As the price of housing in Charlottesville continues to climb, city officials are weighing several options to ensure that some homes remain affordable for those with lower incomes.
City Council was presented Monday with a list of 35 policy recommendations made by the Housing Advisory Committee (HAC), which has spent the past year reviewing a report made by the firm RCLCO that examined housing trends in the community.
“I’m glad to get this,” said Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer. “We started talking this summer about wanting this affordable housing fund to be strategic and proactive and focused as opposed to only being stakeholder-driven.”
Some of the changes would require the zoning code to be amended, some can be implemented by staff and others would require permission from the General Assembly.
“A couple of the changes the HAC has recommended being done to the zoning codes are offering density bonuses to developers in exchange for providing affordable housing and allowing by-right density increases for affordable units,” said Stacy Pethia, the city’s housing specialist.
Pethia said another recommendation is for the city to conduct more outreach on existing affordable housing programs. Another would be to increase the amount of money council allocates each year to the city’s affordable housing fund.
“The HAC also supports creation of a revolving-loan fund that would provide gap financing for affordable housing developments in the city,” Pethia said. “Additionally, they would like the city to provide funding support to assist the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority to help with redevelopment of public housing.”
Another idea would be to create a classification of “workforce housing,” though Pethia acknowledged the term was problematic.
“I know there is some concern about labeling something as workforce housing because as many of you put forward before, low-income people actually do work, so differentiating between the two is not necessarily a good thing,” Pethia said.
The phrase “workforce housing” is recommended to describe homes that are affordable to families who make between 80 percent and 120 percent of the area annual median income.
“Affordable,” in this case, means a household only spends 30 percent of its income on housing.
“Although it’s a well-meaning term, it’s become synonymous for people with moderate income, and of course we don’t limit our workforce to people with moderate incomes,” City Councilor Kristin Szakos said. “The people who live in public housing are part of our workforce and people who live on Park Street are part of our workforce.”
Council settled on calling this category “moderately-priced housing.”
The HAC has also suggested Charlottesville emulate a program from Montgomery County, Maryland, that requires developers to build “moderately-priced dwelling units.” If a builder constructs more than 20 units, up to 15 percent of those new homes must be priced for moderate and low-income units.
“That falls under the inclusionary zoning category so that would definitely need enabling authority to make happen here in the city,” Pethia said.
City Councilor Kathy Galvin said the planning commission needs to be involved with any recommendation that involves changing the zoning.
“If we did the simple things and got them off the table, I think that would not only give us an impetus to do the rest, but it would just make the task more manageable,” said City Councilor Bob Fenwick.
Signer said he wanted to know which recommendations would yield new affordable units before deciding where to allocate additional funding. He pointed out that the city only has one person working on housing issues.
“There could be a way to think about partnering with staff at the Piedmont Housing Alliance or with the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority,” said Galvin. “I don’t want to limit ourselves because of our own staffing limitations.”
Galvin also said she does not know how well the city is doing in terms of building units. The city’s comprehensive plan has a goal of having 15 percent of the city’s total housing stock as being kept affordable through some form of government support.
“I cannot get a handle on it and I don’t have a number,” Galvin said. “I just know we’re at 10 percent of that structured-supported housing number and we need to get to 15 percent.”
Earlier this year city officials reported that the number of assisted units rose from 1,933 in February 2010 to 2,006 in December 2015. However the overall number of housing units in the city increased during that time, which meant the percentage of supported units stayed the same.
“Meanwhile staff can take a good look at the short-term items to see what we can as staff can do to address the short-term issues,” said City Manager Maurice Jones. He said council may have another work session on affordable housing in February, possibly with the planning commission.