Blair Hawkins | Charlottesville, Virginia | healingcharlottesville@yahoo.com

Air Conditioning Shines Light On Public Housing. Sunday June 18, 2017.

On average the local media report on urban renewal several times a week in most American cities. It's often crimes at public housing sites. But they rarely use the term "urban renewal" or "public housing". If there's any history, it's usually only one project to minimize the actual scope and time scale of the program. So it makes no sense that so many are still angry at the first project Vinegar Hill pictured at right. Of course there were many other projects to account for today's resentment.

The latest Charlottesville update on urban renewal comes from WVIR-TV NBC-29. "Resolution Passes to Replace 2nd Chiller in [1976] Crescent Halls" public housing for the elderly, disabled after the air conditioning failed all last summer, prompting protests and physical removals from City Council chambers. The protests have been ineffective because most residents have a side hustle, like family member not on lease, and don't want to go public.

Urban renewal has 2 parts from a Constitutional perspective: (a) Eminent Domain to seize (without Due Process for Public Use) real estate for resale (redevelopment), and (b) Eminent Domain to seize real estate to rent as affordable housing (public housing). By definition urban renewal is a felony though interpreted as legal and widely practiced. The urban renewal agency is the Charlottesville Redevelopment & Housing Authority. These are different names for the same program that has caused so much "vitriol" since the Era of Urban Renewal began 1954.

Only a hundred feet from Crescent Halls is the 1873 Daughters of Zion Cemetery for affluent blacks. Society Cemetery. This landmark is the most visible relic from the Golden Age of Race Relations 1865 until 1917 Lee Park. Vinegar Hill was the other relic. While not within the official Garrett Street redevelopment boundaries, Daughters of Zion became City-owned Nov. 1971 but remains segregated blacks only.

The last burial was 1995. After many years of neglect resulting in a hundred lost head stones, City Council is funding renovation, and BeCville a new plaque. In contrast, the adjacent 1863 Oakwood Cemetery has always been integrated with a white section and a black section originally.

WINA radio AM-1070 is also making news. They are playing an advertisement promoting the CRHA Housing Authority. The ad claims affordable housing while history shows that housing is more expensive than ever while housing stock has shrunk. The ad boasts about importing immigrants in order to further radicalize our public housing, on land stolen from the voting minorities denied representation since 1924 Klan installed the Commission form of City Council, same year as the Robert E. Lee statue. Most recent efforts to reverse the majority-only system include 2004 Taskforce on Council Representation and 1981–82 NAACP referendums. Now you know why the Democrat majority want to remove the Lee statue.

So already the reader may need a pause to absorb this information.

1967 Garrett Urban Renewal Expands 5-fold as 2014 Strategic Investment Area.

This project was so big that the referendum was divided into 3 parts, the so-called Triple Referendum. The Jaycees pamphlet urges a Yes vote on all three because of the money. The money made them do it. And today these organizations are gone or a shadow of yesteryear.

The aerial photos for this neighborhood have not yet been found. The release of so much about Vinegar Hill in recent years was to support the modern propaganda that Vinegar Hill is the only urban renewal. To this effort City officials have tampered with the historical archives, which are top secret off limits to the public, while the urban renewal commissioners claim they just haven't got around to publishing the rich history.

On Feb. 24, 2007, historian Scot French and researcher Lu-Ann Williams of the UVA Carter G. Woodson Institute present the archive report at site of first Jefferson School 1865. They promise to publish the archives, but only do a report on Vinegar Hill.

Williams describes the archives as

  • 1,189 visual media files
  • 6,845 physical documents
  • 189 maps and blueprints
  • 6,199 files related to GIS mapping
  • for a total of 14,422.
Blair Hawkins publishes about 300 archival prints in 3 visits. Initially the assistant city manager presented in 2 visits a handful of pictures cherry-picked. Hawkins complained at a City Council meeting, which resulted in the 152-page notebook with 287 photos in early Feb. 2007. Subsequently Hawkins is denied access while officials say to the media that Hawkins has full access. No other community group or politician, black or white, is interested in publishing this history of mostly African-American interaction with local government.

Asst City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney resigns, blocked access to public records. May 23, 2007.

Timeline of Urban Renewal. Feb. 2009 archive request on WINA. Councilor Holly Edwards wanted to connect Hawkins with the 2 people blocking the history, historian Scot French and urban renewal director Randy Bickers. So it appeared as a political deception.

Another example of this phenomenon is the 2011 book "Images Of America Charlottesville." There are 17 pictures of Vinegar Hill and the Westhaven displacement public housing. There are ZERO pictures of the much larger Garrett urban renewal and 5 subsidized housing projects.

This article in Blair's Magazine, while the most comprehensive so far, is only the tip of the iceberg. When I began this endeavor 17 years ago, "daunting" was an understatement. The difficult nature of the underlying truths explain why nobody wants to talk about it. It's indefensible, yet seemingly unstoppable.

If there's a bright side, it's this. Friday's news reports on the new chiller for air conditioning at Crescent Halls public housing show the media actually watched the previous night's meeting of the 7 urban renewal commissioners.

So when the issue grows and threatens the peace and safety of the entire community, the media cannot claim they didn't know. Well, that's exactly what they will say.

Garrett neighborhood development began 1860.

Alexander Garrett was the first bursar of Univeristy of Virginia. Friend and financial advisor to Thomas Jefferson, Garrett was at Monticello July 4, 1826 when Jeffereson died. His last breath was described as peaceful in a letter to Garrett's wife, excerpts reprinted 1952.

