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Habitat for Humanity groups suspend new home applications over lack of affordable land

Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg
AmeriCorps volunteers work on one of the homes under construction by the Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg.

Read the original article on WHRO's website.

Habitat for Humanity of South Hampton Roads recently announced it would postpone its annual applications window for low-income families seeking homes through the group.

The reason: It can’t find affordable land to build those homes on.

The announcement came after other Habitat chapters — including those in Richmond and Williamsburg — found themselves in similar similar positions.

Janet Green, who runs the Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg chapter, said the group saw a record 280 applications for its new homebuyer program in 2023. But for the first time in its 39-year history, the group won't open the doors to applicants this spring.

“And that is all due to lack of available and affordable land,” Green said.

She called it a “perfect storm” of a housing crisis. For Habitat to maintain the price point their applicants can manage, Green said the group can spend around $30,000 per parcel of land.

In the areas around Williamsburg where affordable housing is most needed, Green said “those lots are now going for triple and quadruple those amounts,” and the cost hike would make mortgages unaffordable for families served by the group.

“This is going on all over Virginia … and I suspect it's happening in other parts of the country as well,” Green said.

Stephen Abbitt serves on the Peninsula Habitat board and runs the Newport News-based Abbitt Realty Company.

"Finding shovel-ready land is difficult, and that's causing problems for developers and for Habitat," Abbit said.

He said when housing prices spiked during the pandemic "land was no exception" — and that's just one variable among many in development that's gotten more expensive.

Home prices across Virginia have increased by about 40%since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data from the Federal Reserve.

Trade group Realtors Land Institute’s 2023 Land Market Survey shows the South, including Virginia, is among the hottest markets nationally for the sale of undeveloped property.

For builders, the pandemic wreaked havoc with construction schedules and material costs. Habitat for Humanity International cited the cost and delay in building materials as a major issue facing the nonprofit in 2021, though Green said those prices are coming down now. She said her group was able to weather changes by working with suppliers to keep costs under control.

Peninsula Habitat is currently constructing 14 homes for applicants from the past two years.

“These are people who are teaching our children in schools, they're taking care of our parents in hospitals and senior centers, they're feeding me in restaurants,” Green said. “They are great members of our neighborhoods, they're our neighbors, and we really think we should be supporting them with more affordable housing.”

Since the February announcement, Green said her group’s gotten some leads on properties in the Williamsburg area, but nothing concrete has materialized.

If the Peninsula chapter can get its hands on some land, it would reopen applications, Green said. That could happen late this summer.

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