Another affordable housing project could be coming to the Florida Avenue area.
Rush Homes, a housing nonprofit, hopes to partner with the Lynchburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority — pending approval from LRHA’s board — to build 48 new apartments on Florida Avenue.
The total cost of the project, called Florida Terrace, is roughly $8.4 million, said Dawn Fagan, LRHA executive director. Rush Homes is seeking funding from the Virginia Housing and Development Authority, low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC), the Virginia Housing Trust Fund, and other sources.
If funding is secured within the projected timeline, which depends on when funding is applied for and awarded, and the full LRHA board approves the project at its Nov. 21 meeting, Fagan said construction would begin in early 2021.
Of the 48 apartments contained in two buildings, 13 would be designated for families with disabilities, five for tenants with developmental disabilities, and seven for families exiting homelessness. The remaining apartments would serve the general low-income population, she said.
The project was discussed at Tuesday’s LRHA financial committee meeting, and members Turner Perrow, Sarah Ploch and Norwood Morrison discussed advantages and disadvantages to partnering with Rush Homes.
Fagan said an advantage of partnering with the nonprofit is that the housing authority and Rush Homes would receive an estimated $900,000 developer fee through the project’s funding sources. Fagan said if a developer funds a project like this through public grants and credits, they receive money for expenses such as architect fees, land acquisition, hiring an engineer, and other needs.
LRHA would get 25% of the fee and Rush Homes would get the remaining 75% of the fee. Fagan said the goal is to keep the money local rather than giving the fee to an outside developer who might use it in another community.
“We would earn the developer fee and then be able to perpetuate more affordable housing here,” she said.
Jeff Smith, director of Rush Homes, said they chose the Florida Avenue area because it’s close to a shopping center and accessible by public transportation.
Rush Homes has about 14 properties in Lynchburg and Madison Heights, and all homes are new builds or renovated spaces created to accommodate people with disabilities. The organization completed a $6 million project in December 2018 on Old Forest Road — 28 accessible apartments, funded by a conglomeration of public and private funds.
Smith said this is typically how Rush Homes funds each project; applying for any available grants from the city, state or federal government.
He said he felt Rush Homes working with LRHA on the Florida Terrace project was a “natural partnership.”
“We have some development skills ... they have some ability to provide some capacity to the work,” he said. “We’re all trying to provide affordable housing.”
Fagan said it’s been difficult for Rush Homes to complete certain construction projects without having someone involved who has a focus and deep understanding of construction, and LRHA could provide that.
“[Rush Homes is] going to have the most responsibility,” Fagan said. “We’re just trying to partner and give them the pieces that they don’t have.”
Perrow asked what exactly the housing authority’s role and time commitment would be in the project.
“I want to know what our liabilities are,” Perrow said. “And what the potential upside for us is.”
Fagan said this could be a good investment for LRHA because of the money from the developer fee. Ploch pointed out this project would help fill the need for affordable, accessible housing in Lynchburg.
A different project on Florida Avenue at the James Crossing Apartments was proposed last month by outside developers looking to renovate the existing low-income housing property. In May, Lynchburg City Council approved a $9.9 million project to put a sidewalk along Florida Avenue — a hotly debated issue earlier this year.
In September, the Greater Lynchburg Transit Company proposed expanding a bus route to include service on Florida Avenue, though no action has been taken on the proposal.
Mayor Treney Tweedy said she’s excited that projects are being proposed for the Florida Avenue neighborhood, an area she called “a gateway to our city.”
“When you care about a community, you invest in it,” Tweedy said.
She said she hopes projects like James Crossing and Florida Terrace will help decrease violence and poverty in the surrounding neighborhoods.
“As a city, we’ve not created a lot of investment on that side of town,” Tweedy said. “When you invest in education, when you invest in economic development ... then you see those negatives decrease.”
Olivia Johnson covers the city of Lynchburg for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5537.