Guns 'n gentrification

Sharon Vest is trying to pick the lock in her downstairs bathroom, which is mysteriously locked. She can’t find the tool that will open the door, so she’s working with a coat hanger, so far to no avail.
Being responsible for fixing everything that breaks is what Vest used to see as the downside of home ownership. That was before she moved into her own house in February. Now she’s not complaining that she doesn’t have a landlord to call, even though the bathroom door refuses to budge.
Vest, 45, has always worked. An administrative assistant at the UVA hospital for 14 years, she also has a second job cleaning offices. And yet, owning a house was something she never thought possible.
Home ownership for Vest became a reality when she moved into 354 10-1/2 Street, thanks to the Piedmont Housing Alliance.
PHA’s mission is to bring affordable housing to Charlottesville, and they’re not talking low-income housing. “There’s a stigma with low income-housing,” says PHA project manager Mark Watson. PHA houses are targeted toward teachers, firemen, people who work at nonprofits– even “reporters for The Hook,” says Watson. “It’s about providing housing that’s affordable for people who don’t make $100,000 or $200,000.”
That means if you make 80 percent of the median income here—which comes to $35,600 for a single person, $50,900 for a family of four– you could be eligible for help from PHA. The downside: not everyone may want to live in places like the city’s most violent neighborhoods around 10th and Page streets, where shootings-– and even fatalities– are not uncommon.
Vest can hear the gunfire from her house on 10-1/2 Street. But she feels pretty safe because she grew up on 10-1/2 Street, and her mother lives a couple of houses up from hers. “This is like the old neighborhood to me,” says Vest. “This is the only street I wanted to live on.”
There’s a house with boarded up windows across the street from Vest’s gleaming new house, but she isn’t worrying about that compromising her property values. In fact, PHA also owns that property, and UVA architecture students are going to design a new residence for the lot this fall and build it in the spring, says Watson.
In April, PHA broke ground on another property around the corner from Vest at 1117 Page Street. That house will cost $128,000 and will be purchased by Allyson Crawford, a single woman now living in Culpeper. Two more houses are planned for either side of Crawford’s new house. It's all part of a 22-house, $3 million renewal project, to which the City is contributing $350,000.
Is it a good idea that housing subsidized by the city is going to someone now living in Culpeper? Mayor Blake Caravati thinks not. “We should concentrate on Charlottesville residents first,” he says. 
PHA’s Watson disagrees. “Our mission is to provide affordable housing to people who want to own their own homes”-– regardless of where they currently live.
A bigger issue for him is finding people who qualify for the subsidized housing. Rosa Hudson is in charge of that, working with people with credit problems. She sets up a time frame to clean up their credit histories and helps them with the paperwork required for home ownership.
Certainly Vest says she wouldn’t have ended up in her house without Hudson’s help. She kept running into Hudson, who encouraged her to apply. “You have to qualify through their program, and you can’t have a lot of debt,” says Vest. 
She’d nearly paid off her car, but her credit was “whacked” because of hospital bills. “When you have kids and don’t have insurance to pay for medical bills, it’s hard to dig in your pocket to cover those $300 or $400 bills,” Vest explains.
At the Page Street groundbreaking, neighbors seem pleased that a new house is going up where blighted property used to be. Next door to the bare lot is a dilapidated green duplex. “I think you need to tear that one down because I wouldn’t want to live next door to that,” says Josephine Morrison, who’s lived on Page Street for 50 years.
Young African-American males come out of the duplex, and the neighborhood ladies cluck their disapproval. Morrison remembers when most of the houses on Page Street were inhabited by owners, not renters. “Do you think somebody would live like that if they were the owners?” she asks, referring to the duplex.
And crime is another concern for both old and new residents. “The first thing [potential homebuyers] say is, ‘I don’t want to live on Page Street,’” says Morrison.  
The parents of Allyson Crawford, who’s buying the soon-to-be-built Page Street house, are concerned about their daughter’s safety. “She has her apprehensions about the neighborhood,” says her dad, Carl Crawford. He notices a house across the street with an “ADT” security sign. 
“There was a shooting two doors down from me a few weeks ago,” says Morrison. “It’s a shame, because we have nice people in this neighborhood.”

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