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Across the Region, Affordable Housing Remains a Challenge

Suburban houses with street sign in foreground
Suburban style detached housing. (Photo by Crixell Matthews/VPM )

Affordable housing is a major challenge to people living in the region. Housing prices have risen faster than wages and income, and families and individuals are struggling to buy homes.

Working with study data from Virginia Tech and local governments, the Partnership for Housing Affordability has released a regional framework to help localities around Richmond address the limited supply of affordable housing.

In Hanover County, officials say they’re working on preserving and enhancing the aging housing stock, which the report listed as a priority.

The county is 80% rural and 20% suburban. Hanover County Supervisor Angela Kelly-Wiecek said keeping that proportion stable was their goal, adding, “Which means in the 20% of suburban service area, we need to be really strategic in terms of how we manage our neighborhoods."

One possibility would be accessory dwelling units, known colloquially as ‘granny flats’ or ‘in-law apartments.’ Currently, the county is only zoned for ADUs in special-use cases like medical care. A proposal by Del. Ibraheem Samirah would have made ADUs legal statewide, but it died in a subcommittee on Thursday. The delegate had also proposed a statewide "upzoning," which would have made multi-family homes legal by right throughout Virginia.

Director of Planning for Hanover County David Maloney agrees that housing is becoming more expensive, especially for low-income to moderate income groups. Increasing density while preserving the area’s rural landscape is a challenge. He said, “Because we do have relatively limited areas planned for higher density, of course, land costs and providing infrastructure, those are all complicating factors.”

Maloney said the county doesn’t have a specific course of action set just yet, but they do have several multi-family projects under construction or completed. Maloney said the next steps in regards to the Framework Report is for his department to have discussions with county leaders to see what direction needs to be taken.

In Henrico County, the challenge is similar, but most keenly felt in housing for older residents. The report identified an aging population and too few dedicated housing units for low-income people as major challenges.

The Framework Vision says Henrico has 44 affordable rental communities, compared to 125 at market value. Henrico County Director of Community Revitalization says they need more affordable housing, but it must be up to a healthy standard. “We want to be sure that people are living in housing that is not only affordable but that’s quality in nature,” Leabough said.

The county recently created Leabough’s position, along with a two-million dollar rehabilitation fund, a Housing Advisory Committee, county support to improve aging apartments and extended bus service

“I think the board has a good finger on the pulse of the needs of the community,” Leabough said. The Framework suggests more multi-family zoning, better integration into transportation corridors, a regional center for homeownership, and more senior tax relief are all important parts of the solution. Next weekend, Leabough will have the framework goals in hand when he meets with the board at its annual retreat.

Survey results are at  http://pharva.com/framework.

*Ian Stewart and Charles Fishburne reported this story. Additional reporting contributed by Yasmine Jumaa.

VPM News is the staff byline for articles and podcasts written and produced by multiple reporters and editors.
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