Tag Archives: affordable housing

Fluvanna Approves New Townhouses

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors approved a 40-unit townhouse community near Lake Monticello at its last meeting of 2016.

Rivanna Heights, approved on a 4-1 vote, is situated on land on South Boston Road (Route 600). The development is up the hill on South Boston, up the hill from the intersection with Lake Monticello Road (Route 618).

Patricia Eager (Palmyra District) raised concerns about where the community sits on the road. “My primary concern is of the people that will live there,” said Eager.

The road’s speed limit is 45 mph and will now add a community in between the intersection with Lake Monticello Road and the Riverside section of Lake Monticello.

Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) said, “I’d rather see this further up the road than it is right now.” He also mentioned the county might have to lobby the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to lower the speed limit of the windy road in the future.

The community will have a separate entrance and exit. The homes will form a triangle with two way traffic allowed on two sides but all traffic will have to funnel through the entire community. VDOT required to have one way traffic for a certain distance from entrances and exits.

Developers are giving the public safety officers an area to run radar and will also have emergency entrance.

Rivanna Heights is expected to have townhouses with 1,300 square feet, priced between $180,000 to $240,000. Representatives of the applicant repeatedly called the development “affordable housing.”

“You can get a free standing house for $200,000,” said Eager.

Eager was the lone vote against the development.

In the first meeting of 2017, the supervisors are keeping status quo of board leadership with chairman Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) as chairman for 2017.

In an primer to the FY18 budget season, supervisors were updated by staff. The reassessment equalized real estate rate will be $0.882 per $100 assessed. The current tax rate is $0.917 per $100.

The county’s savings account, known as the “Fund Balance”, has an unrestricted balance of $8.4 million. In June the unrestricted balance was $9.1 million. The county also keeps an additional 12 percent of the budget ($8.1 million) as a reserve.

County administrator Steve Nichols will formally present his FY18 budget on February 1.

The next supervisors meeting is January 18 at 7 p.m.


https://freeenterpriseforum.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/bryan-rothamel.jpg?w=151&h=151The Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS®and by the support of readers like you.

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum

Restrictions in Charlottesville’s West Main Down Zoning May Further Gentrify the Neighborhood

By Neil Williamson, President

Tonight, Charlottesville City Council will hold their last meeting of the year and have the first reading of the West Main Street Downzoning.  This will be the final meeting for DedeHujaMayor Satyendra Huja and Vice Mayor Dede Smith.

There have been rumors that this Council may dispense of a second reading and enact the ordinance – the Free Enterprise Forum believes that would be a huge mistake and remains hopeful that the new council will have the opportunity to vote down this ordinance in the name of affordable housing.

Please let me explain.

Over the last few weeks, I have been reading a great deal about rental housing economics.  A recent Harvard study showed that the homeownership rates dropping while the renter households increased.  The media has been very interested in the increase in the cost of rental units and its impact on the middle class.  Considering the proposed downzoning on Charlottesville’s West Main Street, one only needs to look to the larger cities to see how land use restrictions can impact the fabric of the community.

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Interestingly, the Harvard study did not go into the reasons for the increases in rental costs.  Fortunately, The Washington Post’s Emily Badger wrote recently about Why it’s so hard to afford a rental even if you make a decent salary

This chart, from a report on America’s rental housing from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies published today, illustrates that only about 10 percent of our recently added rental apartments would be affordable to the nearly half of renter households in America who make less than $35,000 a year:


Note: Rents based on 30% of income affordability standard. Sources: US Census Bureau, 2015 Survey of Market Absorption, 2015 CPS. Harvard JCHS.

Badger’s article, unlike the Harvard study does speak to the reasons the rent for new apartment housing is increasing:

The number of renter households in the top 10th of the income spectrum rose 61 percent over that decade, more than for any other group. So developers are not simply building luxe apartments no one wants to rent.

But they’re also responding to the worrisome dynamic that we’ve made it very, very difficult in many cities to construct market-rate housing that would be affordable to the middle class or modest renters. It’s economically challenging for developers to create new apartments the median renter could afford — at about $875 a month — while covering the costs of constructing them.

Height limits, parking requirements and zoning restrictions all push up the cost of construction. So do lengthy design reviews and legal battles with neighborhoods opposed to new development. Developers must also build at the densities communities allow, and in the limited places where they allow higher density. And if a given parcel of land is only zoned for about five stories of apartments, those apartments may have to command $2,500 a month each to make the project profitable. Emphasis added-nw

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman’s New York Times column entitled  “Inequality in the City” also identifies New York’s land use regulations as a major factor in increasing rents.

