Del. Ken Plum: Not-So-Affordable Housing In Virginia

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Fewer Virginians can afford to buy a home, and there is a shortage of at least 200,000 affordable rental units according to the results of a study by the staff of the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission (JLARC) released earlier this week. Much of the material in this column is taken directly from the report which is available to the public at jlarc.virginia.gov. The study was undertaken at the direction of the legislative members of JLARC including myself as chairman and Senator Janet Howell as vice chairman to give basic information to the General Assembly for its legislative action as needed.

As expected, Virginians most affected by the lack of affordable housing are renters who have low income. Households are considered housing-cost burdened when they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing expenses. Approximately 29 percent of Virginia households (905,000) were housing-cost burdened in 2019, and nearly half of these households spent more than 50 percent of their income on housing putting Virginia near the middle of states in terms of the percentage of households that are cost burdened.

Not surprisingly, the study found that households that rent their homes are more likely to be cost burdened than households that own their homes. Approximately 44 percent of renting households are cost burdened compared with 21 percent of owning households. The majority (67 percent) of cost burdened households live in the state’s so called “Golden Crescent” of Hampton Roads, Northern Virginia, and Central Virginia.

There is a relationship between housing-cost burdened individuals and their occupations, many of which are in high demand. Examples include home health aides ($22,000 salary), teaching assistants ($29,000 salary), and social workers ($51,000 salary) who are needed in all parts of the state, and a lack of affordable housing in some regions constrains the supply.

The JLARC report states that the median home sales price in Virginia has risen 28 percent over the past four years to $270,000 in 2021. The percentage of all Virginia homes that sold for $200,000 or less decreased by 40 percent since 2019. In addition to the rising cost of homes are the upfront costs required to purchase a home. Renting a home is an obvious alternative to home purchasing, but the shortage of 200,000 affordable rental units adds to the problem. The shortage of affordable rental units in Fairfax County alone is estimated to be 80,000.

Possible solutions to the not-so-affordable housing in Virginia suggested by JLARC for state legislative action include a greater contribution to the state’s funding for affordable housing of both new affordable multi-family housing and rental housing. The state needs to provide better assistance with upfront mortgage costs. Local zoning affects the affordable housing supply and needs to be examined and revised. Virginia needs to give additional localities the authority to require developers to set aside a portion of units to rent or sell below market price.

There is no place like home for the holidays–or for any time of the year. There is a responsibility that government respond to the need for affordable housing.

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