Strengthening Community: A Tenant’s Story

A police officer, a raincoat person wearing a large dog head, a mother and child all gather in front of a community day stalll

Westhaven Community Day photo by Sarah is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
An unlikely cast of characters celebrate Westhaven Community Day, Charlottesville, Virginia.

This is part of a series about community. Growing and sustaining a community brings benefits to the participants, provides a means of personal development and builds hope and resilience. It can also smooth the path to build more liveable, life-fulfilling housing for people with very low and no incomes. For more on the series, try: Building More Housing By Strengthening Community


Joy Johnson moved to Westhaven, a public housing project in Charlottesville, Virginia in 1988. Over 20 years ago, with a neighbour, Joy founded the Public Housing Association of Residents. This year, she received the Cushing Dolbeare Lifetime Service Award from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which recognizes her work in building community. Eager to share the credit, she points out that the achievements are the result of community working together, rather than individual initiative.

In 2017, when Charlottesville began planning to redevelop two public housing sites, Joy’s group was at the table, helping to plan and design the new projects. Those years of community building will soon pay off in more housing for people with low incomes and a design that respects local experience.

Johnson reflects on her entire career at Charlottesville Tomorrow: As resident-led public housing redevelopment begins, Joy Johnson reflects on a lifetime in housing advocacy

After 40 years, Johnson still has a housing advocate’s eye on the future. In the following article, she talks about how the Association is evolving to continue its work. She also introduces the new Executive Director, Shelby Edwards, who shares plans for the Association going forward. Read this part of the Association’s story at Charlottesville Tomorrow: “It’s about the generations:” Looking forward to the future of PHAR

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