Housing Albemarle?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Tuesday night (10/22), Albemarle County planning staff will again gather with members of the community to discuss potential solutions to the county’s housing affordability issues.  This is the third of three public outreach meetings that are a part of their plan to have a new housing policy adopted by late 2020.image

To start this discussion one must have a mutually agreed definition of Affordable Housing.  Utilizing a benchmark of no more than 30% of family income is used to pay for housing Albemarle found 20% of homeowners and 30% of renters were “housing cost burdened”.

While Albemarle has done a good job quantifying the need, especially at the lower end of the housing demand spectrum, it is important to recognize the lack of available housing across all price points increases prices of both rental and sale residential units.

As we reported from the Regional Housing Summit:

Piedmont Housing Alliance Executive Director Sunshine Mathon may of captured the housing question best when he was asked what kind of housing is most needed in the Charlottesville region:

“all kinds of housing, at all kinds of pricing, at all kinds of places”

To answer the need for housing affordability in both the for sale and rental markets, the Free Enterprise Forum believes the policy should focus on four key impact areas:

  • Increasing supply
  • “Green Taping” Projects
  • Leveraging Innovative Financing
  • Local Tax Increment Financing

None of these solutions are without cost.  The Free Enterprise Forum believes that if housing affordability is a community goal, the entire community should pay for it.

Increasing Supply

In a recent Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Rick Randolph (Scottsville) called out our analysis/critique of their Growth Management Report as an impetus to discuss future growth. The supply of housing is dictated by county policy and zoning code.  The current county policy limits new residential projects to less than 5% of the land mass of Albemarle County.  Rather than address this reality, Supervisor Randolph thought the Board should discuss where the county could support significant increases in density to allow taller buildings.  It is interesting that one of the two “lame duck” supervisors (Randolph and Norman Dill are not running for reelection) would propose such a concept.

To increase supply, Albemarle must stand up to the NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) crowd and allow increased density and/or expand the development area.

“Green Taping” Projects

At the Regional Housing Summit, Virginia REALTORS® Chief Economist Lisa Sturtevant  called out Charlottesville, Albemarle County, and other localities in her remarks:

“There are communities that are not approving enough housing to keep up with demand, you are one of them”

She called for “Green Taping” to streamline and reduce inefficiencies in the development review approval process.  She also highlighted the concept of expanding housing options in high opportunity neighborhoods [increasing density via duplexes and triplexes in existing Single Family zoning].

Leveraging Innovative Financing

There are a number of financing models that not only help produce affordable housing but help keep it affordable.  The Thomas Jefferson Community Land Trust and Habitat for Humanity® of Greater Charlottesville  provide two of these models that take the land cost out of the housing cost calculation. Last month, The Free Enterprise Forum suggested the University of Virginia consider setting up a similar land trust model for faculty housing.  By embracing, and potentially partially funding such efforts, Albemarle may be able to provide generations of affordable housing.

Local Tax Increment Financing

Most for rent affordable housing projects rely on more than one source of tax “breaks” to make allow the project to be financially feasible.  One such tool, that Albemarle has used previously, is local tax increment financing where in exchange for 20 or 30 years of guaranteed housing affordability, the landowner pays the all the property taxes on the parcel but is annually “rebated” the taxes on the improvements if housing affordability goals are met.

The Free Enterprise Forum is encouraged that the Albemarle staff is being proactive in their approach to the new housing policy development.  We will hold our judgement of the policy until after it has been through the internal staff processes and is presented to the policy makers.  Housing policy matters to the vitality of our community.  Increasing density, regulatory reform as well as financing options are all part of the solution.

As always, stay tuned.

Respectfully Submitted,


Neil Williamson

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.

Photo Credit: Albemarle County

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