And this is part of a broader national story. As Jason Furman, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, recently pointed out, national housing prices have risen much faster than construction costs since the 1990s, and land-use restrictions are the most likely culprit. Yes, this is an issue on which you don’t have to be a conservative to believe that we have too much regulation.

The good news is that this is an issue over which local governments have a lot of influence. New York City can’t do much if anything about soaring inequality of incomes, but it could do a lot to increase the supply of housing, and thereby ensure that the inward migration of the elite doesn’t drive out everyone else. And its current mayor understands that.

But will that understanding lead to any action? That’s a subject I’ll have to return to another day. For now, let’s just say that in this age of gentrification, housing policy has become much more important than most people realize.

For all the lip service paid to affordable housing, it will be most interesting if this last meeting of this Charlottesville City Council will addresses this question before they exacerbate the situation with even more costly regulations.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson December 2 2015 Albemarle BOS meeting Photo Credit Charlottesville TomorrowNeil 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 Credits:  City of CharlottesvilleCharlottesville Tomorrow

John Lennon and Albemarle Affordable Housing

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?

TJCLTImagine 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.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson December 2 2015 Albemarle BOS meeting Photo Credit Charlottesville TomorrowNeil 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 Credits:  pixgood.com,  sodahead.com, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Only in Albemarle, Do You Make Housing Affordable by Making It More Expensive

Adapted from Comments to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors regarding Housing Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan September 9, 2014.

My name is Neil Williamson and I serve as the President of the Free Enterprise Forum  a privately funded public policy organization covering local government in Charlottesville and the surrounding localities.

Tonight you might be discussing the Housing Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan. Internal to this chapter is one of the most baffling policies of Albemarle County – the affordable housing proffer. I have passed out a recent Richmond Times Dispatch article questioning the rationale and nexus of cash proffers Are Proffers on Shaky Ground?.

For all residential rezonings, Albemarle currently requires 15% of the new units be affordable. This is on top of the $20,000+ per Single Family Unit Cash Proffer.

The affordable housing proffer ultimately results in 85% of all new units to be less affordable. By making the majority of the new houses more expensive, you have harmed overall housing affordability. Only in Albemarle do you make things more affordable by making them more expensive.

According to the Draft Chapter:

Albemarle County’s Affordable Housing is defined as houses affordable to households not exceeding 80% of the area median income.  At present an “affordable” sales price for a home is $211,250 for a family of four paying 30% of their income for housing costs.  Approximately 40% of the households in Albemarle have incomes at 80% of the median or lower.

Those buyers who acquire the “affordable” units are effectively lottery winners. Their neighbors have subsidized their purchase and when they choose to sell, there is nothing that keeps that home affordable and the buyers gain the windfall. As noted on Page 9.13 “If Albemarle County is to have affordable housing stock, it must find a way to make sure the affordable units stay affordable.

Why does it fall on new home buyers to “solve” the affordable housing inventory issue?

To date as a result of rezonings,  approximately 1,200 affordable units have been “voluntarily” proffered (100 have been built).  In addition, approximately $1.6 Million Dollars have been “voluntarily” proffered as cash-in-lieu of units.

If this is a community issue, why isn’t the community equally invested?

The reality is due to the myriad of regulations, codes of development, $20,000 per single family home cash proffers, mandated sidewalks, street trees, water and sewer hookup fees – new housing stock is perhaps the worst place to try and create (and maintain) affordable housing.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes adaptive reuse and refurbishment of existing housing stock would be a much more cost effective method to increase affordable housing. Further study should be done regarding financial vehicles that allow the property to remain at market value and the loan to be modified – such work might go a long way in keeping housing affordable – The Housing Trust model is one such vehicle.

In addition, we do not believe this chapter adequately addresses the significant impact of rental units on the market. Affordable housing does not have to be affordable housing ownership.

We encourage you to pursue code changes to allow more flexibility for accessory units in the development areas and to allow residential dependencies in the rural areas. While the latter may seem to contradict your goal of moving development into the development areas, it is a reality that eliminating the land cost for a second residence on a 21+ acre parcel dramatically impacts the cost of the home.

We applaud the attention paid to reducing or eliminating minimum lot sizes in the development areas.  We encourage the continued review of setbacks to further maximize land in the development area for development.

Finally, we would be remiss if we did not raise issue with Strategy 6d regarding increased staffing. Just as in the other chapters, staffing levels should be an operational decision by the Board of Supervisors and not a line item in a Comprehensive Plan.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Is the Lorax Guilty of Snob Zoning?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Let me open with a disclaimer – I love beach reading. 

