A Regional Challenge

Housing organizers present data they hope will be a game changer for policymakers.

The Partnership for Affordable Housing unveiled a solutions-oriented regional framework for the next three years to a crowd of close to 200 leaders from across the region to address housing challenges in Richmond and Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico counties.

The framework proposes five dozen solutions aiming to increase the supply of affordable rental housing, opportunities for homeownership for low- and moderate-income and first-time owners, stop displacement and ensure the senior population is safely and affordably housed.

“It became apparent very quickly we’re much more alike than we are different,” the partnership’s director of implementation, Javon Burton, said at a Jan. 15 news conference. “Aging corridors, rising housing costs and limited supply, changing demographics, a wave of seniors that’s already begun including 37,000 senior households by 2030.”

The living document comprising data outlining priority issues, action-oriented proposals and measurable outcomes is 20 months in the making and the product of monthly work sessions involving community and corporate leaders.

Each locality has experienced between a 21 and 24% increase in average sales prices since 2009, except for the city, which has seen a 56% rise in the last decade. In-kind, the need for affordable housing takes a slightly different effect across localities: In Richmond, 3,600 fewer black people own homes than in 2000. Forty-five percent of its households spend more than one-third of their income is spent on keeping roofs overhead.

Henrico’s job growth and neighborhood revitalizations are accompanied by workers who cannot afford homes. Only 11 of 67 apartment complexes accept housing vouchers, while Chesterfield anticipates more than 20,000 senior people by 2030. Across the region, the number of mortgage-burdened seniors has more than doubled since 2000.

Meanwhile, Hanover seeks to balance a demand for growth with denser housing availability in the region’s more rural areas, including in the town of Ashland, where 37 percent of households are considered cost-burdened and the cost to purchase a house has increased 144 percent since 2009.

“Right now we’re just trying to get all this information — it’s a lot of data, a lot of solutions — into the hands of the policymakers and get them to see the landscape that we’re currently in, and see that yes, it’s a regional challenge but each jurisdiction has housing needs,” says partnership Director Elizabeth Greenfield. “We’ll be presenting to boards of supervisors, council members, planning commissioners — meeting with them individually, and then working with their staff — to say, ‘what’s in here that could be something you want to address?’”

Greenfield rattles off a handful of such avenues for local lawmakers: accessory dwelling units, finding new funding streams and ways to help seniors stay in their homes.

“We hope our elected and appointed officials and our private and nonprofit and private sector developers are ready to work with us,” Greenfield says. “And I think from the support we’ve had from our work group and today that that is apparent that they’re ready to tackle this.

A number of local organizations represented in the crowd Tuesday are already putting in the leg work to surmount the uphill outlook in areas where demand significantly outpaces supply, such as the annual average build-out of 240 units for low-income households since 2014 in a market demanding more than 1,000 a year over the next two decades — or the fact that rents across the region are growing twice as fast as incomes are increasing.

“We have to preserve a mix of incomes in our communities — people should not feel displaced out of their longtime neighborhoods,” says Laura Lafayette, the chief executive of the Richmond Association of Realtors, adding that the priority for the city of Richmond should be, “looking at strategies that work at preserving a mixture of incomes and enabling people if they want to rent, rent — if they want to buy, buy — but able to do so in the city without feeling like they have been forced out.”

Lafayette pointed to several neighborhoods in Richmond at highest risk for displacing longtime residents, including Jackson Ward and Church Hill, where the number of black homeowners decreased by roughly 30% and white homeowners increased by 150% since 2000.

“Obviously Church Hill, Barton Heights, some in Carver, some in Randolph,” says Lafayette, who also chairs the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust, which recently expanded into Henrico and Chesterfield counties. “I’m going to put my Maggie Walker Community Land Trust hat on and say we’re concerned about the future of Blackwell, too. Blackwell is poised to see a tremendous amount of development over the next five years — and so how do we make sure that long-term Blackwell residents have an opportunity to stay in Blackwell if that’s what they desire?”

Mayor Levar Stoney’s pilot Eviction Diversion Program, on-track to divert roughly 500 families in its first year, also received a nod Tuesday for helping ease the displacement burden. But the metro region still faces an enormous housing affordability deficit totaling $600 million.

“We’re not naive in thinking that none of the solutions we have within this framework will require additional capital resources — we’re mindful of that,” Burton says. “We have 11 resource-oriented solutions that specifically address the financing, the funding — having an investment fund that will be provided through private capital that can be used for preservation or for awarding unawarded LIHTC [federal low income housing tax credit] deals … exploring general obligation bonds with local government for enhancement of revitalization efforts or even having tax rebates that be provided in order to get more affordability in the region.”

Greenfield points to similar measures in the legislature, including the Virginia Homebuilders Association’s push for amendments to state enabling legislation for affordable dwelling unit ordinances that would allow developers to receive an incentive such as a density bonus or fee waiver for providing affordable housing. The same group is also leading the charge on creating an advisory group to explore the creation of a state low-income-housing tax credit, she says.

“Whether it’s a private sector or nonprofit developer, they’ll tell you that the federal low-income-housing tax credit, LIHTC, is one of the key ways to help make a deal work financially — if we had a state component to layer that with and mirror that with that would be one more added incentive and tool in the tool box,” Greenfield says. “And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Governor Northam’s historic proposals for funding for the affordable housing trust fund — so I think there’s a number of things that could help advance policies in this framework.”

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