1873 Daughters of Zion Cemetery for affluent blacks is the most visible relic from the local Golden Age of Race Relations 1865 until 1917 Lee Park. Benjamin Tonsler is buried here. Tonsler attended the first Jefferson School at 632 West Main in 1865, returned as teacher in 1871, becomes principal 1883 until his death 1917.


Timeline of Public Housing & Notable Referendums

  • 1912 Nov. 6. State-wide approves local option for Commission At-Large business-like government modeled after corporate governing boards.
  • 1920 Dec. 7. City referendum mandates the switch. The same city-wide majority will elect all councilors every election, intended to shut out the large black minority. It's hard to disconnect this institutional change from the systematic urban renewal to come.
  • 1954 Redevelopment & Housing Authority is approved by margin of 2% or 36 votes. Wards For 1 & 3, Against 2 & 4.

    The City became split where the southside wanted blight removal and housing rehabilitaion. The northside feared the federal government would force integration. This split would reverse when the northside discovered they could use the Housing Authority to continue residential segregation. And they could seize land from the voting minorities. Then offer apartments for rent. Vinegar Hill was a symbol of empowerment because so many blacks owned some land. Cheapest real estate can post bail for most offenses. Loss of Civil Rights, reversal of the historical Vinegar Hill, is biggest complaint today. Loss of history is close behind on many topics unrelated to land use.

  • 1958 City schools close to block court-ordered desegregation. Everything becomes politicized as racial.
  • 1960 Vinegar Hill clearance by 5% or 206 vote margin. Wards For 2 & 4. Against 1 & 3.
    (9-meg pdf. "A Community in Turmoil: Charlottesville's Opposition to Public Housing" by Christopher S. Combs. 1998.)
  • 1961 Cox's Row (Westhaven) by 3 to 1 margin, all wards For.
  • 1961 Hartman's Mill site for public housing by 1% or 23 votes. For 2 & 4. Against 1 & 3. Rejected by City Council 1962.
  • 1963 4 wards become 8 precincts largest annexation 38% of City's 10 square miles.
  • 1965 Ridge Street site fails by 2% or 82 votes. For 2 & 4. Against 1 & 3.
  • 1967 Triple Referendum
    (a) Garrett by 34% or 1,603 votes.
    (b) South 1st Street by 26% or 1,203 votes.
    (c) Ridge Street Revised by 12% or 532 votes.
    (-) Ware Street (Garrett Square), youngest development, was thought by some not to be part of the referendum though clearly inside the redevelopment zone.
  • 1970 City (by 2–1 margin) County (4–1) reject Merger.
  • 1973 Repeal of McCue Amendment. No more referendums on housing issues. Named for Edward Overton McCue Jr. 1901–1994. Local graduate of Midway Charlottesville High, Delegate 1934–48 and Virginia Senator 1950–1967. His name would resurface in 2007 as the most famous person who had lived in the stonehouse that sat isolated in a huge clearance for the Hollymead Shopping Center. Rumors arose that a stubborn tenant was the last holdout. Having owned the property for 35 years, the developer laughed at the logical speculation. "How do rumors get going?" (Source Apr 15 2007)
  • Downtown Pedestrian Mall approved by 40% of City Council voting Yes. First five blocks open June 1976. 2.6-meg pdf. "A Pedestrian Mall Born out of Urban Renewal" by Sarita Herman.
  • There seems to be a referendum or ballot intiative every couple years. The majority voting on whose property to seize should trigger alarms. It's partly why referendums are controversial. But other referendums have been controversial on their own merits, like the 1981 County annexation-based revenue sharing, or Virginia's 2006 ban on gay marriage.
1915 Ware Street (4th SE) development is the white enclave in predominantly black Garrett neighborhood. Consolidated into a 12-acre super-block and cleared 1977, Garrett Square becomes the largest public housing (150 units). Not officially recognized as public housing since funding comes from taxpayer HUD Section 8 account, not the public housing account.

Inventory of Public Housing October 2006.

  • 1965 Westhaven. 126 units. Permanent displacement housing for Vinegar Hill.
  • 1972 405 Levy Avenue. 0.846-acre parking lot rents for $1 a year. 1891 Belmont Plat shows 8 of 10 parcels seized in 3 condemnation suits. Lots 7 & 11 sold under threat. Housing Authority sued Better Living, which left the City in 1981. (Source)
  • 1976 Crescent Halls. 105 units.
  • 1977 Midway Manor. 98 units. City Council votes for Midway location for 2nd elderly housing. (Source Sep 13 1977)
  • 1979 Garrett Square. 150 units. CRHA seized and consolidated ownership of the 12-acre super-block developed 1915, the white enclave in the 1860 Garrett neighborhood. Sold to Cavalier Development 1977. Purchased by Piedmont Housing Alliance and renamed Friendship Court 2002, and purchased again in 2016 with $350,000 grant from City Council. The most denied part of Charlottesville's urban renewal.
  • 1979 South First Street. 58 units.
  • 1980 Madison Avenue. 18 units. 2016 Blue Ribbon Report says these are the white families from Vinegar Hill although date does not line up.
  • 1980 6th Street SE. 25 units.
  • 1980 Riverside Avenue. 16 units.
  • 1980 Michie Drive. 23 units
  • 1991 613 Hinton Avenue. 1 unit.
  • 1991 712 Elsom Street. 1 unit.
  • 1991 905 Monticello Avenue. 1 unit.
  • 1994 715 Ridge Street. 2 units.

A Few of the Many Newspaper Articles.

Peoples Bank 1875 to 1963. Held most mortgages in the urban renewal areas. Business model was broad customer base of small account holders. One of few banks to turn a profit during the Great Depression.


Blair Hawkins | Charlottesville, Virginia | healingcharlottesville@yahoo.com | Résumé | Top