I was t"Snob Zones" by Liza Prevost was released Tuesday, May 7 and covers Darien and other New England towns' zoning regs.hrilled to be able to take a few days off with the family for a beach trip late last month.  While some might have preferred the new Dan Brown novel, my  primary book this trip was  Lisa Prevost’s Snob Zoning.

Prevost is an award winning journalist who has written extensively about real estate for the New York Times.  Her articles have also appeared in the Boston Globe, Boston Globe Magazine, More, Ladies’ Home Journal , and other publications.

In this rather well researched, short tome, Prevost outlines specific New England instances where existing residents use restrictive local zoning to eliminate the potential of “undesirable” affordable housing.  

Every reader will examine this book with their own perspective but many passages reminded me of the Charlottesville region, or where some would like it to be.

“As the wealthiest town in Litchfield County, Roxbury (CT) can financially afford its pull-up-the-drawbridge mentality.  The wealthy weekenders pay far more in taxes than they demand in services, thereby making up for the town’s nearly nonexistent commercial base.  the top ten taxpayers on the town’s grand list are, in fact, homeowners. ‘That’s our industry,’ says Gary Steinman, a biomedical engineer who operates a consulting practice out of his Roxbury home. ‘If we lose our rurality, we would lose that industry.’  But by refusing to make room for any higher density housing, Roxbury is contributing to a regional affordable housing shortage that affects most of the northwest corner.”

Over the last ten years, I have heard countless times that it is the “ruralness” of Albemarle County that makes our part of the world unique.  Preservation of such rural integrity is a priority for the Board of Supervisors even as such rural protection runs in conflict with their housing affordability goals.

This passage was also front of mind this morning as I read Sean Tubbs’ Daily Progress article on development projects in the City of Charlottesville and members of City Council’s concerns over their design and projected populations.

“[City Councilor Dede] Smith also wanted to know what population was being attracted to Charlottesville based on the nature of the new developments.

“Who is going to live at City Walk?” Smith asked. “Our number of families is declining in the city and it has been stated as a priority that we would like to at least maintain or grow housing for families.”

Reading between the lines, the question seems to be ‘are the right kind of people going to live at City Walk?’.  Isn’t this the very type of exclusionary thinking that could be called ‘Snob Zoning’?

Is this really what the City should determine or should the land owner, who is taking the financial risk seek to provide what the market will bear?

The concept of using zoning to preclude types of developments, or even specific tenants, is not limited to Charlottesville.  Paula Hawthorne of The Central Virginian reports of resident objections with a proposed Family Dollar retail outlet in Mineral. Under the front page banner headline “No welcome mat for Family Dollar”: 

“Residents Debbie and James Glass are against having Family Dollar in their neighborhood.  “I don’t want it in my backyard,” Debbie said.

Prevost reports such NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) clearly fueled the density discussion in Ossipee New Hampshire where the town enacted regulation that was so restrictive the Zoning chairman Mark McConkey said:

“‘I believe the spirit of this ordinance was to deny the opportunity for multifamily housing to go forward in this town.  I believe it is the intent of the ordinance whether it is right or wrong.’

McConkey’s startling admission was as good as a gift, from Viscarello’s perspective.  First thing the next morning, he dispatched a paralegal to Ossipee.  He wanted a copy of the hearing tapes before anything could happen to them.  Two months later, after failed attempts to get the board to reconsider its denial, Great Bridge sued the town in superior court.”

I will not divulge how the court case turned out suffice it to say the twists of the case made for great reading.

Perhaps the most interesting case study in the book focused on Watch Hill, Rhode Island where an area known as Napatree is 90% owned by the Watch Hill Fire District.  The District and another Parcel owner  The Watch Hill Conservancy entered into an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authorizing the service to manage the federally protected piping plover population.  According to Prevost:

The fire district and conservancy had taken it upon themselves to hire wardens and put up signs.

This new arrangement was necessary to protect Napatree from overuse.  Conservancy officials pointed to a study’ they’d commissioned that concluded extensive human (and canine) use was harming the dunes, along with the well-being of threatened birds like the plovers…

…If preserving Napatree was a laudable goal, the locals who regularly roamed its shores were not convinced conservation was the sole aim.  “There was a sense that somehow the conservancy and fire district were trying to exclude people,’ says Steven Hartford, Westerly’s town manager.  The warning that “permission may be withdrawn at any time” sounded like some like a threat.  

This is a concern I have often heard voiced in Central Virginia as land owners enter into conservation easements and then find they may not be able to do what they wish with the land due to the restrictive language of the easement.

Often in local public policy, an oversimplification of developer vs. the-lorax-pic09environmentalist is put forth as the story line.  Very rarely are the lines that clear. 

