By Neil Williamson, President
Adapted from testimony given to the Albemarle County Planning Commission December 15, 2015
While I appreciate this Lame Duck Planning Commission’s interest in focusing on affordable housing, I am concerned that this discussion is misplaced; it should be the focus of the elected Board of Supervisors. Many of the tougher questions are far outside the mission of the Planning Commission.
Thirty-five years ago this month we lost a generational poet and talent, John Lennon, who asked us to “Imagine”.
Opening the affordable housing lens far beyond the scope of the Planning Commission, I too am asking you to use your imagination.
Imagine if Albemarle County actually followed State Law and reduced their cash proffer policy from more than $20K per unit to under $5K, or better yet eliminated this unreliable, unfair “welcome stranger” tax – how would that impact housing affordability?
Imagine if Albemarle County considered affordable rental units, apartments, condos and homes as a part of their affordable housing stock – how might this reflect the reality of affordable housing (not home ownership)?
Imagine if Albemarle County, perhaps working with Albemarle Housing Improvement Program, invested in keeping the existing affordable housing stock in good repair – how might this small investment impact the amount of affordable housing?
Imagine if Albemarle County loosened their restrictive grip on 95% of their land mass and expanded their development area and increased the supply of buildable lots – how would that impact the cost of lots?
Imagine if Albemarle County encouraged transitional areas on the edges of the development areas for modular housing – how would this impact affordable housing supply?
Imagine if Albemarle County invested in Community Land Trusts that keep housing stock affordable for generations rather than the current unsustainable inclusionary zoning model makes 85% of new homes less affordable. This misguided policy rewards the affordable housing proffer lottery winner with all of the appreciation gains. How would this change in strategy impact how long a home stays affordable?
Imagine if Albemarle County reduced the bureaucratic red tape and regulatory hurdles to streamline rezoning approvals. If a project could be approved in 6 months instead of 24, thus reducing the carrying costs – how might that impact affordable housing?
Imagine if Albemarle County had a large amount of appropriately located and designated Light Industrial Land that could provide good paying career ladder jobs – how might that impact the demand for affordable housing?
Yes, there are imaginative ways to improve Albemarle County’s situation. Regulatory reform and proffer elimination are within the scope of the planning commission purview.
Larger issues of increased economic vitality and job creation are better suited for the new Albemarle County Board of Supervisors sworn in earlier today.
I must admit I remain cautiously pessimistic that an aggressive economic development plan is a major plank of the new Board’s agenda. I can’t tell you how much I hope I am wrong.
Perhaps, I am the one who needs a little more imagination.
Neil Williamson, President
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County.
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