Forum Watch Editorial
By. Neil Williamson
Last night (10/28/08), in a joint meeting of the Charlottesville and Albemarle County Planning Commission, the draft report of the Joint Task Force on Affordable Housing was released. The task force membership included a member of City Council, a member of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, a member from each planning commission, two members from each locality’s housing committee and a representative from The University of Virginia. The Joint Task Force also included a member from Interfaith Movement Promoting Action by Congregations Together (IMPACT). IMPACT has been very successful in focusing public attention on affordable housing.
The meeting opened with presentations by staff of both Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville explaining where tax dollars (and leveraged federal/private dollars) were currently being dedicated.
The Draft Joint Task Force report indicated seven recommendations for the University of Virginia, the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. The top priority of these seven:
Commit to a permanent, dedicated, annual funding investment in affordable housing initiatives either from changing funding priorities or increasing revenue streams.
While UVA took umbrage to this concept being applied to them as an educational institution without taxing power, not one planning commissioner voiced any concern with this as a concept for their locality.
The way the report sets the issue up, supervisors and councilors will need to make the tough budget decisions, faced with either reallocating existing tax dollars from other priorities (IE: police, fire, schools, etc.) or increasing taxes (making all housing less affordable) to build affordable housing.
The task force recommendations continue:
- Provide support for the Thomas Jefferson Community Land Trust
- Support the creation of a Regional Housing Fund to accept investments in affordable housing from both public and private sources.
- Establish a Housing Ombudsman Office to serve both area residents and developers of affordable housing.
- Pay all employees, and strongly encourage their contractors to pay, a living wage. The Task Force recommends, as a first step, that the Human Resource Departments of the City, County and UVa develop criteria for establishing a living wage.
- Support regional transit networks and options.
- Acknowledge and continue to support regional non-profits such as Piedmont Housing Alliance (PHA), Habitat for Humanity, and the Albemarle Housing Improvement Program (AHIP) whose missions are to address affordable housing.
In Albemarle County the draft report focuses significant attention to possible changes for affordable units obtained as a “voluntary proffer” as a part of the rezoning application. Such units would face a cap on the value of the units. The Task Force would require the 15% of affordable units be spread equally among attainable for “extremely low, very low and low income levels”. The report also indicates a desire that rental properties developed to serve the bottom two cohorts of the affordable housing remain affordable for 15 years (currently 10 years).
The Task Force also envisioned the City and Albemarle County issuing general obligation bonds to fund affordable housing initiatives and writing loans to developers of affordable housing.
The Free Enterprise Forum commends the three bodies for working together on the report. Affordable housing is a significant issue deserving of such regional attention. The glaring omission is an objective standard regarding the current unmet need for affordable housing, the community’s goal for affordable housing and clear metrics regarding how these recommendation, if implemented, will address this need. Many of the recommendations seem to unnecessarily grow government rather than increase affordable housing stock.
In addition, it is important to remember the political climate this report will be issued. Next year is an election year in the City (2 Councilors) and Albemarle County (3 Supervisors). While affordable housing is a significant issue, affordable taxes may, in the short term, carry the day. Every locality is looking at what can generously be called a tight budget year. As we work through the budget cycle in January, February and March it will be interesting to see how each governing body seek to address this concept of a “permanent, dedicated, annual funding instrument in affordable housing initiatives.”
Neil Williamson, President