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Virginia Lawmakers Pass Measures To Protect Housing Voucher Recipients; Address Affordable Housing Shortage

House debating
House of Delegates. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/ VPM)

Studies show housing choice vouchers contribute to areas of concentrated poverty because so few landlords accept them. 

Legislation that would offer protections to Virginia renters relying on government assistance, like housing vouchers, passed the General Assembly on Tuesday — but it had some pushback. The bill’s sponsor, Del. Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond) said critics of the measure missed the point of what it was actually trying to do.

“The one thing that frustrates me the most is that people believe we are forcing landlords to take a voucher, and that’s not anywhere close to what we’re doing,” Bourne said. 

His legislation would ban landlords from discriminating against residents’ sources of income. 

Under current state law, landlords can refuse to give voucher holders rental applications. Bourne said the bill aims to eliminate these obstacles and give low-income residents a fair chance when looking for housing. 

Now, Bourne said lawmakers can focus on tackling other housing-related issues.

“Figuring out how we could support the housing authorities to make sure that they are as efficient and effective as they can be,” Bourne said. “And making sure that we really are trying to incentivize the creation and developing more truly affordable units.”

The state legislature also passed another one of Bourne’s efforts to tackle Virginia’s affordable housing shortage last week. The bill would create a commission to work on incentives for private developers to build more affordable housing. 

The Department of Housing and Community Development and the Virginia Housing Development Authority would spearhead the group, which is tasked with researching, drafting and submitting a bill to establish a state tax credit program for the 2021 legislative session.

Bourne said this is a good opportunity to come up with a program tailored to fit Virginia’s specific needs. 

“We’re not rushing to judgment, we’re going to get experiences and lessons learned from other states that have done this,” Bourne said. 

The commission will have to figure out how to pay for the state tax credits, and how it could work alongside the existing federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program. The report will be due by Sept. 1. Members will include developers and experts in both affordable housing and finance. 

Both bills are headed to Governor Ralph Northam’s desk and await his signature to become law.