Category Archives: Housing

Homelessness in Petersburg – Part 2

Travel Inn was shut down by the ACE team in June. Courtesy Joyce Chu, Progress Index.

by James C. Sherlock

I wrote yesterday about the excellent investigative reporting by the Progress-Index about the knock-on effects of the renewal of fire and building code enforcement in Petersburg.

My position is that Petersburg must enforce its codes for public safety and the livability of the city.

But I also recognize the need to provide better solutions to homelessness in that city. I am pursuing a story on that subject.

But in the meanwhile, the Progress-Index’s Joyce Chu has posted her second article in that series.  I refer to

‘A fresh can of nowhere to go’: Health and stability stumble with fewer motel rooms for those on the edge”

It consists almost exclusively of the stories of those displaced with the closure of those motels.

It is powerful stuff.

Petersburg Resumes Important Actions Against City Code Violators — Homeless Needs Increase

Travel Inn was shut down by the ACE team in June. Courtesy Joyce Chu, Progress Index.

by James C. Sherlock

Sometimes absolutely necessary actions have more than one outcome.

Such is the case in Petersburg.

Joyce Chu of Petersburg’s indispensable Progress- Index last evening initiated a multi-part series on the impacts of the city’s closure due to safety violations of two motels used by otherwise homeless people.

Her first article makes a case for more government and charitable services for the people affected by the closures. Good for her. No one wants people living on the streets and everyone wants the kids in school.

She explains that the California Inn, OYO and Travel Inn motels, among a group of low cost motels right off of I-95, were

also hotbeds of crime, drug overdoses and prostitution mixed in with families with children, according to former residents and homeless advocates.

She points out that Petersburg has resumed (after a lengthy period when it did not) enforcing its zoning codes. A team called the ACE team — Abatement, Compliance, and Enforcement — is on task, run by the Fire Chief.

Code enforcement is an absolutely necessary step to revitalize the city.

So is helping those adversely affected.  -Hotel owners should be forced within the limits of the law to assist. Continue reading

Youngkin Affordable-Housing Plan: Reform Regs to Increase Supply

by James A. Bacon

Governor Glenn Youngkin unveiled his plan Friday to promote the supply of affordable housing across Virginia. Other than a couple of television stations, the legacy media ignored the story on how the Governor proposes to address one of the most pressing public policy issues in Virginia. Too bad. The plan represents a significant philosophical shift for the Old Dominion.

The plan is notable for its emphasis on increasing the private-sector supply of housing rather than dumping endless sums of money into government housing projects.

The plan, said Youngkin in making the announcement, “is designed to address the restrictions on housing supply, improve and streamline permitting processes, and protect property owner rights. For far too long, Virginians have faced unnecessary burdens that have limited their housing options and opportunities.”

Caren Merrick, secretary of Commerce and Trade, also framed the plan as an economic development initiative. “The availability of workforce housing for their future employees [is] consistently raised by employers,” she said in the announcement. “The plan will align housing development with economic growth as part of our site development process and we will engage with site selectors earlier in the recruitment process on housing to ensure workforce housing needs are addressed.”

The “Make Virginia Home Plan” will focus on the following areas: Continue reading

What Housing Slowdown?

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

I keep reading and hearing that the housing market has cooled. Well, the folks in my neighborhood have not gotten the message.

About three weeks ago, a house a block and a half from me went on the market. It quickly went under contract. Then, a couple of weeks ago, a “For Sale” sign went up in front of a house near mine. Within two or three days, the owner had five offers, at least two of which were for more than the listing price and one of those was a cash offer. The offer that was ultimately accepted was significantly above the listing price; the buyer was pre-qualified; the offer included no contingencies, not even a home inspection; and, in case the appraisal was less than the amount being offered, the buyer stipulated that he/she would cover a significant amount of any difference.

This house is in good condition, but the final sale price was about the same as that for a larger house also in fine condition down the street that sold last summer when interest rates were about half what they are today.

On my morning walk today, I saw a house on another street with a realtor’s sign denoting it was “Sold”.

My reassessment and tax bill for next year just went up.

Oh, to be a Realtor these days!

“The City Is Shaming Itself”

Photo credit: Richmond.com

by Jon Baliles

It was cold at night this week but not as cold as it will soon get, and a warming trend over the next week looks likely (never trust the weather forecast more than 48 hours in advance). That is good news for those who seek a warm place to sleep at night, since the city can’t seem to get its act together in regard to a warm weather shelter. Actually, it’s difficult to discern whether or not the city is having a hard time or if it even gives a damn whether the shelter opens or not.

VPM noted that last week at City Council’s Education and Human Services Committee meeting, Councilwoman Stephanie Lynch said, We are not meeting our moral obligation. We are failing.”

