Can We Afford Affordable?

Photo credit: The Harrisonburg Citizen

Magical thinking doesn’t build schools or roads.

by Joe Fitzgerald

Harrisonburg’s taxes are going up and will continue to go up because of housing decisions.

Stated another way, because talking about taxes makes me sound like a Republican, the city will have to keep building more schools and hiring more teachers and bus drivers and principals because of a perceived housing crisis (or, if you prefer, the way the solution to the housing crisis is being perceived).

The past housing decision was the zoning change that encouraged owners of large properties to add 3,000 beds of student housing a decade or so back. Students moved out of older complexes and families with children moved in.
The future housing decision is the proposed Garber’s Church Road complex that will add 1,000 housing units to the city. The idea is that the complex, planned by the Harrisonburg Housing Redevelopment Authority, will provide better housing for people who can’t afford it now. It’s a laudable goal, taken in isolation.

The chair of the housing authority told The Harrisonburg Citizen the project wouldn’t draw more residents to the city. “This is predominantly housing for people already here.”

The first question would be how that exclusivity will be enforced or, failing that, what sociological phenomenon will make only current residents want to live there. The second is what happens to the housing in Harrisonburg that these people move out of, assuming the original claim is somehow true.

Historically, families with children will move in. It’s not clear why the HRHA chair thinks things will be different this time. “[N]o cost to the city taxpayer,” he tells The Citizen. Then again, if each of those units has two children in it, that’s a potential cost of $12 million plus the cost of three or four new school buildings, based on current funding per student.

People need affordable housing. That should be the beginning of the discussion, not the end of it. Unless there’s a plan to tear down the housing these folks move out of, the city needs to take a deeper dive into the broader aspects of what affordable means.

This column has been republished with permission from Still Not Sleeping.

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7 responses to “Can We Afford Affordable?”

  1. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

    Local government is facing a huge financial dilemma. For years we heard that local governments need substantial commercial growth and the traffic that comes with it because few residents pay enough in property taxes to cover the costs of government operations and services. Makes sense.

    Then we find that new housing starts dropped dramatically during the Great Recession and have not bounced back. Thus, many communities find themselves with a shortage of housing, which, in turn, is pushing up the price of purchasing or renting a home.

    Both corrupt political parties have supported weak or no enforcement of our immigration laws that, while enriching those who hire people not authorized to work in the United States and keeping the professional caring class employed, have kept downward pressure on wages for lower-skilled jobs and pushed up demand for expensive government services. Lower-skilled Americans have less money for housing, while the cost of local government continues to outpace inflation and economic growth.

    Then, COVID hits, which pushes lots of small businesses into closing and accelerates the work from home trend. The latter reduces the demand for commercial space and real estate taxes from commercial buildings that, in turn, pushes residential real estate taxes higher, making housing even less affordable.

    There is no easy solution to these problems. But it would be a good start if we could start discussing them.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    We’re building apartments in Fredericksburg like there is no tomorrow.

    Mostly upscale , some are for empty nesters and some are for young professional – even married , even with kids and a few are “workforce” and some others are subsidized low income. All told -way more than single-family construction.

    A bunch are near the VRE stations.

    Others are not far from an I-95 ramps.

    NoVa is expanding and moving south and traffic sucks big time.

  3. The first question would be how that exclusivity will be enforced or, failing that, what sociological phenomenon will make only current residents want to live there.

    They could create and deploy an Unwelcome Wagon to visit anyone who moves in from outside the city.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      I understand that was a popular approach in the South during the last century.

      1. Yes. However, race would nave nothing to do with my Unwelcome Wagon.

        My Unwelcome Wagon would visit anyone of whom it could be said: “You’re not from around here, are ya’?”


        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          Yankees? Carpetbaggers, eh?

          Actually, one of my best friends was an Unwelcome Wagoneer. God, he was xenophobic! Called anybody whose great grandparents weren’t born in Hampton a carpetbagger. And meant it. Great guy other than that.

  4. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
    Baconator with extra cheese

    The problem with housing is whiteness and the fact that most people expect a Eurocentric approach to housing. We can ensure affordable housing by regressing to a housing model seen in rural Asia and sub-Saharan rural Africa. There is plenty of room in every locality for huts. And there is no need for Eurocentric plumbing.

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