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Giving Back to the Friendship Court Community

Myrtle Houchens is a former Friendship Court resident who wants others to know the importance of the availability of affordable housing. Myrtle is a vital member of the resident-led Friendship Court Redevelopment Advisory Committee. On the committee, she joins nine current residents and five other members as active participants helping to shape the future of Friendship Court.

Watch Myrtle’s story below. 

Meet our Community Partner, Tracy Cooper from Charlottesville Parks and Recreation

The City of Charlottesville’s Parks and Recreation Department provides residents with opportunities to attend skating parties, holiday markets, and craft parties. There are various recreation centers around the city.

Employees like Tracy Cooper staff these facilities and are here to engage and support the community in various capacities. Tracy is on site at the Friendship Court Community Center on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 4 till 8 p.m. That means she is on deck for the throngs of kids who descend upon the center in the after school and early evening hours.

Tracy is in charge of engaging around 18 kids of varying ages in dancing, games, and crafts. “They’re most interested in making slime,” says Tracy, an activity common to all kids, “and even on a slow day, they all show up around dinner time.” Tracy likes to coordinate outings for the kids, whether it’s swimming in the summertime or field trips to the Music Resource Center to record songs the kids have written themselves. The Friendship Court community is grateful to Parks and Rec for this service, and for Tracy’s care for the kids.

Friendship Court Advisory Committee Recognized with Virginia Housing Award

L-R: Susan Dewey, Executive Director, VHDA; Melissa Yuille, Housing Counseling Manager, PHA; Erica Johnson, Director of Development, PHA;
Crystal Johnson, Friendship Court Advisory Committee and Resident; Angela Brooks, Friendship Court Advisory Committee and Resident; Sunshine Mathon, Executive Director, PHA; Frank Stoner, Board President, PHA; Karen Klick, Deputy Director, PHA; Erik Johnston, Director, DHCD.

Recognized for its leadership in resident-led planning and design, Piedmont Housing Alliance was awarded a 2018 Virginia Housing Inclusive Communities Award for its work at Friendship Court. The nonprofit organization was recognized at the annual Virginia Governors Housing Conference this month.

The Inclusive Community Award is given to projects or practices that exemplify intentional efforts to create affordable and inclusive housing opportunities. Projects and policies that result in the expansion of accessibility, income integration, and inclusiveness in neighborhoods and communities are the focus of this award.

“This recognition reflects the incredible work that the residents of the Advisory Committee have done on behalf of their community. The residents themselves have led the redevelopment efforts for their own community and their own futures,” said Sunshine Mathon, executive director of Piedmont Housing Alliance. “The passion and time invested by the members of the resident-led Advisory Committee is inspirational, and we are honored to be in a position to help make their vision for the future come to life.”

From the Virginia Governor’s Housing Conference:

“Since 1983, Piedmont Housing Alliance has been a leader throughout the Charlottesville region in developing and managing affordable housing, as well as providing financial education and assistance to struggling renters and aspiring homebuyers. In 2002, PHA and the National Housing Trust Enterprise purchased and renovated Friendship Court, a large Section 8 apartment community on 11. 75 acres in the heart of downtown Charlottesville. Friendship Court, built in 1978, replaced what had once stood as a proud African American neighborhood until urban renewal. As the opportunity to redevelop the property approached, Piedmont Housing’s board and staff adopted specific goals and strategies for Friendship Court as part of a strategic planning process. The goals called for developing the housing complex to preserve the affordable units and to ensure long-term affordability and greater opportunity for current and future residents. Perhaps most critically, redevelopment goals recognized the importance of direct accountability to the residents as well as the conviction of purpose they would bring to the planning process. Since the beginning, PHA has engaged with fellow residents to gather insights and shared information on the progress of development planning. Equally important, residents have been embraced and vested as co-designers of their new neighborhood in partnership with other members of the design team. The work the Friendship Court 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.”

Fall Community Gathering Held to Share Redevelopment Site Plan

The Friendship Court community was invited to a community-wide dinner at as the site plans submitted for the first phase of the redevelopment were shared. The quarterly Community Gathering was held on Friday, October 12 and the neighbors took advantage of one of the first clear, dry days of the fall season to gather outdoors. Neighbors enjoyed the chance to get together and meet face-to-face with one another, Piedmont Housing Alliance, National Housing Trust-E representatives, and the members of the redevelopment advisory committee responsible for gathering and fostering ideas about the community into reality.

Dinner was served by Wayside and Afghan Kabob with ice cream for dessert. Kids enjoyed dancing to the tunes of a DJ, jumping in a bounce house, and getting their faces painted while parents discussed plans for landscaping, the existing fence around the community, and the phased development that allows for no displacement of current residents.

As we move into November, Piedmont Housing Alliance will be going door to door to ask residents for their thoughts on the fence. Thank you to all who came out and helped to make it a fun evening. We look forward to our next Quarterly Community Gathering in February.

 

Planning for Open Space in Redevelopment of Friendship Court

Within a ten-minute walk, the only open green space where families from Friendship Court can play and socialize is the grassy field that faces 6th St.  The community of Friendship Court, particularly families with children, deeply values many aspects of that existing space, including the basketball court, the garden, and the ability to let kids run and play safely.

Previous blog posts have pointed out that the phased redevelopment of Friendship Court (construction in a sequence over multiple phases) is the only way to redevelop without displacing residents.  Given that phased construction is the way forward, the single available location to build Phase 1 is the existing open green space.  Given the temporary loss of this open space during construction, the resident-led Advisory Committee has recognized the critical importance of rebuilding quality open spaces as soon as possible.

Given the complexity and impact of phased redevelopment on the daily lives of residents, the Advisory Committee has given a great deal of thought to how to create high-quality open spaces for the community as redevelopment unfolds.  In particular, the Advisory Committee designed a phasing plan that creates open space within each individual Phase.  Further, the overall plan considers how to connect each phases’ open space to the other so that they ultimately tie together, strengthening each other, when redevelopment is complete.

 

Phase I Plan

In the most recent series of design exercises with architects Grimm + Parker, the Advisory Committee worked to balance the need for high-quality outdoor spaces with a limited land area and the proximity of some proposed public spaces to future homes.

At the beginning of the design process, the Advisory Committee spent time prioritizing not only the ideal kinds of spaces, but also the qualities of those spaces.  A broad list of qualities was identified, but the strongest priorities that emerged were family time, safety and shade/trees.  As the design process unfolded, the Advisory Committee repeatedly referred back to these qualities as guiding principles for the design.

 

The result of the Advisory Committee’s work achieves a remarkable equilibrium between tight spaces, opportunities for quieter socializing, places for different age groups of children to play within common sight of parents, and a balance of shade and openness.

The limited land area of Phase 1 couldn’t fit all open space types and qualities, in particular exercise-encouraging movement, a larger community garden, and a fitness trail.  As other Phases are designed and developed, additional opportunities for prioritizing a different set of qualities and types of spaces will continue.

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!