Affordable housing could be an option

Published 4:56 pm Thursday, July 21, 2022

Affordable housing is not only a great need around the nation, but locally as well. Those who live in Prince Edward and the surrounding counties, like others, are searching for housing needs for themselves and their families.

STEPS and the Prince Edward County-Town of Farmville Housing Coalition want to hear from the community on reimagining Longwood Village to address community housing needs. They are hosting public meetings on July 25 and 27 with the Better Housing Coalition of Richmond and Urban Design Associates in hopes of receiving this input.

Longwood Village, located on Clark Street in Farmville behind Sheetz, was once used as housing units for Longwood University students; however, the university has since moved in another direction.

Longwood Village property includes about 20 total acres. The existing development has eight buildings and ninety-six total housing units on 10 acres, with further development possible.

It is here that dreams of affordable housing may soon come true, said STEPS Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer Sharon Harrup.

“We have an open invitation to the community,” said Harrup. “Please come to our community meetings and have your voice heard. Tell us your vision, your heart’s desire on how to transform this wonderful piece of property to address the community’s housing need.”

From 5:30-7 p.m., Monday, July 25, a community meeting is set for the Moton Museum.

On Wednesday, July 27, a second meeting is planned at Longwood University’s Blackwell Hall. An interfaith collective dialogue service open to all starts at 5 p.m., followed by dinner at 5:30 p.m. and a community unveiling of a preliminary vision of the project from 6-8 p.m. Again, the community will be encouraged to comment.

“This process to reimagine the Longwood Village site is just beginning, which is the ideal time to listen to the community,” said Megan O’Hara, a principal at Urban Design Associates. “Farmville residents, employees, non-profits, business owners and other community members can help identify housing and other needs that this project could start to address (housing, transportation, early learning, gathering space, etc.).”

O’Hara said input at the meetings would influence the options they are testing on the site in real-time.

“Comments we hear on Monday evening will guide what we draw and present on Wednesday evening,” O’Hara said. “In communities across the country, we find that the best ideas come from local, open, and authentic engagement processes. When the plan is developed by the community, everyone owns it and supports its implementation. Does the community want senior housing units? More housing opportunities for families? Properties that can be subsidized partially or in whole. More high-end apartments for professionals moving to the community? Does there need to be space for Habitat for Humanity homes? What amenities should be included? There are plenty of questions and the public meetings are a chance for everyone to have a say-so in the ultimate project design.”

For UDA, they say it’s an honor to work in Farmville and to play a small role in continuing the history and mission of equity. “This project will make housing accessible and attainable for people who currently can’t afford or can’t find housing in Farmville,” O’Hara said.

The existing buildings, she cited, are solidly built, and well maintained, but they are sitting in parking lots and configured for student housing.

“By renovating the existing buildings to provide a range of unit sizes, adding phases of new construction, adding amenities, reconnecting the site with transit, and tying those uses together with sidewalks, walking paths and open space—this could become a beautiful place to live,” O’Hara said.

STEPS, the area’s community action agency, is the facilitator for a core group of individuals, nonprofits, anchor institutions and faith community representatives that began working on housing solutions in 2018. A roundtable discussion encouraged by Piedmont Habitat for Humanity and hosted by Farmville Mayor David Whitus started the process. That momentum has led to the formation of the Prince Edward County-Town of Farmville Housing Coalition (PECTFHC).

PECTFHC is partnering with Better Housing Coalition (BHC), a non-profit agency based in Richmond, to reimagine Longwood Village. BHC intends to sign a letter of intent with the Longwood Real Estate Foundation to purchase the property, and the two are working with Urban Design Associates to make the housing dreams of the community come true.

A 2019 housing study conducted by HDAdvisors revealed that there is inadequate inventory to meet the local housing demand. The study found that there will be new demand for 48 households per year on average over the next two decades; affordable rental options are the primary housing gap; higher-end apartments are in demand; senior housing needs are acute and growing; and employment trends will influence future housing demand.

Harrup said a core group from PECTFHC met with BHC and visited multiple properties. “They found a shared connection—a ‘synergy.’ It was precisely the partnering fit they were looking for—a non-profit with a proven record, experience, expertise, willingness to come into a new region and shared values,” Harrup said. “Their model is that everybody deserves the right to safe, affordable housing. And, when we saw that, the core group of us knew immediately this is the partner that we want to bring to Farmville.”

BHC is the Richmond area’s largest not-for-profit community development corporation. Founded in 1988, it has developed and managed more than 1,600 units of housing and serves 1,100 residents in its rental communities annually through an array of resident services.

“Home is so fundamental for everyone,” said President and CEO of Better Housing Coalition Greta J. Harris, “Home is a launching point for all the things that we hope to accomplish in life. By helping individuals and families with their housing needs, we help them become their best selves and thereby position them to participate and contribute to our community.”

According to Harris, project planners have held stakeholder calls where they listened to employers that have trouble recruiting due to housing, reached out to nonprofits that serve the community, engaged folks that could benefit from housing opportunities attainable at all income levels and connected leaders of the African American community.

There is, of course, much to be done.

“The work is always challenging,” Harris said. “From property acquisition to rezoning to design to financing to community acceptance…the work has multiple hurdles to tackle to move an idea to fruition. However, by engaging and listening to diverse stakeholders who share a vision of possibilities, we generally realize a result that everyone can be proud to have created together.”