Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® Supports New Zoning Ordinance Aimed at Correcting Racial Inequity and Increasing Inventory of Affordable Housing

Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® Supports New Zoning Ordinance Aimed at Correcting Racial Inequity and Increasing Inventory of Affordable Housing

March 2024

In accordance with its Comprehensive Plan, the City of Charlottesville, Virginia was anticipating scheduled land-use plan updates in the summer of 2017, when it became the site of a violent racist rally.  The event sent shock waves nationwide, and locally, it thrust racial justice to the fore of all aspects of politics and governance – land use was no exception.  In response, the city crafted a completely new planning framework based on equity and affordability.  Intensive education and advocacy efforts by the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) supported its passage, and a Consumer Advocacy Grant and an Issues Mobilization Grant from the REALTOR® Party helped fund campaigns that made the difference.

Neil Williamson, CAAR’s Government Affairs Director, explains that the City Council paused the scheduled planning updates in response to fervent calls by activists for a greater emphasis on affordable housing.  “In Charlottesville, as in many communities, affordable housing is intimately related to race.  Our newly seated City Council made it a priority to spotlight the way the land planning efforts of previous Councils had influenced racial discrimination, the racial economic gap, and housing accessibility.  The city’s historic redlining, racial covenants, and minority displacement are a direct result of Charlottesville’s planning history, and the Council recognized the need to acknowledge and examine this before moving ahead with the scheduled planning updates.”

The city then hired a consulting firm to re-write the affordable housing plan, the Comprehensive Plan, and the zoning ordinance, all informed by many hours of public meetings.   The resulting new framework is called ‘Cville Plans Together,’ and should, in time, increase the number of residential units available, diversify housing stock, and positively impact housing affordability, says Williamson.

Early in 2023, with support from the REALTOR® Party, CAAR conducted a Consumer Advocacy Campaign, getting the word out about the proposed zoning changes by driving citizens to the plan’s dedicated website:  Building on this, the association rolled out a renewed advocacy campaign in November, seeking strong support at the public hearing in early December.  The volunteer-led effort featured a full-page newspaper ad, pre-roll ads, radio ads, online ads, and patch-through calls to Council member offices; the local paper published a prominent letter from CAAR 2023 President S. Lisa Herndon.  Says Williamson, “For years, we’d been working behind the scenes, but this final push was all very public, and really showed the community that REALTORS® were leading the discussion about affordable housing.”

Following the public hearing, the bold new zoning ordinance passed unanimously, allowing both freestanding and basement ADUs, as well as duplexes, tri-plexes, and quads throughout the city. “The REALTORS® did not agree with everything in the ordinance,” notes Williamson, “but we could not let perfect be the enemy of good.  Overall, it will impact housing affordability and help build our community, and I believe we’ll look back on this generational zoning change as the start of a new, more inclusive way to plan the city.  The grants and expertise of the REALTOR® Party were instrumental in helping us get here.”

To learn more about how the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® is improving conditions for increasing affordable housing stock, contact Neil Williamson, Government Affairs Director, at or 434-962-0847.

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