In 2014, the City of Danville contracted with czb, a planning firm based in Alexandria, VA, to assess the status of housing across the city and to identify opportunities to strengthen housing quality, values and markets. The study identified four major housing issues in Danville:
- Excess supply due to population declines, with over 17 percent of all residential properties reported to be vacant
- Danville’s geographic isolation from external markets, suppressing housing demand
- High poverty and declining incomes, which affects demand, maintenance, capital improvements, and neighborhood stability
- A large inventory of unappealing housing stock, much of which is outdated for today’s young professionals and families
Further affecting home values is the shortage of quality of life amenities in many older neighborhoods, including pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, parks and greenspaces, and convenient, desirable commercial areas. The report also highlighted that many neighborhoods are disconnected physically and otherwise from some of Danville’s most important assets, including the recreational, cultural, educational and employment assets in and around the highly-desirable River District.
Despite these challenges, the report outlined a number of place-based and supply-side opportunities for the City to improve housing stock and housing values, urging that whatever the interventions, they must be developed and implemented as an integral part of the City’s economic development strategies.
Building on the data and recommendations outlined in the czb report, in May, 2015, the City of Danville contracted with the National Resource Network (NRN) to conduct a more detailed assessment of core socio-economic challenges and opportunities in Danville as it sought to become a ‘city of choice’ for good jobs, adequate housing, and healthy neighborhoods. Over the next few months, NRN conducted a series of stakeholder interviews and a data analysis that both affirmed and added value to the czb report. NRN also highlighted a number of City assets, including strong commitment to action by City leadership and stakeholders; the strong fiscal and operational capacity within the City despite population decline; and the leadership of the Danville Regional Foundation in supporting public, non-profit and private community and economic development efforts.
Based on these findings, in 2016 the City asked NRN to provide additional technical assistance to support the creation of an independent, non-profit community development corporation (CDC) that would focus on housing and neighborhood economic development, crime reduction, and improvements in educational and health outcomes. As part of this work, NRN coordinated a working group of civic leaders and community stakeholders to inform the CDC’s composition and direction.
Confident that Danville was ripe for a CDC, the City of Danville committed to funding the start-up and operations of the Danville Neighborhood Development Corporation, or DNDC. By late 2016, a few members of the working group and additional recruits became the founding Board of Directors, and articles of incorporation and by-laws were filed with the commonwealth of Virginia in August, 2016. After an extensive search that started in 2016, the Board hired Ernecia Coles as its full-time leader in June 2017. Since then, she has focused on program planning, identifying initial target neighborhoods, meeting residents and other stakeholders in those communities, and obtaining the organization’s federal tax exemption under section 501(c)(3). A native of Chatham, VA, Ms. Coles completed undergraduate studies at the University of Virginia and graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis, MO. While in St. Louis, she acquired over 15 years of experience in community and housing development in both St. Louis city and East St. Louis, IL. She also served as a campaign director to establish a housing trust fund in the city of St. Louis, and on the board of directors for the Gateway Community Development Fund, Inc. She was Executive Director of the River District Association in Danville, VA from 2015 until June 2017.