Charlottesville residents struggle to find affordable housing
Reporting by Dennis Ting
Across the country and the commonwealth, people are struggling to find affordable housing. In Charlottesville over 1,000 people are on a waitlist for an affordable housing voucher and there is a shortage of 4,000 homes. As rent and home prices continue to rise, how are Virginians coping with the national housing shortage?
We meet Glenda Hill longtime Charlottesville resident who raised children and grandchildren in the area. She recently had to move in with family because she cannot find an affordable apartment on her own. We also hear from an attorney who says affordable housing is a civil rights issue that disproportionately affects communities of color. We also speak with advocates working to develop more affordable housing options.
DENNIS TING: When she's not at work or unwinding after a long day you can find Glenda Hill busy around the house cooking and cleaning. After all, she likes her kitchen spotless.
GLENDA HILL: As they say, cleanliness is close to godliness. Now, but I don't go to church.
DENNIS TING: Glenda has lived in Charlottesville for more than 40 years raising children and grandchildren. Over the years, she's bounced around living in different apartments and communities. Last year, she learned she would have to move again.
GLENDA HILL: I figured, oh well, since they wouldn't renew my lease I'll live with my son and them for about a year until I can get on my own feet.
DENNIS TING: Glenda recently moved into a house with her son and his girlfriend's family. She says it's a temporary living situation until she can find a place of her own. But that's proving to be a challenge.
GLENDA HILL: As far as affordable housing out here there is none. I don't care what they say. There is none.
SUNSHINE MATHON: We own and operate about 700 apartments throughout the region and we have waiting lists on all of them. And sometimes the waiting lists are over a year.
DENNIS TING: Mathon works with the nonprofit Piedmont Housing Alliance serving Charlottesville and several surrounding counties managing several communities. The organization is working on developing new communities and expanding existing ones to add homes. Something Mathon says is desperately needed. Affordable housing is a national crisis. Here in Virginia one in six families spend more than half of their income on housing and there's still not enough of it. For every 10 families who need affordable housing they're only four homes available. In Charlottesville, there are 1,000 people on a waitlist for an affordable housing voucher and there's a shortage of 4,000 homes.
VICTORIA HORROCK: Well, I have multiple clients who are staying in housing that they know is making their children sick, like their children have asthma, the houses are full of mold but they're staying there 'cause there's nowhere else to go.
DENNIS TING: The Legal Aid Justice Center is focused on housing issues. Horrock says affordable housing is a civil rights issue that disproportionately affects communities of color. And while she helps clients with eviction prevention rent relief, housing discrimination cases and other legal remedies, she says these are only band-aid solutions.
VICTORIA HORROCK: We ask these questions well why can't we have better housing and it's like, 'cause we're not paying for it as a society.
DENNIS TING: Habitat for Humanity for Greater Charlottesville is trying to do just that. Its latest project, redeveloping the Southwood Mobile Home Park into a multi-income community with the goal of not displacing any of the current residents. Habitat for Humanity is hoping to fill these new homes with residents in need. People whom Larry Scott works with every day.
LARRY SCOTT: I don't look at it as coming to work. I'm coming to Habitat, cause I know I may help somebody. Somebody just like I was. I was homeless in Jersey. I was sleeping behind dumpsters, didn't have no life, didn't really care.
DENNIS TING: Larry eventually moved to Charlottesville, got married and found work but he was stuck living in transitional housing and facing a similar problem finding a home of his own.
LARRY SCOTT: I thought that I was too deep in a hole that I was going to still be paying high rent drifting from one place to another.
DENNIS TING: That changed in 2006 when Larry received the keys to his house from Habitat for Humanity. Discovering this building means more than just a roof over his head.
LARRY SCOTT: Oh man, it's a future for my daughter.
DENNIS TING: While the task may seem daunting there is room for optimism. Habitat for Humanity says in the last five years there are around 2,000 families who are either in or on the path to better housing in Charlottesville. That's people like Larry.
LARRY SCOTT: I just walk around with my head up high. I'm just so happy.
DENNIS TING: It's a feeling that Glenda and many others looking for homes of their own hope they'll find soon.
GLENDA HILL: I will continue trying to be on my own.
DENNIS TING: In Charlottesville I'm Dennis Ting, reporting for VPM News Focal Point.