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Action Plan To Increase Affordable Housing In Richmond Region Released

Row houses
Medium-density row houses. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

Representatives from local government joined the Partnership for Housing Affordability on Wednesday to unveil the region’s first framework to address the lack of affordable housing options. The lengthy report sets goals for each locality, and proposes solutions to meet them. 

The framework includes research from Virginia Tech's Center for Housing Research, analyzing housing trends over the last decade. The sales price of homes increased 27% in Chesterfield, 22% in Hanover and 21% in Henrico, but in Richmond it’s grown 56%, trailing behind increases in household income.

“We have a lot more in common as far as the challenges and the opportunities,” said Greta Harris, CEO of the Better Housing Coalition and a member of the partnership.

A lack of affordable housing advances poverty. It leads to disparities in health, education and social opportunities that mostly affect the region’s lowest-income individuals, according to the framework. White homeownership in the region is about 75%, whereas Black homeownership is at 50%.

“We have to renew our commitment to homeownership across the board, because in America, that’s how wealth is built,” Harris said. 

The framework outlines six regional goals and multiple strategies to achieve them. The first is to increase affordable rental housing. Solutions include more multifamily zoning, increasing the number of rentals that accept housing vouchers through landlord education, and working to preserve existing affordable housing developments. 

“We're trying to incentivize the private sector market to participate in addressing this need,” Harris said. “I think there are probably like 20 cranes just around the city of Richmond doing residential development and hardly any of it is affordable.”

But what is “affordable” housing? The framework defines it as a home, either owned or rented, where basic housing costs are no more than 30% of a household’s monthly income.

Housing affordability differs from person to person. One measurement is spending no more than 30% of a household’s income on basic living costs. People who spend more are described as cost-burdened. In the region, more than 125,000 people are affected by this, according to a report by the Virginia Center for Housing Research at Virginia Tech.

More than 40% of those individuals are “severely” cost-burdened — meaning they have to spend more than half of their income on housing.

The nonprofit surveyed a total of about 2,000 people in the City of Richmond and Hanover, Henrico, and Chesterfield Counties. Sequoia Ross was one of them. The Richmond resident and small-business owner said income and credit challenges have made it difficult to find a home. When VPM interviewed her in June, she was in-between houses. 

“Single parents, working people just can't afford $1,000 and up in rent a month. That's not affordable for working families who have a general income of $25-$40,000,” Ross said. 

Other goals for the partnership include closing the homeownership gap; programs to help seniors stay in safe, affordable homes; and reducing displacement in gentrifying neighborhoods. 

There’s legislation circulating at the Virginia General Assembly that could advance some goals in the framework. Legislation filed by Del. Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond) would create an advisory group to write legislation to create a new state tax incentive program. Another bill would offer protections to tenants relying on government assistance, like housing choice vouchers

Governor Ralph Northam has a proposed increase the affordable housing budget by more than $90 million would invest over $60 million in the Virginia Affordable Housing Trust Fund. 

The framework also outlines solutions rooted outside of the state legislature, like updated local zoning ordinances. 

“Something I would love to see is allowing accessory dwelling units,  otherwise known as granny flats, allowed in certain residential districts,” said Elizabeth Greenfield, executive director of the partnership.

This would allow a homeowner to more easily convert a garage into an apartment, or build a unit in their backyard and rent it out.

A bill filed by Del. Ibraheem Samirah (D-Herndon) would make accessory dwelling units legal by right statewide. If his legislation is enacted, it would be the first state-wide “upzoning” bill allowing greater density implemented in America.

Greenfield also said the nonprofit aims to create a regional housing center to operate as a one-stop-shop for both renters and homeowners to get access to housing-related help and information.  

Now that the framework has been released, local governments, nonprofits and developers will start working to implement proposed recommendations. There’s no deadline for achieving results, but the Partnership for Housing Affordability plans to track the progress of each locality and the region as a whole.

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