The city of Charlottesville is creating a housing strategy to encourage the construction of homes that are affordable to households with incomes ranging from extreme poverty to the middle class.
“Not only is this a critical local issue but it’s a national one, as well,” said Gregory Powe, an architect and chairman of the Charlottesville chapter of the Urban Land Institute.
To help inform the strategy, the group sponsored a free summit on the topic as part of this week’s Tom Tom Founders Festival in collaboration with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.
“Our main focus for the six panels is to go through the six steps that it takes to actually create affordable housing,” Powe said. “That involves designing not only homes for people, but the neighborhoods in many cases.”
Powe said in addition to policy, the steps include financing, community engagement, development, design and providing services for residents who need them.
However, the first panel featured views from other localities across the United States about policy tools that have been used to help circumvent market pressures.
“The challenge of affordable housing and access to housing opportunities is not unique to Charlottesville,” said Lisa Sturtevant, a senior visiting fellow at ULI. “We know from research and everyday experience that access to stable and affordable housing is crucial for the wellbeing of individuals and families.”
Sturtevant said getting views from outside Charlottesville can help identify new tools used in other parts of the country.
“Maybe we haven’t thought about [these] in our community because it hasn’t come up, hasn’t been the norm or hasn’t been the way we do business,” she said. “Maybe it’s something the state doesn’t allow us to do right now, but maybe we could get to that point.”
A downtown pedestrian mall is not the only thing Charlottesville has in common with Boulder, Colorado.
“We see the dynamic happening all over that housing costs are rising much faster than incomes,” said Michelle Allen, Boulder’s inclusionary housing program manager.
“We know the need is far greater than we can ever meet in Boulder,” she said. “We’re losing low-income and middle-income households and gaining a lot of high-income households.”
Allen said the median single-family home price is close to $900,000 and small condominiums are more than $400,000. According to her, those figures are double what they were in 2010. To combat that inflation, Boulder has a goal of having 10 percent of its total housing stock made affordable permanently through subsidies.
“We are currently at about 7.3 percent,” which translates to about 3,300 units, Allen said.
Colorado allows for inclusionary zoning, a practice that requires affordable units to be built within certain developments. The Virginia General Assembly has not granted Charlottesville permission to use such a tool.
Since Boulder adopted an inclusionary policy in 2000, Allen said the city has raised $50 million through her program and has produced about 700 units. Boulder also is encouraging policies to promote cooperative housing and accessory dwelling units.
Boulder has recently levied a “commercial linkage fee” where developers must pay an impact fee for office and retail projects.
“How many low-cost jobs are you going to produce?” Allen asked. “That translated into a certain amount of affordable housing.”
Developers who qualify for commercial linkage fees pay a certain amount per square foot. That number in Boulder is currently $12 for new office space. Boulder’s City Council will revisit the program later this year.
The resort town of Park City, Utah, is not as big as either Boulder or Charlottesville, but its affordable housing program manager says her community faces similar pressures.
“It is the job center of the area so there are 14,000 jobs,” said Rhoda Stauffer. “Of those, 8,000 people are commuting into Park City every day. Even though there are 9,600 homes within the city limits, only 3,400 of those are year-round occupied. 6,200 homes are vacation homes or investment properties.”
Stauffer said about 500 homes in Park City are kept affordable through deed restrictions, low-income housing tax credits and local resources.
“We are a rural town in a low-population county, which means we get no entitlements,” Stauffer said. “Park City doesn’t get federal funds because we are a high-cost community and we are always competing against much-lower-income areas.”
Stauffer said Park City does have a form of inclusionary zoning that has been in place since 1993 that has created more than 270 affordable units.
“What we have done is instituted a policy that only applies to those development tools that require negotiation,” Stauffer said. That can involve additional height or density, which then trigger housing obligations.
The various localities around Los Angeles make up one of the nation’s most unaffordable communities to live in. That’s the case in the city of Pasadena, which is northeast of downtown.
“The median income for a family of four is about $64,000 a year,” said William Huang, the housing director in Pasadena, which has a population of about 140,000. “The median home price in [Los Angeles] County is about $560,000. In the city of Pasadena, it’s well over $800,000. The median one-bedroom rent in the county is over $2,200 a month.”
Huang said there are more than 58,000 homeless people on the streets of Los Angeles on any given night.
Huang said a recent development is that the California legislature is working more closely with localities to address the skyrocketing cost of housing.
“Last year, they passed a whole slew of various housing bills that were designed to streamline the process for any kind of housing development trying to address the supply and demand imbalance,” Huang said. “Every year, the state of California falls hundreds of thousands of units short of where it should be in terms of producing housing.”
One law mandates localities to allow accessory dwelling units on land zoned for single-family residential. Huang said that has contributed to a quadrupling of permits for such structures.
Other reforms in Pasadena include a proposed reduction in the minimum size for new lots. That would increase residential density, theoretically leading to an increased supply.
Panelists all agreed that localities must get creative to address the issue.
“Affordable housing is expensive,” Allen said. “You’ve got to find money, and, ideally, local funds are the best funds because they’re flexible and because they show you’re committed to affordable housing.”
The ULI summit will conclude Saturday morning with an “action forum” that will discuss how various solutions can be applied to Charlottesville.