Sunday, February 3, 2008

Affordable Housing, Front & Center

We've been trying to take something of a thematic approach to City Council meetings so far this year. Our first meeting (Jan. 7) focused on a range of environmental topics. Our second meeting (Jan. 21) was heavy on alternative transportation (pedestrian safety, transit improvements, etc.). Tomorrow's session (Feb. 4) features a subject that citizen survey after citizen survey and community needs assessment after community needs assessment consistently points out as one the biggest frustrations that people have with the City of Charlottesville: the lack of affordable housing for our residents.

You know the litany of challenges: People paying 50% or 60% of their income on their housing costs. People working 2 or 3 jobs to keep up with their mortgage or their rent. People doubling up with family members or friends. People going homeless. People moving 30 or 40 miles away to find housing they can afford. Employers struggling to attract or retain workers because of the high cost of living (i.e., the high cost of housing) here. There is hardly a household in Charlottesville that hasn't been affected by this situation. The people at the top may have it good and may not recognize there's a problem, but most of us see it, experience it and hear about it every day. Yes, housing costs aren't skyrocketing like they were in the years following 2003, but wages still have a long, long way to go to catch up. We remain the region in Virginia with the largest gap between housing costs and wages. Not an enviable position to be in.

Tomorrow night, we will be considering an ordinance that would create a dedicated stream of revenue for affordable housing in the City budget. (Seth Rosen had the story in yesterday's Progress.) Unfortunately, for this coming year at least, it would actually represent a decrease in affordable housing funding from FY08 (when we used one-time surplus funds to significantly increase funding from the year before). But the idea is that as revenues increase in future years, a small percentage of them (the equivalent of 2 cents on the property tax dollar and 25% of lodging taxes) would be automatically set aside each year in a fund for the promotion and preservation of affordable housing.

In total, the ordinance would result in a little over 1% of the City's overall budget being dedicated to the affordable housing fund each year, which is a pittance really when you consider the true scope of the problem and the high priority that our citizens have assigned to it. (It's important to note, though, that these limited City funds will be able to leverage substantial sums of additional monies from state, federal, and private sector sources; of the 300+ localities across the country that have established dedicated housing funds, many of them routinely see their local dollars multiplied six or seven times over [or more] by other sources of funding. It's also important to note, as we're entering a period of economic slowdown, that housing development is one of the best economic generators we know of, in terms of promoting local job creation & business activity and recycling dollars in our community.) The ordinance also encourages the creation of stronger incentives for developers to be part of the solution through inclusion of affordable units in new developments and/or the contribution of monies to the City's affordable housing fund. I am pleased to say that our local developers have been very cooperative in working with the City on the creation of such incentives. Some real win-win potential there.

In addition to considering the dedicated housing fund ordinance, we'll also be making a final round of housing-related allocations from our FY08 budget and hearing a status report from Noah Schwartz, Executive Director of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority (CRHA), about CRHA's plans for redevelopment of public housing in Charlottesville. The Council meeting starts at 7:00pm tomorrow and the public hearing on the ordinance will begin around 7:40pm. Please feel free to come and share your thoughts on any or all of these subjects.

UPDATE: Christina Mora of NBC 29 does a great job of breaking down the issue with this report.


Anonymous said...

A great comment from one of the longstanding experts on the subject:

"If we had enough affordable housing, we wouldn't be worrying nearly as much about preventing homelessness—we would have done it."

-Martha Burt

Susan said...
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