SRO time: The Crossings begins its rise downtown

The Crossings, an apartment complex designed to prevent the phenomenon of "Million Dollar Murray," has begun its rise at the corner of Preston Avenue and Fourth Street.

In a 2006 New Yorker article (recently republished in his collection What the Dog Saw), journalist Malcolm Gladwell relates the tale of a lovable-yet-hopeless Reno, Nevada, drunk named Murray Barr. Over a decade, Barr ran up a million-dollar tab in public services including frequent emergency room visits and repeated arrests and incarcerations for public intoxication.

"It would probably have been cheaper," Gladwell concludes, "to give him a full-time nurse and his own apartment."

Charlottesville's City Council took note and in 2009 approved a controversial zoning law change to enable the so-called Crossings at Fourth and Preston to be developed on the site of a former mini-mall, later owned by the Region Ten Community Services Board.

The single room occupancy, or SRO, complex will consist of 60 studio apartments with half of them reserved for the homeless.

Public land records show that the City purchased the site last year for $1.55 million and then transferred it in March to Crossings at Fourth and Preston LLC, a creation of a nonprofit group called Virginia Supportive Housing. VSH development director Heather Orrock says there's a $1.55 million loan on the property.

Funded by about $4.3 million in state tax credits over the next 10 years, the SRO is designed with half of its spaces reserved for chronically homeless for as long as they need it, according to Orrock.

The homeless will pay 30 percent of their income for each 360 square-foot studio, or $50 per month, whichever is greater, says Orrock, noting that rents for the non-homeless will probably be just over $500 per month. She says construction, overseen by the Charlottesville firm of Martin Horn, is slated to conclude next March.

In Richmond, the arrival of a similar shelter saved that community $320,000 in hospital and jail costs over the course of 20 months, according to one grant-funded study. Arrests fell by 83 percent; total hospital admissions fell by 80 percent.

While the Richmond calculus didn't include the cost of the SRO itself, Orrock notes that any community planning one should realize savings by courts, ambulances, police departments, soup kitchens, shelters, emergency call centers, and mental health centers.

"It's about doing things smarter," said Mayor Dave Norris, a key proponent of the project, after the April 28 groundbreaking ceremony for the Crossings.

Norris says that UVA hospital spends about $11,000 per year on each of the 20 most habitual emergency room users. And Charlottesville planning director Jim Tolbert says there's one Charlottesville man who has been arrested over 700 times.

The attraction of humanely and efficiently helping the chronically homeless isn't limited to politicians and bureaucrats. The Crossings was launched with nearly half a million dollars in private grants from the Perry, Cabell, and Charlottesville Community foundations.

Even Mark Brown, the owner of the nearby Main Street Arena, who successfully fought a proposal to hand taxpayer funds to a homeless day shelter called the Haven, has decided the Crossings could be worth a try.

"You never know how something's going to work," says Brown, "until you put it into practice."

Note: An early version of this story was originally posted online at 3pm on April 20, and one early iteration of the story said that the City "gave" the property to the nonprofit, but the $1.55 million is a loan.


Just wondering how I might be qualified as "chronically homeless" . . . I'm really looking for a new place to live and for somebody else to pay for it. Thank goodness I don't live in Charlottesville, though I do pay taxes there for property ownership.

You forgot to mention that the city had to buy the property in order for VSH to even get started. At the initial conversation Dave Norris had in public trying to drum up support for his pet project, it was repeated that nobody would get in there unless he had a job and he would be required to keep it. He gave the impression the VA Supportive Housing would not allow people to live there unless they obeyed the rules.
Maybe the City needs to convert the old Albemarle Hotel on W. Main to start another SRO. It won't need but a minimum of parking.

Thanks, Cville Eye, for pointing that out. How quickly people forget campaign promises/rhetoric. Good thing the city does not own Monticello or Ash Lawn--what nice digs for the homeless that would be.

Build it and they will come. Is the city of Charlottesville actively advertising for the homeless to come? Are the county tax monies given to the city via the sharing agreement being used for such purposes? These are services provided by the city that the county gains no benefit since the homeless tend to stay downtown. The Landmark would be another such admirable project for the city to take on.

