Category Archives: Housing

Rolling Back Regulations Easier Said Than Done

by James A. Bacon

Virginia has lagged the nation in economic growth and job creation for a decade or more, and Governor Glenn Youngkin has made it a priority, as every governor does, to boost economic development. One of his strategies for rebooting the economy is to prune needless regulation.

“The growing regulatory burden on businesses and individuals requires time, money and energy for compliance. This represents an opportunity loss that inhibits job creation and economic growth,” Youngkin says in Executive Directive Number One, “Laying a Strong Foundation for Job Creation and Economic Growth Through Targeted Regulatory Reductions.”

Accordingly, Youngkin has directed all state agencies under his authority to reduce the number of regulations not mandated by federal or state statute by 25%. He also directs the Secretary of Finance to explore the feasibility of implementing a 2-for-1 “regulatory budget.” (The meaning of the 2-for-1 budget is not defined in the directive, but I interpret it as a call for deleting two regulations for every new regulation promulgated.)

This is all fine and good — I share the aspiration of rolling back the regulatory state — but we have to be realistic. The number of regulations not mandated by federal or state law is miniscule. With the exception of the regulatory diktats issued by former Governor Ralph Northam in response to the COVID emergency (which Youngkin is nullifying by separate executive orders), Virginia governors and state officials can’t impose new regulations by fiat. Continue reading

Imprisoned by the Past

Libby Prison on Cary Street, Richmond, circa 1865. Photo credit: Flickr

by James A. Bacon

As a parting gift to Virginia, outgoing Attorney General Mark Herring has overturned 58 opinions issued by attorneys general between 1904 and 1967 that supported racially discriminatory laws from poll taxes to the prohibition of interracial marriage.

“While these discriminatory and racist laws are no longer on the books in Virginia, the opinions still are, which is why I am proud to overrule them,” Herring said in a press release today. “We are not the Virginia we used to be, and in order to truly be the Virginia that we want to be in the future we need to remove any last vestiges of these racist laws.”

Herring’s action will have no practical effect — the laws supported by these opinions have all been overturned. But many African-American politicians and activists found solace in the gesture.

“Just like Virginia wiped racist, outdated laws off its books in recent years, so too should it wipe away racist, outdated legal opinions that supported and helped to implement those laws,” said Cynthia Hudson, a former chief deputy attorney general and chair of the Commission to Examine Racial Equity in Virginia’s law.

I have mixed emotions. I can see the symbolic value of getting these heinous rulings off the books. (See a compilation here.) We should slam the door on Virginia’s racist past. However, I find the fixation on the past a distraction from current-day injustices that have origins unrelated to historic racism. Continually dredging up ancient wrongs feeds African Americans’ sense of alienation, victimhood and grievance, and it perpetuates the false narrative of systemic modern-day racism. Continue reading

Chronic Complainers Notch Big Win Against Landlords

by James A. Bacon

Whether you agree or disagree with Attorney General Mark Herring’s position on the case, a dispute between an unnamed individual with mental health issues and her Manassas landlords, Gia and Ernest Hairston, makes a fascinating case study. In a press release, Herring touts the outcome — the landlords paying the tenant $60,000 in compensation — as a victory for the disabled. Based upon upon the facts provided in the press release, it looks more like a victory for chronic complainers.

Here are the facts as contained in a Herring press release issued today. The tenant rented a condominium unit from the Hairstons in the summer of 2018. She told Mr. Hairston that she lived with a mental health condition that was currently under control. After moving in, she complained about the air conditioning system on very hot days and made requests for other repairs.

Mr. Hairston became frustrated by the maintenance requests, telling her that “any adult” would know better and that she was being “difficult” and “a problem.” He said the maintenance concerns were “all in her head.” To document the necessity for the repair requests, the tenant asked that any time the Hairstons came to the unit that her therapist or caseworker be present. After agreeing initially, Mr. Hairston then terminated her lease, giving her 90 days to move. Continue reading

No Critical Race Theory to See Here. Move Along Now.

Ibram Kendi

Ibram Kendi, the nation’s most highly acclaimed and in-demand interpreter of Critical Race Theory in America today, will be the keynote speaker at the Virginia Governor’s Housing Conference in November. His conference biography notes that he has authored several books about racism, including “How to Be an Antiracist,” “Antiracist Baby,” and “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You.”

Many conference topics have a social justice angle to them: closing the wealth gap, increasing minority homeownership, federal recognition of “sovereign nations,” ending youth homelessness, preventing evictions and foreclosures, and changes in Virginia Fair Housing Laws.

