The future of Friendship Court

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- The Piedmont Housing Alliance and residents of Friendship Court have been making plans for redevelopment for about three years now.

PHA said it made a lot of progress in 2018 toward the redevelopment and is looking forward to major steps in the process to be made in 2019.

Myrtle Houchens lived in Friendship Court with her two children for 26 years. The community, then known as Garret Square, had been built in 1978 as Section Eight housing.

Houchens moved in soon after it was built. When asked how to describe it back then, one word immediately comes to her mind.

"Family," said Houchens. "People who were knitted together looked out for one another. Closeness. That was important to me as a single mother. I needed my children to feel loved within the community. And that was here."

Now, she is determined to keep that community aspect and even enhance it as Friendship Court gets redeveloped.

"I know what this community can offer," said Houchens. "That community connection, the love, and support that it offered me and my family, is what I would like everyone to experience."

Houchens is one of the 15 members of the Friendship Court Advisory Committee, created in 2016 to guide the redevelopment plans. The committee is made up of nine current residents and six community and city leaders.

Sunshine Mathon, the executive director of Piedmont Housing Alliance, said the committee has been working hard.

"The advisory committee has stepped up big time," said Mathon. "And they have done amazing work developing a new plan that I think really is reflective of resident priorities, is achievable and feasible, it connects to the larger city as a whole."

In 2018, they laid out a site plan and started to work with the contractor Harkins Builders. Claudette Grant, the community organizer for Friendship Court, said one thing residents wanted was diversity.

"They said I want to live next door to someone else who I might not normally live next door to because I can learn from them and maybe they can learn from me as well," said Grant.

The development will have 450 apartments and townhouses, mixed with affordable and market value housing. Of those units, 150 are reserved for current residents to ensure zero displacements. However, there are still many steps moving forward.

"The goal of construction is first quarter 2020," said Mathon. "The process of pulling the funding together is a key driver of that."

They have to apply for low-income housing tax credits in March and will not know if they will receive it until the summer. They also still need to get final approval from the city and get an investor to help pay for construction.

If all falls into place, phase one of construction will begin in the green space of Friendship Court, right where Houchens used to watch her kids play.

"My backdoor, I could sit back there and enjoy my patio area and just watch them play out in the field," said Houchens. "It was so wonderful."

Friday morning, Charlottesville Tomorrow will publish an extensive report looking into the history of Friendship Court dating back to before the community was built. This story is part of a series of stories that will coincide with that report.



 
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