Friday, May 4, 2007

First Year's Progress, Part 1

When I ran for Council last year, I pledged to push for constructive change in four key areas: affordable housing, education & youth, poverty & race, and the environment. (I've even kept my campaign website on-line so people could hold me accountable to the commitments I made along these lines.) Now that it's been a full year since I was elected, I thought it would be a good opportunity to reflect on some of the progress that we've made in these four areas. (Make no mistake -- we still have a long way to go...) I neither seek nor deserve sole credit for every one of these accomplishments, but I am proud to have been involved in advancing each of them in some small or large way.

Today, I'll focus on the first two topics: Affordable Housing and Education & Youth.

Affordable Housing

* Last Fall, Council appointed a standing Housing Advisory Committee (comprised of realtors, developers, housing advocates, neighborhood leaders and others) to help the City develop new initiatives to expand and improve our affordable housing stock.

* In November 2006, the Housing Advisory Committee unanimously endorsed the creation of a new Charlottesville Affordable Housing Investment Program (CAHIP) to consolidate, dedicate and expand financial support for affordable housing. CAHIP focuses on four key areas: permanent supportive housing for the elderly and disabled, low-income homeownership, workforce housing, and revitalization of public housing.

* During our FY2008 City Budget deliberations, hundreds of City residents (click here and here, for example) pushed Council to adopt the CAHIP proposal and otherwise increase City support for affordable housing development (preferably in partnership with the County and UVa). The final FY08 Budget passed by Council includes $1.75 million in new funds to capitalize the CAHIP initiative and leverage additional financing from federal, state, regional and private sources. This represents a five-fold increase in City support for affordable housing from FY2007.

* Also in our FY08 Budget, Council expanded our Affordable Housing Tax Grant Program to provide deeper tax relief to homeowners who've been particularly hard hit by rising assessments. With the average property tax bill increasing by approx. $230 in Charlottesville next year, the expanded Tax Grants ($250-$500 for qualifying households) mean that a significant number of middle- and lower-income homeowners will pay less in net property taxes in 2008 than they did in 2007. I would like to have expanded this program even further in FY08 and will try again next year.

* Council has also asked staff to develop a property tax deferral program whereby homeowners can opt to postpone payment of a portion of their property taxes until they sell their homes. This will be especially helpful for homeowners who are trying to get by on fixed incomes.

* The City's Planning Commission is working to develop stronger incentives for builders to include Affordable Dwelling Units in new housing projects, and Delegate David Toscano agreed to sponsor legislation in the recent General Assembly session (HB 2451) to help move this idea forward.

Education & Youth

* Council has provided strong support to the new School Superintendent, Ms. Rosa Atkins, and to our School Board in their efforts to bring positive change to our City school system. The FY08 School Budget, which Council fully funded, includes a number of innovative initiatives designed to improve academic achievement for all children. I am especially pleased at the creation of a new 3-year-old preschool program in the City's schools and the implementation of a proactive dropout-prevention initiative to keep more kids in school until graduation. Higher-quality after-school programming and teacher-training initiatives are also getting more attention.

* In response to concerns raised by parents and students, Council agreed to expedite Americans with Disability Act (ADA) improvements to our schools to remove barriers to students with physical disabilities.

* Council agreed to nearly double the size of our City summer youth employment program for 2007, and my hope is that we can double it again in 2008, and again the year after (being sure not to sacrifice quality for quantity along the way). Anything we can do to reenforce the value & importance of work and to help our teenagers to secure marketable job skills and positive mentoring relationships is a good thing.

* We have expanded our support for community organizations that offer positive opportunities to kids -- youth sports, tutoring and mentoring, environmental education, community service, the arts, etc. -- and we are supporting efforts by our City Police to reduce negative opportunities for kids (gang prevention, etc.).

Next time, I'll discuss some of the steps we've taken on Poverty & Race and the Environment. After that, I'll talk about some of our other accomplishments from this past year, and lastly (but not leastly) I'll focus on some of the areas where I feel we've fallen short and/or still have much work to do. Thanks for indulging me in this. More importantly, thanks for your continued support. It's not easy being an elected official but I can't imagine a better place to be one, and a better community to serve, than Charlottesville, VA.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Could you please get a little busier??! (I laughed when I saw this was written at 5:37AM)