A bulldozer prepares the site at the corner of 4th and Preston April 20.
The Crossings was designed by BRW Architects of Charlottesville.
Virginia Supportive Housing
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.