Federal funds fuel local projects
In late December, Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine announced $200 million in federal funding for community projects in Virginia. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi checked out a few in our broadcast region and filed this report.
A large chunk of the earmarks headed for Virginia – $3 million – is slated for the Shenandoah Rail Trail, a project that would convert nearly 50 miles of unused railroad into a trail for walkers, joggers, and cyclists to use from Front Royal to Broadway.
[sounds of stream trickling, breeze blowing]
The southern terminus will be Heritage Park in Broadway, where Cari Orebaugh is the assistant town manager.
CARI OREBAUGH: What's great here is that we have Linville Creek that runs on the southern portion of the proposed trail, which is just beautiful. We host our annual kid's fishing day right here. You'll have great scenery here.
The Shenandoah Rail Trail Partnership, a coalition of public, private, and nonprofit entities along the trail route, has engaged The Conservation Fund to assist in negotiations with Norfolk Southern Corporation regarding the state's acquisition of the corridor.
For their part, the town of Broadway is busy planning restrooms to be built and community input meetings to be held later this year –
OREBAUGH: … inviting folks from the town and from the greater community to come out and kind of give us input on what the trail should look like. How should it feel? Where should there be some historical markers? … Do there need to be additional access points?
Another local institution receiving federal money is the Valley Health System based in Winchester.
Dr. Jeffrey Feit, chief population and community health officer, explained that they're getting a total of $2 million to expand their mental healthcare and telehealth services. They already work with a number of clinics that receive enhanced Medicaid payments for services they provide, including mental healthcare, but their clients don't always have transportation to get to the clinics, or reliable internet access for a telehealth appointment.
JEFFREY FEIT: So we had this idea, which is, hey, if we could get federal money to create mobile hotspots, we could link a preexisting mental health infrastructure that was specifically designed to serve the underserved with the places where the underserved are – a church … a rescue mission … a community center.
They first executed the concept in a pilot project six months ago, when they placed a telehealth unit in the Winchester Rescue Mission. Besides installing mobile hotspots and other technology, $500,000 of the federal money will go to continuing education for their healthcare providers.
[sounds of construction, contractor whistling]
On a large plot of land in Albemarle County just southeast of Charlottesville, construction crews are busy at work putting up townhouses and single-family homes. The project, known as the Southwood Redevelopment, includes replacement housing for more than 300 families currently living in mobile homes. A portion of the project, the Hickory Hope apartment buildings, is slated to receive just over $1 million in federal funds.
DAN ROSENSWEIG: We're redeveloping Southwood without any resident displacement.
Dan Rosensweig is president and CEO of the Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville, which purchased the property in 2007.
ROSENSWEIG: The previous owner of the park had been planning to sell it, and the residents would have been displaced, and that would have been a social and economic catastrophe, not just for the community here but for the region, because there is no affordable housing in this region.
Since then, the nonprofit has been working with residents on a redevelopment plan. Construction on the first of 10 villages is now underway. Once fully built, Southwood will be home to about 1,000 housing units in a mixed-income community.
ROSENSWEIG: We're providing ownership opportunities for more than 300 families where they can move from a dilapidated trailer, pay roughly the same amount that they're paying now, and live in a beautiful, energy-efficient home that suits their needs – that they own.
To ensure the development would suit the current residents' needs, they've been included in the design process.
ROSENSWEIG: So, in this village here, for example, the very first thing that they decided on from a design perspective was a central park that's surrounded and protected by homes, so they could have kitchens on the back of their homes, watching their kids play together in a protected, central park.
One of their partners is the Piedmont Housing Alliance, which will rent out 121 units in the Hickory Hope apartment buildings to be constructed at the development's entrance. Sunshine Mathon is the alliance's executive director.
SUNSHINE MATHON: Fundamentally, we want people to feel pride in where they live. … The quality of the construction, the dedication to sustainability and energy efficiency, to really well-designed units, its placement within the community – all of those things we take into careful consideration when we build a property like that.
As with the townhouse and single-family home portion of the development, current Southwood residents will be given priority to rent the apartments, which Mathon expects may include elderly residents looking for an accessible place to move into. The remainder of the units will be rented out to those in the broader community making 30 to 80% of the area median income, and those with housing choice vouchers.
The housing alliance is also redeveloping the Friendship Court community in downtown Charlottesville, with the same goal of zero displacement.
MATHON: The work that Habitat is doing here at Southwood, in parallel with the other efforts at Friendship Court and the public housing redevelopment, that nexus of similar vision is remarkable, and actually sets, I think, Charlottesville and Albemarle County apart in a way that is a bit of a shining light in dark times.
Mathon said the federal funding awarded to the Hickory Hope apartments is the "last link in the chain" to – they hope – begin construction in about five months.