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:

Increase the supply of land for housing 

  • Use state grants to support local policies and actions that encourage housing growth;
  • Establish guard rails for zoning/land use processes that include deadlines by which localities must act, and consequences if they do not, for localities seeking state assistance to increase the growth of their economies;
  • Create transparency by requiring localities to report on their policies and actions that impact housing development;
  • Investigate comprehensive reforms of Virginia’s land use and zoning laws.

Remove regulatory barriers to housing development 

  • Provide a more efficient way for public and private economic development and infrastructure projects to meet mandated wetlands and stream-mitigation requirements in a way that does not jeopardize the quality of that mitigation;
  • Improve and streamline environmental permitting processes;
  • Translate Virginia’s building regulations into Spanish;
  • Investigate potential procedural changes in the building code adoption process that balance technical code provisions more closely with construction cost controls.

Align housing development with economic growth 

  • Include housing more prominently in the Commonwealth’s economic development planning and site-development process;
  • Establish public/private partnerships with site selectors early on to include workforce housing in the site development and selection process.

Bacon’s bottom line: This is a roadmap, not a detailed action plan. It is aspirational. It will require extensive cooperation from lawmakers, particularly where it contemplates changes to zoning codes, building codes, and environmental regulations.

From a sales-pitch perspective, the Make Virginia Home Plan leaves a lot to be desired. It’s vague and abstract, leaving little for members of the public to latch on to. Youngkin needs to get more specific. He should be saying, there’s something wrong with public apartment projects that cost $350,000 or more per unit. He should be highlighting alternatives: Virginia needs more tiny houses, more container dwellings, more granny suites, more Single-Room-Occupancy housing, more trailer parks, that sort of thing.

While Youngkin needs to work on the messaging, the overall thrust is very positive. The way to address the housing affordability crisis — and it is a crisis for lower-income households especially — is to increase the supply. And to increase the housing supply, we need to reform the regulations governing that supply.