Housing change sparks debate
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Feb 3, 2014, 12:51
HOPEWELL — Redevelopment will soon begin on Langston Park, one of the oldest public housing properties in the city. Built in 1962, Langston Park has been through renovations in years prior. Now, the Hopewell Redevelopment and Housing Authority is looking to rezone and redevelop the area to bring more affordable housing to the city.
Community Housing Partners will be completing the almost $10 million project for Langston Park, after being chosen by HRHA through a request for proposals. Through an award presented by Rental Assistance Demonstration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, early last year, HRHA was able to secure the funding for the project. RAD allows HUD properties and private owners of HUD-assisted properties to convert their current assistance over to long-term Section 8 contracts.
Another funding source for the project came in the form of low income housing tax credits. The HRHA will be using the credits for the first time during the redevelopment of Langston Park.
The proposed plan for Langston Park includes demolishing the 30 units and building 56 units, with 30 of the apartments being under Section 8 contract and the other 26 being rented at market rate.
As part of the plan, HRHA and CHP have proposed rezoning Langston Park from an R-4, residential apartments, district to PUD, planned unit development. This type of development allows for cluster housing, which creates a greater amount of open space. With a PUD, 50 percent of the total gross area of the acreage must be open space; Langston Park is 5.5 acres.
Of that 50 percent of open space, 10 percent must be recreational space, such as pedestrian walkways, bicycle paths, tennis courts or playground. At a work session of city council on January 28, Tevya Griffin, director of the department of neighborhood assistance and planning, told council this type of development exists in the city already, with Anchor Point and Westmoreland, and in other areas such as the Village Green in Chester.
Tarvaris McCoy, development associate at CHP, gave a presentation to council on the plan for Langston Park and the upcoming developments. The new apartments will be two-, three- and four-bedroom garden-style apartments.
The apartments will also help the wallets of the residents. McCoy explained that the new apartments will be energy efficient, such as being Earth Craft certified, and include Energy Star windows, lighting and appliances.
“There are lots of things with this community that we can’t see with the eye but that mean a lot,” McCoy said of the upgrades.
The new features could save residents as much as 50 percent on their energy usage and their utility bills.
“It provides better community support,” McCoy said of the PUD proposal. “It promotes this kind of community where everyone’s got their eye on their community.”
By having the larger amount of open space, combined with recreational space, the plan also promotes healthy and walkable lifestyles, McCoy said. Another addition to the community will be an improved community building for residents, which McCoy said is a request that came from a large amount of residents in Langston Park. He said CHP, along with HRHA, has held six meetings with residents to discuss what they would like to see in their new community off Winston Churchill Drive.
In addition to adding new and improved housing stock, the 12 months of construction will also see some dollars flow into the city of Hopewell. The project is expected to generate $803,753 to local business income, over $3.4 million to local salaries, $500,855 to taxes and fees and create 51 local jobs.
Councilor Wayne Walton expressed his support for the project, especially with the amount of revenue this project is proposed to create not only during construction, but after residents move in, noting that it is estimated Langston Park will generate $6.3 million over 10 years to the local government and tax base after rehabilitation.
“It’s a significant investment in the area too and the city,” Walton said. “I think it’s really nice, there’s brand new stuff, it’s near Cavalier Square, so it should help the businesses. It kind of looks like a win to me.”
Though support was shown from Walton, support did not come as readily from the Planning Commission. In October of last year, CHP, along with Steve Benham, Executive Director at HRHA, held a public hearing at the meeting regarding the rezoning proposal.
A motion was made during the October meeting, from the vice chairman of the commission, Elliot Eliades, to deny the rezoning request from R-4 to PUD, citing it did not meet the “Comprehensive Plan objective to reduce higher density units in certain areas and because the consideration for community needs is not being met because buildings are too close together so it does not improve the area,” according to the official meeting minutes. The motion was denied by a vote of 4 to 0.
The concerns brought up from the council members did not echo those of the Planning Commission. Vice Mayor Jasmine Gore asked if the other 26 market-rate units were unable to be rented, what would become of them, stating this was a question raised by other people in the city.
David Shultz, vice president of CHP, addressed the issue, stating that HRHA cannot get any more project-based vouchers from Section 8, thus keeping the apartments at market rate.
“Community Housing Partners is a large nonprofit in Virginia. ... We haven’t had any issues anywhere else, so I don’t see it as an issue,” Shultz said. “I don’t see us soliciting people from New Jersey to move here. ... We don’t see any problem from people moving down the street to our property.”
Benham also stated before the project began and plans were drawn up for the site, market studies were completed to asses the area and the need for market rate apartments.
“It’s clear that people are willing to rent. ... There are people in the market that are willing to rent these apartments,” Benham said. “They are the newest, most energy efficient apartments in the city of Hopewell, probably in the Tri-Cities area, so why would people stay in those places? Why would market-rate people stay in places that aren’t nearly as nice as what they are going to get in Langston Park?”
Mayor Mike Bujakowski expressed that perhaps Langston Park could be another step to demolishing the dilapidated housing stock within HRHA.
Bujakowski asked if it was possible to move people from other housing in HRHA, such as in Thomas Rolfe Court and Kippax, to the market-rate apartments, should they not sell, and tear down the housing that is in poor condition.
Though no definite answer was given, Benham said that will be part of a larger discussion within the city to start to examine and begin to develop aging housing stock.
“One of the things we batted around is a comprehensive discussion on what housing is going to be in the city of Hopewell, not just public housing, or affordable housing, but all housing,” Benham said.
To begin discussions on housing, Benham would like to include other departments and agencies in the cities, such as the Economic Development Authority and the Hopewell Downtown Partnership. Part of this is due to the relocation of the residents within HRHA. Should new housing be built and others demolished, Benham stated HRHA is not allowed to displace people without providing for their relocation.
“That is something we have to pay for,” Benham said. “We have to make sure it’s done appropriately.”