Dave Norris' legacy will be one of stupidity and wasteful spending. I have been watching him and his band of idiots run through tax dollars on things as stupid as rebricking the mall and now putting up a $25,000 sundial. Only when peoples taxes are raised another 100% plus to pay for this nonsense will he be run out of office. Unfortunately at that time we will be stuck holding the bag. Way to go Dave! Way to Go David! Way to go Hollie! Way to go Huja! Way to go Chritine!

And who will pick up the tab for the social services needed for this development, now asking to expand. Of course we need affordable housing, but offering a helping hand can have unintended consequences.

What a bunch of selfish people! You would rather see people live on the street than have shelter, and in these difficult economic times! There is this thing called "research," which you might not have heard of. It has found over and over again that having a stable source of housing, regardless of other issues (mental health, alcoholism) is key to getting back on one's feet. In the long run it is much cheaper for taxpayers. Read the Million Dollar Murray article and engage your brains. Jeez.

@Dawg, I did read it and it did not show that housing the homeless puts them back on their feet. It did help some, though, at least for a little while.

Done right, something like this might be a good idea, but with this city's govt. in charge, it won't be done right or even close to right.
What you could have would be a project with 24/7 on location supervision and enforcement of strict standards of conduct for tenants. This would be through a clear headed understanding that the tenants comprise a group whose members are unable to responsibly manage their lives and who need a measure of custodial care as well as a place to live.
What we will have will be another locus for disorderly behavior and uncivil conduct. One saving grace is its distance from residential neighborhoods so the concentration of mostly socially indigestible individuals will not be so much of a in-your-face affront to tax paying people who might like some peace and quiet. It's sort of a shame though that the city couldn't find a piece of property just a little closer to the ABC store. You know, so the tenants would have more nearby "amenities".
If you read up on "Million Dollar Murray" you can see how the dynamic played out in his case; that he did better in a structured situation and fell apart when not. I'd like to think this project would provide some of that structure, but I doubt it will. In the "world class city" we are too sensitive to "civil rights" to do that.

It has been quite a while since the redesign of the website, when are you guys going to learn to use basic features like the numbers that imply more than one image will show if you click on them? That is screwed up in almost every article with a photo.

How do you define "chronically homeless". Does this mean that "real bad" homeless folks need not apply? Is there a Doctor of Homelessness in City Hall that can diagnose whether you are chronically homeless, or permanently homeless, or must mildly homeless.....

I think that Charlottesville has an incredible high level of self esteem to compare itself to Las Vegas. I am not sure that it can be substantiated.

I have reconsidered after talking to a wise business man that I know. If this is run by the private sector I am hopeful there will be ample oversight to assure rules will be followed. I can also appreciate that the data shows this could lessen social service costs for this population, and it certainly is better that everyone has a place to call home, no matter how humble.

X costs $11,000 a year in emergency room costs a year. You give X a home but you are not giving X health care coverage. Would not X continue to go to the emergency room for all health care and $11K be about the same. I see how frost bite cases would be reduced but how does it reduce the emergency room costs significantly. If someone has an address/instead of no address/ will they have free health care under the new reform bill and then not use the emergency room for all care?

@ Sick of Dave's Nonsense

Who's "Christine"? Was that in reference to council woman Kristin Szakos? I mean, if you're going to criticize them at least get their names right.

1.5 MILLION for the land? They could have purchased 100 acres for half that and let these people live on a commune. They could have used the rest of the money to build a barn and bunkouses and then had drunk drivers till the fields for community service. Let them grow their own food, milk their own cows and eat eggs and chickens like in the old days.

They could sell the extra food to the food bank through a charitable purchase program.

They could have UVA Medical and Nursing students cycle through and help with the medical needs They could dedicate a busline to the site and even have a Security Guard live there for free in exchange for rent.. Student teachers from UVA could teach classes.

When they have built these welfare shlelters in other places the residents laugh all the way to the ABC store and back.

When we think of the chronically homeless I want to help the single mothers with kids. They can't live in one bedroom. I guess the drunk irresponsible fathers will do just fine though.

If there is a person that has been aressted 700 times that is evidence of a need for more jail cells not homeless shlelters.

4.3 milllion over ten years is 430k per year or 7166.00 per person per year.

Once Obama care kicks in and they all get free medical, then we add tot hat the food stamps these folks will be doing just fine.

