes of C4K with Johnny (12) From Friendship Court

C4K-Learning-Partners-Basir-_-Luke-in-mentor-Studio-Photo-Credit-Johnny-web

C4K Learning Lab partners

C4K provides enriching programming in our community for kids like Johnny, a teenager at Friendship Court. We asked Liz Hoeppner, grants and communication manager at C4K, to share information with us about the program.

In the heart of IX Park, every day after school, youth and their mentors make digital apps, music, videos, robots, rockets, video games, websites, 3D models and forever friends. C4K (Computers4Kids) youth member and Friendship Court resident, Johnny, aged 12, has been documenting a ‘behind the scenes’ view of C4K life.

Tyrann C4K Member and Friendship Court Resident in Video Studio

“I love to meet with my mentor, Juan. He cares about me. We just finished building a scavenger-hunt video game together using Roblox. I am also developing my photography portfolio.” – Johnny.

Juandiego R. Wade

“C4K is a place for my boy to flourish. I love it. C4K is a place where being a nerd, is totally cool.” – Shay, Johnny’s mom & Friendship Court resident.

Elesia-C4K-Member-in-Audio-Studio-Sound-Booth-Photo-Credit-Johnny-web

Elesia in Audio Studio at C4K

“Charlottesville Schools depend on strong evidence-based programs like C4K to supplement what we do every day in the classroom. It is a joy and privilege for me to be a supporter and mentor with C4K.” – Juandiego R. Wade, Johnny’s mentor & Charlottesville School Board Member.

C4K (Computers4Kids) is an out-of-school mentoring nonprofit. We want our youth members to have choice in their lives, as choice represents freedom. We provide the knowledge, experiences, and skills – through mentorship and high-quality, STEAM-based programming – for middle and high school youth from low-income families to have choice. All projects are youth-driven, fun, project-based and directly applicable to real-world opportunities. Since opening in 2001, 97% of our youth have graduated from high school (local rate: 85%), and 92% went on to college.

Eniya C4K Member in Clubhouse

Eniya C4K Member in Clubhouse

All our programming is FREE. We offer:

●       One-to-one mentoring.
●       Drop-in group mentoring.
●       Camps, workshops, job shadowing, field trips.
●       Youth leadership on our Youth Council.
●       Access to industry-level software, Video & Audio Production Suites, Engineering & Robotics Lab, Clubhouse Makerspace and Mentor Studio.
●       Self-paced, self-guided projects.
●       A free laptop.

C4K is actively recruiting new youth members and volunteer mentors!

– Visit us: 945 Second St, SE, Charlottesville, VA 22902.
– Explore our space: here.
– Become a volunteer mentor: http://bit.ly/c4kmentor
– Become a youth member: http://bit.ly/c4kmember
– Support our work: http://bit.ly/supportC4k

All photos in this post were taken by Johnny.

ReadySteps from ReadyKids, An Important Partner at Friendship Court and Beyond

Piedmont Housing Alliance partners with several area nonprofits to bring enriching support to our client families. ReadyKids is one of those partners, providing services to children who live in Piedmont Housing Alliance supported housing, such as Friendship Court. We asked Shannon Banks, program manager for ReadySteps to share information with us about the program, and what ReadyKids provides the children at Friendship Court.

The ReadySteps Program at ReadyKids
By Shannon Banks, ReadySteps Program Manager

Every Tuesday morning, kids ages zero to five and their parents bounce into the Friendship Court Community Center ready for two hours of fun with the ReadySteps program at ReadyKids. The ReadySteps program takes a family-centered, holistic approach to school readiness, and supports the entire family to be ready for school. We support kids to develop the skills they need to enter school ready to learn, and we empower parents by equipping them with the skills and knowledge to support their child’s growth and development. In addition, we work to connect families to the resources they need to reach their goals, and help them to identify and address concerns.

How does ReadySteps Help Kids?

When our kids aren’t ready with the tools they need to succeed, they fail or fall behind. When our parents aren’t ready with the tools they need to succeed, it is much more difficult for them to support their children. We know that kids who participate in high quality early childhood education programs enter school better prepared and are more successful than their peers who have not had those opportunities. We know that having a primary caregiver with whom they have a strong, positive and nurturing relationship is critical to kids’ optimal growth and development. And we also know that when caregivers are supported to understand how their child is growing and developing, build relationships with neighbors, and are able to access to community resources, they are better equipped to make choices and decisions that help propel their kids to success.

What happens during a ReadySteps Playgroup?

Through play kids learn about how the world and its people work. Jen Fenerty (Group Leader), Margot Pleasants (Educator), and Laura Somel (Family Coordinator), design and facilitate activities aimed at supporting child and adult growth in all areas of their life. Circle time offers the opportunity to come together and work as a group, and to practice taking turns and following directions. Stations with different educational activities allow kids the opportunity to make a choice, and decide what they want to do and how they want to do it, within the established limits and boundaries of playgroup.  They also provide parents the opportunity to follow their child’s lead, and become engrossed in play. Activities such as these, and many more, provide the foundation for learning basic math and literacy skills, such as counting and letter recognition.

How does ReadySteps Help Parents?

Our parent support and education activities give parents the opportunity to shine as the expert on their kids, learn new skills, and give feedback on the program. We collaborate with other programs and agencies including the Healthy Families Program, Women’s Initiative, PB&J Fund, Infant and Toddler Connection of the Blue Ridge, Charlottesville City Schools, and CHiP to provide information and services to empower parents. We also host a monthly Parent Advisory Committee, complete developmental screenings, and share helpful parenting information and ways to extend the playgroup learning experience at home. Kids do not come with an instruction manual, and everyone needs someone to support and encourage them.  ReadySteps works to do just that.

How do I get involved?

The ReadySteps program is free, and all parents or caregivers and their kids ages birth to age 5 years are welcome to join us. Our next playgroup is Tuesday, April 10 at 10:00 a.m.!

ACAC Coordinates Holiday Gift Drive for Friendship Court Families

Thanks to the ACAC Downtown team and community, families at Friendship Court received gifts through a special drive organized by the neighboring athletic center to help bring joy to the neighborhood children. “ACAC has been a wonderful community partner in making sure many of the children and families who live at Friendship Court are able to enjoy Christmas in a special way,” said Claudette Grant, Friendship Court community organizer.

As one mother said, “ACAC outdid themselves this year. My children received so many amazing gifts. We are set for several months because of the generosity of this community.”  The gifts are much appreciated. For many of the Friendship Court families, Christmas would be difficult without the generosity and support of ACAC Downtown. The staff and patrons of ACAC not only give so freely of their time to make sure this event happens every Christmas, but they take the act of giving to a higher level. On several occasions, members of the athletic center checked in with staff to make sure families in need received the items requested or would have enough assistance to put together certain toys. “It is nice to know we have so many angels in our community who make sure Christmas is joyous for several happy little ones,” said Claudette.

Thanks to Paul Kyriacopoulos, assistant general manager, who with his team, organize and deliver hundreds of gifts for Friendship Court residents each December. Thanks ACAC community!