Senate Addresses Supply of Affordable Housing

Affordable housing in Northern Virginia

One in three households in the state spends more than 30 percent of their income on housing, reports the Virginia Mercury. The apartment industry argues that housing will become unaffordable for even more as the state’s population grows faster than the housing supply.

If I were a middle-class Virginian most of whose net worth was tied up in my home equity, I expect I’d be particular about who lives near me. I probably would not be happy to discover that some developer wanted to build “affordable housing” next door. But my right to build a house on my own property does not entitle me to stop someone else from building housing on his property.

Zoning codes across Virginia empower agitated citizens to halt apartment complexes they don’t like. That’s democracy in action — majority rule. But the purpose of having a republic and rule of law is to protect minorities against the tyranny of the majority. In the case of housing, the minority is comprised of lower-income Virginians, many of whom happen to be racial/ethnic minorities as well. Zoning restrictions make it difficult for developers to build apartments, which, by their nature, cater to people who don’t make enough money to buy their own houses to live in. The cumulative result of restricted supply over the years has been a steadily increasing cost of housing, especially for lower-income Virginians.

Against this backdrop, the state Senate has passed SB 1062 outlawing discrimination against housing developments not only on the basis of race, color, religion, etc.  but “because the housing development contains or is expected to contain families or individuals with incomes at or below 80 percent of the median income of the area.”

Halting a development on the basis of race is already prohibited by federal law. SB 1062 would stop the practice of turning down development on the basis of income. I’m not sure how effective it would be: Zoning boards could justify decisions based on the impact on schools, traffic, or taxes. But anything that eases the throttle on housing supply would be beneficial.

The political economy of housing cuts a number of different ways. Supporters of the legislation depict resistance to affordable housing as motivated by racism. One bill sponsor pointed to local officials in Powhatan County rejecting a zoning application after some neighbors worried that it would “lay the groundwork for a ghetto.” The standard-issue Social Justice Warrior fulmination against racism over-simplifies the issues. Indeed, implementation of social-justice policies in other arenas stiffens the resistance of homeowners who seek to protect themselves from social chaos.

Housing geared for lower-income Virginians introduces more lower-income students into neighborhood schools. Students classified as economically disadvantaged are more likely to suffer from disabilities, create disciplinary issues, and disrupt classrooms. The new social justice-inspired disciplinary regime makes it more difficult for schools to maintain order, and the education of well-ordered students suffers. Thus, social justice advocates have raised the stakes for homeowners — they worry not only about their home values but the quality of education for their children.

However, the solution to the erosion of school discipline is to reform school policies, not restrict the housing supply. Ironically, the sponsors of the housing-reform legislation — Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond, and Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, also sponsored bills that would limit the ability of schools to refer disruptive students to law enforcement authorities. I doubt they see the irony.

There are currently no comments highlighted.

8 responses to “Senate Addresses Supply of Affordable Housing

  1. No, here’s the problem. You can’t put $600K homes near apartments. I dont care what, no one is going to take that because it will ditch the prices. Doesn’t matter what who goes in there. Its an apartment.

  2. I agree but Jim has put a whole bunch of issues into one bowl… here…

    Many folks today want to live in enclaves… with neighborhood schools and they really don’t want others of lower economic strata in their world.

    Our tax code encourages it by essentially subsidizing those who buy homes over those who rent …

    We live in a non-HOA subdivision with some covenants. All of the homes are stick-built. A few years back, someone bought a lot and intended to bring in a double-wide – All heck broke loose! It had nothing to do with race but everything to do with the “kind” of folks who live in those kinds of “homes”.

  3. I wonder what project The Branch Group is looking at…

  4. Here’s some news that counters the idea that people don’t want apartments:

    A vacant grocery store in the Seminole Square shopping center eventually could be replaced by hundreds of new apartments.

    500 units proposed for former Giant site
    A vacant grocery store in the Seminole Square shopping center eventually could be replaced by hundreds of new apartments.

    The Charlottesville Planning Commission on Tuesday gave feedback on design concepts for an apartment complex on the former site of the Giant Food store.

    Great Eastern Management Co., which manages Seminole Square, has proposed constructing 11 five-story buildings with a total of about 500 residential units. The project also would add about 40,000 square feet of commercial space.

    we’re seeing this up Fredericksburgs’ way also. Apartments are replacing vacant commercial strips and yes..black and brown folks probably with disruptive kids will rent them also.

    • Repurposing vacant commercial properties into affordable housing has some merit. A few years ago, I was asked to serve on a subcommittee to Fairfax County’s affordable housing advisory committee. We looked at the land use aspects of this approach and others.

      In the right locations, this approach can be very good for many. Besides providing affordable housing, it eliminates empty buildings, avoids decay, brings more workers closer to jobs, provides additional real estate tax revenue and can stimulate local commerce, among others.

      We recommended conditions that would help ensure success. They included: sufficient parking, reasonable access to transit (bus service that runs more than just during rush periods), some proximity to local shopping and open space. We suggested that locations on the edge of (but not in the middle of) industrial areas should be considered when it met the above-listed conditions.

  5. WHOA, Jim slow your roll.

    The following statements should not be conflated:

    “Zoning codes across Virginia empower agitated citizens to halt apartment complexes they don’t like.” and “Zoning restrictions make it difficult for developers to build apartments”.

    Yes zoning ordinances provide the basis for “agitated citizens” to oppose apartment complexes they don’t like and yes zoning restrictions make it difficult to build apartments IN AREAS NOT ZONED FOR MULTIFAMILY UNITS.

    BUT, you can not characterize that opposition as an absolute, the tyranny of the majority against a minority comprised of lower-income Virginians, many of whom happen to be racial/ethnic minorities.

    That argument is far too simplistic for someone as sophisticated as yourself (unless you are considering a run for the General Assembly in which case that simplistic argument would make you the equal of most of the incumbents).

    Which brings me to the part that most jurisdictions, particularly those in NOVA, don’t want to address. Those most “agitated citizens” are usually those who purchased property with an understanding of surrounding uses, long range plans, etc. or became aware of them as a result of a rezoning application for an apartment house, data center, asphalt plant, etc. While concerns regarding lower-income Virginian who may or may not be racial/ethnic minorities is without question a part of the equation for many, the larger concern is the impact of that development on existing property values and in NOVA, additional pressures on roads, schools, public safety, etc.

  6. People oppose apartments in general and affordable housing apartments in particular for a variety of reasons. As Mom states, some people believe they bought property and paid a premium for the zoning regulations in effect at the time of the purchase. Changing the zoning and reducing the value of existing property owners is a sort of eminent domain taking. Some people add up the costs of new residents and compare that to the additional tax revenues that new residents will generate. That simple calculus makes it very hard to see more affordable apartments as anything but a prelude to higher taxes to make up for the deficit between taxes and expenses from the new residents. However, in Northern Virginia, there is a much more obvious problem – the incompetence of Richmond. High density housing will absolutely add to the congestion on our streets. Meanwhile, the trusties we send to the General Assembly have no time for mundane issues like transportation funding.

Leave a Reply