But, hey, at least it’s not CRT in the schools! — JAB

Another Assault on Virginia Landlords

HUD listening session soliciting input from landlords.

by James A. Bacon

The Office of the Attorney General has filed lawsuits accusing 13 Richmond-area real estate companies of discriminating against prospective renters who receive federal housing vouchers.

“Every single Virginian has the right to a safe, comfortable home, regardless of whether they have some assistance paying their rent,” said Attorney General Mark Herring. “Blocking Virginians who would use a [voucher] to pay their rent is outright housing discrimination and will not be tolerated in Virginia.”

Housing vouchers allow recipients to escape public housing projects and move freely in the private rental market. But participation in the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD program is voluntary, and many landlords opt out. Herring views such behavior as a form of housing “discrimination,” a way to screen out potentially undesirable tenants, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. While federal law does not prohibit discrimination based on the source of income, the practice may violate a state anti-discrimination law enacted in 2020. These lawsuits put the Virginia law to the test.

What could go wrong? Continue reading

Wait, What? Renter Credit Scores Are Improving?

Average credit scores. Graph credit: Consumer Protection Finance Bureau

by James A. Bacon

Who would have guessed? For all the angst over the “eviction crisis” precipitated by COVID-19-related job losses, it turns out that the financial condition of low-income renters improved overall as the epidemic wore on, according to a new report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The federal bureau credits stimulus payments, stepped up unemployment insurance benefits, and the suspension of college loan repayments for the change.

Virginia advocates of tenant rights used the eviction crisis as justification for the partial moratorium on evictions through June 2022. (Before evicting tenants for unpaid rent, landlords need to give tenants 45 days to get rental assistance approved.) At one level, the crisis appeared to be very real. The Virginia Unemployment Commission fell far behind in processing unemployment benefits to workers who lost their jobs, which seemed a plausible explanation for why so many were falling behind on their rent payments.

Administrative failures may be responsible for Virginia’s eviction crisis, but the CFPB report suggests that the story is more complicated than commonly portrayed. Continue reading

Home Values and School Quality

Source: Virginia Association of Realtors

by James A. Bacon

It has become commonly accepted wisdom that a leading cause of poverty  in Virginia is the phenomenon in which affluent citizens use their superior buying power to move to school districts with the highest quality schools. The poor, who have little buying power, are stuck in the worst school districts and get worse educations. Poor kids stuck in poor schools are more likely to grow up…. poor.

I am not disputing that belief, but I am subjecting it to critical scrutiny. The effect likely is real, but we don’t know if it is strong or weak.

On the one hand, there is abundant evidence that school quality and home prices are inter-related. In a recent blog post Lisa Sturtevant, chief economist for the Virginia Association of Realtors, cites a National Association of Realtors survey finding that 24% of home owners say the quality of schools was important when they were looking for a new home. The share rises to 42% for home buyers between the ages of 31 and 40. Another study has found that a five percent improvement in test scores in a school district can raise home prices by 2.5 percent. Another study concluded that homes in top-ranked school districts get more viewers and sell faster. Continue reading

Virginia Leads Nation in Distributing Rent-Relief Funds

by James A. Bacon

Virginia has done a better job than any other state in distributing its share of $46.5 billion in federal COVID-relief aid to renters, according to Treasury Department data published in the Wall Street Journal. Virginia has gotten 53% of its dollars into the hands of renters and landlords compared to 10% nationally.

Over the past four months alone, Virginia has distributed $235 million to nearly 35,400 families.

The program is administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. Chesterfield County runs its own program, accounting for $7.9 million in distributions, as does Fairfax County, which has  passed out another $4 million, according to Treasury Department data

In contrast to the abysmal job of getting unemployment insurance payments to out-of-work Virginians, the distribution of rent relief appears to be a Northam administration success story. Continue reading

SCOTUS: Give Rochelle Walensky Something to Cry About

by Kerry Dougherty

It won’t be long before the U.S. Supreme Court smacks down CDC Director Rochelle Walensky’s order that revived until October 3rd a glaringly unconstitutional eviction moratorium.

I can’t wait.

They’ll give the woman who was blubbering about her feelings of “impending doom” last winter something to cry about.

In fact, the judiciary is already flexing its muscles. After landlord groups submitted an emergency filing to block the moratorium in D.C. federal court, a judge demanded that the government respond by tonight at 9 p.m.

Putting aside the audacity of a U.S. president urging unelected bureaucrats to issue clearly unconstitutional orders, this entire impulse — to side with renters over landlords — is a leap toward Marxism. Continue reading

The Accelerating Scale of the Legislate-Regulate-Spend-and-Repeat Cycle Has Broken Government

by James C. Sherlock

Virginians – the state and individual citizens – have received over $81 billion in COVID-related federal funding. That comes to $9,507 for every man, woman and child in the Commonwealth.  Big money. 