Regularly, the Suessical Lorax imagery is brought forth to cast the development interests in a negative light.  The Rhode Island case was demonstrative of this issue.

“Although he knows that the preservation of eelgrass beds is important for sustaining healthy fisheries populations DeGrooth is openly suspicious of the Watch Hill groups’ push for more control over the anchorage, an area the general public has freely enjoyed access,”They’re using the curtain of environmental protection for a completely different agenda,” he charges. “they are not dumb.  They are very slow, very methodical.””

In many cases, I see folks who feign environmental concern simply to restrict the lawful development of property that they do not own.  Unfortunately, I tend to agree with the author that the NIMBY or CAVE (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) have the political upper hand.  

In his book review, John Ross writes on Reason.com:

Prevost sees little hope of changing entrenched attitudes about multi-family housing developments. “This is a world where facts are irrelevant,” says a demographer she spoke to. “I’ve explained over and over again that workforce housing is not Section 8 housing with welfare recipients packed in there.”

Snobs dominate local politics and are unlikely to embrace relaxed zoning codes any time soon. Change may yet come, though, as the demand for single-family homes subsides. The next generation simply isn’t as enamored of low-density living as baby boomers were.

With a subtitle of “Fear, Prejudice, and Real Estate” Lisa Prevost’s Snob Zones should be required reading for all Planning Commissioners, Zoning Boards, Boards of Supervisors and City Councils. 

Beyond just a great beach read, this book has the potential to make a difference.  By spotlighting these overzealous zoning regulations and the fortress mentality of NIMBYism that created them, readers will likely reexamine  land-use drawbridge regulatory impacts (intended and unintended) on the entire community.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson

clip_image0024_thumb.pngNeil Williamson is the President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local government public policy organization located in Charlottesville.  www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits : Universal Pictures, Beacon Press

‘Rezoning Ransom’: Repeal cash proffers

Rezoning Ransom OpEd Headline Daily Progress 3 March 2013This editorial first appeared in The Daily Progress on Sunday March 3, 2013.  The full “Contradictory Consequences” white paper can be found at www.freeenterpriseforum.org under the reports tab.  The Free Enterprise Forum is a privately funded public policy organization focused on local government in the Central Virginia region.

 

By. Neil Williamson, President, Free Enterprise Forum

There are times you have to say no to one thing because you said yes to something else. Such is the case with cash proffers.

If a community believes in citizen vetted comprehensive planning, preserving rural areas by densification of development areas and economic vitality, then such a community must say no to the fatally flawed cash proffer system.

In the recently released “Contradictory Consequences” white paper, the Free Enterprise Forum research and case studies explain the impacts of cash proffers. Sold to the public as a way to make growth pay for itself, the unintended negative economic and planning impacts have caused localities across the Commonwealth to repeal this “rezoning ransom” and replace these funds with more dependable and equitable infrastructure funding options. Today, rather than simply recalibrating their cash proffer calculation, as Albemarle County is doing, full repeal is a much more economically and ecologically sensible and sustainable alternative.

Cash proffers are per unit fees “voluntarily” extracted from applicants seeking to rezone their property. In theory, such “voluntary” proffers would be directly tied to the costs associated with the increased density of a rezoning. In reality, cash proffers lower land values, encourage development contrary to comprehensive plans, and create false hope for outside infrastructure funding.

Lower land values, lower property tax revenue – In concept, cash proffers are voluntary payments made by landowners to mitigate the impacts of changing the prescriptive zoning on their property. The concept works best when the rezoned value exceeds the increased cost of the proffer. Such a symbiotic relationship is difficult to achieve with automatic inflation increasing cash proffers and fickle housing markets not keeping pace.

Albemarle Single Family Detached $19,753Townhouse $13,432Multi Family $13,996
Charlottesville No cash proffers
Greene $5,778 per unit
Fluvanna $6,577 per unit
Louisa $4,362 per unit
Nelson No cash proffers

Basic economic theory indicates any increased cost must be paid by an entity that is a part of the transaction. Many believe the increased cost of a cash proffer will be borne by the end user, the new homebuyer. This can only occur in a housing market that has constant upward motion.

If, due to market conditions, the end user is not available to accept the cost of the cash proffer it is the land owner, whose land will be discounted by the increased entitlement costs that cash proffers create. In turn, such reduced land values reduce the locality’s real estate tax assessed value and revenue (absent an increase in the tax rate).

‘By Right’ Development Encouraged Charlottesville and Albemarle are currently updating their State mandated comprehensive plans. These community vetted plans suggest the manner in which the locality wishes to grow in the next twenty years.

