Category Archives: Housing

Unaffordable? A Proposed Town Center Doesn’t Have to Answer the Questions It Raises.

Land across from Harrisonburg High School is the site of a proposed 1,000 unit housing development. Photo credit: Daily News-Record

by Joe Fitzgerald

On the website for a proposed 1,000-unit housing development in Harrisonburg is a description of the players in the project. Included is a history of sorts of the Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority:

“[A] local election was held on November 8, 1955 and a majority of those voting in the election approved the need for a Redevelopment and Housing Authority to be activated in the City.”

The next sentence says HRHA helps people with their rent today. You’d almost think nothing had happened in the ensuing 67 years.

Sure, there was the time HRHA destroyed the city’s Black business section to build a Safeway and a Rose’s. And the time the authority partnered with the city and county to raze a couple of city blocks downtown to build a jail. There was the theatre that had to be bailed out by the city and the community center renovation that had to be bailed out by the city. (Full disclosure, I voted for the first bailout when I was on City Council and knew the second would have to happen when I voted for the renovation.)

It’s not that HRHA has a checkered history. It just happens to be the agency the city has often used for projects that are off the city’s books, until they’re not. Continue reading

Virginia’s Median Home Price Jumps $100K in Four Years

Despite the slowing market frenzy, home prices continue rising across all price points

According to the April 2022 Virginia Home Sales Report released by Virginia REALTORS®, the statewide median home sales price was $390,000 in April. This is $100,000 higher than April of 2018, just four years ago. Compared to last year at this time, Virginia’s median sales price is up just over 9%, a gain of $32,500.

In Virginia, the steady upward trajectory of home prices has not been hindered by the slowdown in sales activity or the recent spike in mortgage rates. In April, homes sold for 3.4% higher than list price, on average. In all price segments, the average sold-to-list price ratio was at least 100%.

In total, there were 11,991 home sales in Virginia in April 2022, down 11.6% from a year ago. Sales have been down year-over-year for five consecutive months. This slowdown reflects the very busy 2021 market but is also indicative of buyers pulling back due to high home prices, elevated inflation, and rising mortgage rates. Continue reading

The Affordable Housing Crisis Intensifies

The Washington Post has published an interactive graphic showing how much rents have increased across the United States over the past year. Average rents in Virginia increased most rapidly in Hampton Roads, the Richmond metro, and the Fredericksburg area — up 20.4% in Spotsylvania County and 20.2% in Bedford County outside Lynchburg. Among localities that provided data, rents declined in only one county: Wise County.

Housing affordability has been a long-festering issue in Virginia. With the cost of housing skyrocketing over the past year, it is rapidly becoming a social crisis. Poor households are being displaced, forced to double up with family and friends. The poor are (rightfully) blamed for many problems of their own making, but unaffordable housing is not one of them. That is the outcome of temporary, COVID-related market forces and decades of anti-development housing policy in Virginia.

The Youngkin administration needs to get ahead of the curve on this issue with market-based policies to promote new housing construction. Otherwise, you can be sure that Democrats will come up with policies of their own that, if initiatives in other states are any indication, require government subsidies, interventions in the housing market, and short-sighted panaceas like rent control that will make matters worse.

— JAB

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. Continue reading

The Rural Housing Challenge

Click for more legible image.

by James A. Bacon

I’ve tended to think of the housing-affordability issue in Virginia as a phenomenon relegated to the major metropolitan areas. Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads are where the population growth has occurred, and that’s where zoning and environmental restrictions have been the most stringent, making it difficult for homebuilders to keep pace with demand. Figure in the higher cost of land, particularly near the urban cores, as well as regulations discriminating against trailer parks and manufactured housing, and it just seemed obvious that affordability would be a bigger issue than in slowly depopulating rural areas where, if anything, housing would be in excess supply.

But according to a recent article in the Richmond Federal Reserve Bank’s District Digest, affordability in the 5th District, which includes Virginia, is almost as severe a problem in rural areas as in metropolitan areas.

“In the Fifth District, rural households are only slightly less likely to
be housing cost burdened than urban households,” states an article by Sierra Latham. “Twenty-five percent of rural households at all income levels are housing cost burdened, versus 28 percent of urban households.” (The definition of “cost burdened” is when rent or home-ownership payments exceed 30% of income.) Continue reading

Please, Please, Make This Study Go Away!

by James A. Bacon

A General Assembly-ordered study has published its findings for making housing more affordable and accessible for lower-income Virginians and minorities. One can only pray that the report is relegated to one of those proverbial shelves that collects dust, and is never to be seen again. Its recommendations, if followed, would steer resources into government programs while doing nothing to address the underlying cause of the ever-escalating cost of housing: the shortfall in new construction.

It’s not as if the authors of the Statewide Housing Study are ignorant of the laws of supply and demand. The research section of the study notes that roughly 30,000 new homes are built in Virginia each year, about half the annual production of the mid-2000’s. Virginia’s population has increased 10.2% since 2008, while housing supply has grown only 8.7%. Moreover, the housing type is out of whack. More than two-thirds of all new homes are detached, single-family dwellings, as opposed to less-expensive townhouses and apartments. By 2021, the imbalance of supply and demand pushed up the average cost of a single-family home by 30% over five years.

The report’s narrative also alludes briefly to the supply-demand equation. “The lack of inventory remains the biggest impediment to homeownership opportunities for Virginians,” it says in one place. And in another, it acknowledges, “Market conditions and local land use consistently put constraints on the availability and timing of new [rental] supply.” Continue reading

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