I am sure the janitor at the food mart where they will buy their cigarettess will not feel slighted for having the same standard of living while they hang outside and BS all day. I am sure that as he sweeps up thier cigarette butts and trash he won't feel the least bit angry knowing that they can never be evicted.

It is SUPPOSED to hurt to be poor. That is natures way of telling you to step up to the plate and get to work.

They should put a breathalyzer on every door in order for it to open. let the drunks freeze and make way for a sober person with goals.

Guess you don't know any alcoholics, members of all income groups. Alcoholism is a disease and can be treated, but without a place to sleep, that is difficult.

who did they buy that expensive land from???

Good question amigo1! And although I don't often agree with bill marshal, he's sure right this time. The money spent for the land alone could have fed and housed quite a few more people for a much longer time if it had just ben spent wisely. If this really were "about doing things smarter," as Dave Norris said, then it would be done this way. Not that Norris and smarter belong in the same sentence really. Seems he's out of the country right now on city business. There can't be anything smart about that.

Will Bill Marshall please run for office? You've got some of the best ideas to handling hunger, homelessness, etc., etc., I've read or heard about in a long time. I'm sure, however, some bleeding heart would think we were trampling upon somebody's rights to ask them to grow their own food, build their own shelter. How on earth did our grandparents and parents survive farming the land? It's wonder, isn't it?

Grow and raise their own food - are you kidding me! The business leaders around here would raise holy heck. Then they would lose those food orders from the city. Donating the excess food to charity - crazy again. The business leaders need the tax breaks they receive for donating to charity.

It's sarcasm people. Bill Marshall does have the right idea but I doubt it will ever happen. That doesn't mean I wouldn't support it though if the idea ever gained any traction.

Who did the City buy the land from? was a question above. (I'm assuming its the shopping center that just got demolished across from Wendy's in Vinegar Hill area)
1970's: The City takes the land by Eminent Domain from X "for the public good"
"The Public good" in general for Vinegar Hill means sitting empty for 10 years
1980s: The Public good is a shopping Center that stands half empty most of the time
By Rumour : Blake Hurt (Dr. Hurt's son) buys the shopping Center at one time I don't know if he owned it at the time of sale.
2011 The City buys the Shopping Center from ---- for 1.5 million for SRO apartments
Should not a single,direct descendant of X, who the City used Eminent Domain to take the land from in the 1970s get first choice of an apartment?

My understanding is, it was purchased from Region Ten, which is paid for in part with city and several counties in the area, tax dollars.

One needs to ask what the assessed tax value is to know if 1.55 million is a fair price for the tax payers to subsidize.

In March 2010 Instrument 746 Three lots from Region 10 to the City $1,550,000 sale price, $1,840,500 Assessment by the City. (Lot 1 is foundry lot, Lot 2 15A,15b of Vinegar Hill, Lot 3 is Parcel X. (I started doing a study of looking at all sales in the City vs. Assessed Value and just happen to see this on my chart. I only have 3 months of 2010 done.

I understand now. Norris was told the 20 worst homeless alchoholics cost the emergency room 11K a year each. This building will have 30 spots for the homeless (I was told once to say "people with housing challenges" not homeless). Of the 30 Apartments, lets say 20 are alcholics and 10 are not. If we can move in and cure 20 people a year we are saving $200K+ a year in emergency room costs. Can you cure 20 people a year? I will say $500 apartments for the working poor are better than the 1,000 square ft house divided into 4 SRO apartments in R-1 zoned area on our street in town. At that house, each person pays $550 for 250 sq. feet (+or -) for one bedroom & bathroom and all four share a kitchen.

As Dave Norris is fond of saying "This project will end homelessness as we know it in Charlottesville." Where are the other 200+ going? Just the usual spin. BTW, the city will be providing 20 section 8 vouchers for twenty of the units and the county will provide 10. How the other 30 units will get paid for, I have no clue. Each unit is 360 sq. ft. which is the same size as 52 10' by 9' '50's sized bedroom for children, so maybe the tenant will sublet.

"Each unit is 360 sq. ft. which is the same size as 52 10' by 9' '50's sized bedroom for children, so maybe the tenant will sublet." Not 52 but two bedrooms. Sorry.