Since the closing of the city’s main shelter at the Annie Giles Center in Shockoe Valley in 2020 during the pandemic, there has (barely) been a patchwork of band-aid solutions and fits and starts at opening another shelter.

The Free Press reports this week that the city opened two shelters this week as temperatures dropped into the 30’s — one with 50 beds for men and another with 50 for women — but no space allowed for adults with children. And apparently, not many people knew about it. Continue reading

Things Fall Apart: Virginia Homelessness Up 7%

Homeless encampment outside of Dale City. Photo credit: NBC4 Washington.

by James A. Bacon

An estimated 5,335 people lived in homeless shelters in Virginia in 2021, a 7% increase from the previous year, according to an article in Stacker, a national nonprofit news source. The Old Dominion ranked 10th nationally in the size of its percentage increase since 2020.

Nationally, the number of people living in shelters declined 8%. What those numbers apparently do not include, however, is the number of unsheltered homeless — those living on the streets or in the woods.

Here is Stacker’s commentary:

After the pandemic’s eviction moratorium ended in June 2022, Virginia saw a spike in people losing their homes and going to court to fight evictions. Pandemic-related funding for transitional hotel housing for people experiencing homelessness also ended, leaving many to return to the streets or find shelter elsewhere. A shortage of space in emergency shelters is an ongoing issue in parts of the state, where waitlists to get into some facilities are in the hundreds. The closure of seasonal hypothermia shelters further contributed to a rise in unsheltered unhoused people.

The problem with homeless policy across the country is that it is reactive. It addresses symptoms, not causes. Continue reading

Richmond Tax Assessments: Through the Roof

by Jon Baliles

One story you will be hearing about and living through in the next week or so (if you live in the City) is that the new assessment notifications are arriving in people’s mailboxes. And they are literally though the roof.

Some areas are up from 18% in the Westover Hills area and Scott’s Addition to 20% increases in the East End, to 41% in the Fan. Sales of homes in the last year are running super high which is driving valuations.

Richie McKeithen, Richmond City Assessor, says:

Richmond is seeing an influx of people moving here from New York, DC and Philadelphia. The normal vacancy rate for homes in the city is usually between 15% and 20%. Right now, it’s around 1%.

And they’re coming here, and they’re buying property, and they have resources to buy properties at a higher value than what we have them assessed for.

Continue reading

North of the James: Fastest Growing Housing Prices on the East Coast

Growth in Home Values 2000 to 2019. Source: StatChatva.org

by James A. Bacon

Ever since the late 1930s Virginia’s population has grown faster than that of the nation — until the past few years, that is. Recently, Virginia has experienced a slight net out-migration of domestic residents, and population growth has slowed to match that of the U.S. as a whole.

Writing in the StatChat blog, Hamilton Lombard at the University of Virginia’s Demographics Research Group suggests that a contributing factor is the relative rising cost of housing. He writes:

As recently as the 1990s, Virginia was, like its southern neighbors, a significantly more affordable place to live than most northeastern states. The median home price in Virginia in 1990 was half that of Connecticut but close to a third more than in North Carolina. However, over the past couple of decades, home prices in most places in Virginia rose faster than the rest of country. Continue reading

Systemic Racism Lives

Nathan Connolly and Shani Mott in front of their Baltimore home Photo credit: New York Times

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

For those folks on this blog who keep denying that systemic racism either ever existed or is still a factor in today’s society, I offer an incident reported in today’s New York Times as evidence that systemic racism is still alive and operating to discriminate against Blacks.

Last summer, a Black couple in Baltimore, Nathan Connolly and Shani Mott, decided to take advantage of low mortgage rates and refinance their home. They found a lender willing to lend them the money. However, the appraisal for the house came in at $472,000, only $22,000 more than what they had paid for the house five years ago. Keep in mind that home values had been escalating significantly over the past few years.

Dr. Connolly, who is a history professor at Johns Hopkins University, and whose special area of research has been the role of race in the housing market, thought he knew why the appraisal came in much lower that they had anticipated. Continue reading

The Circle of Government Fecklessness and Homelessness – Newport News Edition

Newport News City Manager Cynthia Rohlf

by James C. Sherlock

Newport News ought to work.

It starts with Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS). I’ll let them describe it.

Newport News Shipbuilding is the sole designer, builder and refueler of U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and one of two providers of U.S. Navy submarines.

With approximately $4 billion in revenues and more than 25,000 employees, we are the largest industrial employer in Virginia and the largest shipbuilding company in the United States.

We build the most advanced ships in the world using our expertise in nuclear propulsion, naval design and manufacturing.