That was Virginia’s share of $5.3 trillion in federal spending just on the pandemic (so far). A trillion dollars is a million million dollars. A thousand billion dollars.

For comparison, GDP was about $21 trillion in 2020  It is projected to total just short of $23 trillion this year.  The national debt is $29 trillion and growing. A little over $86,000 for every American. That figure does not include the $5 trillion in additional spending pending in the Congress.

Every day we spend $1 billion on interest with interest on the 10-year treasuries at 1.18% today. The Congressional budget office predicts 3.6% before 2027. Do the math. That is $3 billion a day — well over a trillion dollars a year — in interest. 

Relax. If you thought I was about to launch off on a discussion of drunken sailors, writing checks that our grandkids will have to make good, and the fact that inflation will drive interest payments ever upward, be reassured I am not.

This is about the demonstrated inability of many government agencies at every level to regulate, administer, oversee, spend and repeat with anything approaching efficiency or effectiveness.  Continue reading

What Goes Up Stays Up

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

One of the explanations for the increase in the cost of new housing recently has been the surge in the costs of raw materials. Builders have been forced to pass those increased costs on to buyers.

Indeed, prices of materials, such as lumber, did increase significantly this last year, reaching a high during the spring. However, with supply chains opening up after the pandemic has eased, those lumber prices have decreased by about two-thirds. According to the theory, then, builders would be passing those savings on to buyers in the from of lower prices.

But, that does not seem to be the case. According to a Wall Street Journal article (yes, I know it will surprise some of you that I subscribe to the WSJ), builders are opting to keep prices where they are, thereby increasing their profit margins. Continue reading

Virginia’s Two-Decade Housing Construction Shortfall

by James A. Bacon

The pace of new housing construction in Virginia has fallen markedly since 2000 compared to the three previous decades, according to the Virginia Association of Realtors.

Between 1968 and 2000, 49,700 permits on average were issued annually for the construction of new housing units in Virginia. Since then, permits issued have averaged 37,600 new units yearly. Over the past two decades, the “housing gap” amounted to 243,000 units, writes Lisa Sturtevant, chief economist for Virginia REALTORS, in the association’s blog.

The deficit in housing construction drives up rents and home prices, Sturtevant says. “The consequences of the housing shortfall go beyond economic. Insufficient housing production has led to lower rates of household formation, more young adults living at home with their parents, and significant deterioration of the housing stock in many parts of the country.”  Continue reading

Print Me a House

3D printer used to construct a house                                 Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

For someone who stays away from housing issues, I now have my second one in two days. Yesterday, I expressed dismay at the price tag on new “affordable” homes. Today’s topic is 3D printed homes.

As strange as that may sound, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported yesterday that work has begun in Richmond on the “first house in Virginia partially constructed using a 3D printer rather than lumber.”

I have trouble wrapping my mind around this concept.  =As I understand it, the “printer” is a large contraption that lays down concrete, rather than ink or toner, in precise patterns that have been programmed into a computer. The concrete is then smoothed out with a different nozzle that has a scraper attached. In the case of this house in Richmond, the printer is laying down layer after layer of concrete to “print” the outer walls of the house. The interior walls will be constructed by more traditional means. Continue reading

Sticker Shock

Creighton Court in Richmond         Photo credit: NBC12

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

I will be the first to admit that public housing policy is beyond my area of expertise. But, I am often amazed and befuddled at the cost of what is supposedly “affordable” housing.

Creighton Court is a traditional public housing complex in Richmond. The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority has decided to raze the complex and replace it with a mixed-income development. RRHA earlier informed the public that some of the units would be houses “affordably priced” and marketed to first-time home buyers. So far, so good.

Today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch reports the projected price of these “affordable” homes: $400,000. People are reeling from the sticker shock. Even with a $50,000 down payment, the monthly mortgage payment would be over $1,400. For whom is this “affordable”? I had a decent paying state job and there was never a time at which I could have afforded a $1,400 mortgage payment. Continue reading

Podcast: How the General Assembly Has Changed

By Peter Galuszka

I haven’t contributed much to BR lately since I am slammed with non-Virginia work. I did manage to help out on a Podcast about how the General Assembly has changed the state over the last two years as Democrats have gained power.

This Podcast is produced by WTJU, the University of Virginia radio station. I do a weekly talk show on state politics and economics and, on occasion, work on Podcasts.

Joining me is Sally Hudson, a delegate from the Charlottesville area. She is Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Education and Economics. Sally studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford and is one of the youngest members of the General Assembly.

I hope you enjoy it.