Many of the 187,000 citizens of Newport News either have a family member who works at NNS, one of its 2,000 active suppliers (half of which are small businesses) or one of the businesses who provide services to those employees. The population of Newport News is a full five years younger (median age 32.9) than that of the rest of Virginia (37.8).

So, as I said, Newport News as a city ought to work, if for no other reason than that it is anchored by 550 acres of the most spectacularly accomplished industrial plant and white- and blue-collar workers in the world.

But in key government services it does not work. Continue reading

An Innovative Initiative from UVa Shows A Way to Increase Low Cost Housing

Courtesy UVa

by James C. Sherlock

In July I published a series of reports here on the lack of sufficient low-cost housing.

The University of Virginia is addressing that problem head on in Charlottesville and Albemarle County. The innovation at the core of the program can be applied by Redevelopment and Housing Agencies (RHAs) across the state.

The idea came from the fact that 30% or more of the cost of developing housing is land cost. If a government, university foundation or any landowner would lease — long-term — underutilized land to a private property developer at a negligible land rent, the developer can make a profit with rents that are 30% below market.

This is how the University is building workforce housing for police, firefighters, nurses, school teachers and university blue collar workers. The idea, introduced by Jim Murray, a member of the Board of Visitors now also on the Affordable Housing Advisory Group at UVa, has been around for at least six years.

The concept will soon be reality.

The University program details can be found here.

Every city and county has an inventory of land, some of it forfeited in lieu of tax payments or seized in civil or criminal proceedings. In combination with zoning actions, it can be used for low-cost housing.

The UVa program is replicable. I hope the RHAs will consider it.

The Public Housing and Education Debate – Who, Exactly, are the Racists?

Norfolk public housing immediately adjacent to old Virginian-Pilot building

by James C. Sherlock

There is agreement on both sides of the political divide in Virginia and the rest of the country that public housing projects were and are hellholes.

I have written that the bipartisan response, vouchers, run into lack of supply virtually everywhere.

Cue the debate about causes and solutions.

Let’s take a look at the evidence. Continue reading

Portsmouth, Norfolk and Newport News – New Applications for Section 8 Vouchers, Public Housing Mostly Closed

Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District – Congressman Bobby Scott (D)

by James C. Sherlock

I authored a piece here recently about the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority (NRHA) and the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program.

I made the point that it is very difficult to find housing that can profitably be rehabbed to Section 8 standards.

I note that the only open waiting list in the NRHA is for an apartment at Riverside Station Apartments, a 220-apartment mixed-use development using tax credits for public housing set-asides. Twenty-three apartments are set aside for NRHA, but the development is not yet ready for occupancy. I am unable to determine when it will be.

In the spirit of evenhandedness, I offer the following about vouchers and public housing at the Portsmouth Redevelopment and Housing Agency (PRHA) and the Newport News Redevelopment and Housing Agency.

In Portsmouth and Newport News, both the voucher programs and the public housing program waiting lists are closed to new applicants, and reportedly have been for years. The only exception noted is in the availability of single room accommodations in public housing in Portsmouth.

It is sad. We hear all about the housing programs when they are authorized and funded.

Nothing when they create expectations — dependencies really — that they fail to meet. Let’s take a look. Continue reading

Capitalism is the Solution To, Not the Cause Of, the Affordable Housing Crisis

by James C. Sherlock

My colleague Dick Hall-Sizemore posted a column here on housing for the poor. He titled it “Little Guys Lose Again.” His opening:

A recent article on this blog about the high cost of housing generated a considerable amount of discussion. Much of the discussion centered around the role of government in contributing to the affordable housing shortage.

I offer another reason: good old-fashioned capitalism.

Interesting perspective, but I disagree.

I offer a question directly on point: why have federal antipoverty housing programs failed in their missions? Why is there not enough low cost housing for the poor?

We will pursue the answer. Hint — the problem isn’t capitalism. Not even a little bit. Continue reading

Little Guys Lose, Again

Smitty’s Mobile Home Park, Norfolk.   Photo credit: Virginian Pilot

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

A recent article on this blog about the high cost of housing generated a considerable amount of discussion.   Much of the discussion centered around the role of government in contributing to the affordable housing shortage.

I offer another reason: good old-fashioned capitalism.

A recent article in The Virginian Pilot well illustrates this point. A mobile park in Norfolk in which approximately 100 mobile homes are located has been sold to an Alexandria-based real estate company.

The real estate company paid $9.75 million for the 12-acre park. It did not shell out this money to own and operate a mobile home park. It plans to construct a 418-unit apartment and townhome complex with a pool, a clubhouse and a recreation area. The current tenants have until March 2023 to vacate. Some have lived there for more than fifty years. Continue reading