In many, if not most, cases the zoning in a locality’s development area does not match the comprehensive plan designation. While the property owner does not have to agree to the comprehensive plan changes, they cannot act on those new designations until they have rezoned the property. Alternatively, if the land owner chooses to move forward with the existing, some might call “stale”, zoning, which likely does not agree with the locality’s comprehensive plan, they can do so immediately without paying any cash proffers.

In 2011, a developer acquired the rights to a project that included property in The City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Charlottesville does not have a cash proffer, while Albemarle’s exceeds $19,000 per single family home. After calculating the increased value of the land with the rezoning in each locality, the developer chose to rezone the property that was in the City (without cash proffers) and chose NOT to rezone the property in the county. This calculated decision was based on calculation of the cost (in money and time) of rezoning the County land exceeded the increase value.

Therefore, the land owner is incentivized to not to follow the community vetted comprehensive plan vision but instead to construct lower density, less thoughtfully designed developments. These projects are built to meet local building and zoning code but absent the enhancements and flexibility a rezoning might allow.

False Financial Hope – Forecasting cash proffer revenue is much like predicting snow in Central Virginia, localities do not know when it is coming, how much they are actually going to get or when it will stop. Cash proffers rarely, if ever, total the amounts localities are banking on.

In November 2012, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors was presented a staff report outlining cash proffers that were in excess of $49.3 million dollars quite literally off the chart.

albemarle proffer 2012 chart with biscuit runAs one looks at this chart (right) and sees almost $50 Million dollars proffered, one might anticipate the cash proffer program is answering the very need it was designed but the Free Enterprise Forum estimates at least 28% of those proffers will never be collected as they are associated with the now defunct Biscuit Run Development.

It is interesting that while the State of Virginia acquired the property for a state park on December 31, 2009, Albemarle County continued to calculate those proffers as receivable in November 2012.

Rural Areas Jeopardized – According to the Piedmont Environmental Council, Albemarle County has in excess of 10,000 units already rezoned for residential development. Why have these not moved forward?

Have the embedded costs of development in Albemarle County, including cash proffers, created a cost burden the market is unable to bear?

If growth trends continue, won’t these embedded costs push residential development out of Albemarle County’s designated growth areas and into the rural areas?

The reality is that cash proffers contribute to the paradigm that rural residential development remains the least expensive, most profitable development option in Albemarle County.

If the cash proffers are pushing development into the rural areas and surrounding localities, what are the community costs of increased traffic, more costly government services delivery, as well as loss of ecologically contributing farmland, and productivity?

Cash proffers have produced a plethora of Contradictory Consequences without achieving significant benefit. Now is the time to repeal this rezoning ransom and replace it with a more sensible and equitable alternative.

clip_image0024_thumb.pngNeil Williamson is the President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local government public policy organization located in Charlottesville. The full Contradictory Consequences report can be found at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Greene County BOS Approve Skyline CAP’s Request

By Brent Wilson, Greene County Field Officer

The Greene County  Board of Supervisors approved a request from Skyline CAP, Incto rezone from R-1 to R-2 at their most recent meeting on August 28th.  This is an increase in residential density per acre, in addition R-2 Residential allows multi-family dwellings by special use permit as opposed to the R-1 Residential only allowing single family dwellings.

The property is located on Jack Russell Lane off Celt Road near the school system in Stanardsville.  As a proffer or offering to the county, Skyline CAP, Inc. will restrict the additional residences to 55 and older.  This was a two step process – first to rezone to R-2 and then secondly to issue a Special Use Permit for a multiple family dwelling.

While the Free Enterprise Forum has no position on this, or any other application.  The Board of Supervisors believed the density change to R-2 in this area fit well with Greene’s Comprehensive Plan.

Affordable housing is a priority which these apartments will fit, especially for the elderly and disabled. Another favorable consideration is the parcel’s location, the apartments are near the town of Stanardsville, banking and shopping. The applicant’s proffering of a resident age restriction (55+) will mitigate any direct impact on the school system and the county funding of schools.

Concurrently with this application, Skyline CAP, Inc. is undertaking its annual survey of needs assessments of its localities. They are surveying both housing needs  and community needs  and are intended to identify the needs housing for seniors, disabled and homeless. The Housing Needs Assessment targets specific questions about what functionality is needed and what type of housing is needed. Within rental housing, it asks that you prioritize potential housing solutions. For home ownership, it asks what issues are most important from weatherproofing to methods of ownership.

While this self selecting survey has the same non scientific balance the Free Enterprise Forum faulted in the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) livability survey, we again have decided to encourage folks to participate despite this lack of scientific sampling.

The Community Needs Survey targets employment, education, type of housing, money management and outlines the programs that they offer. Specifically, the survey asks to prioritize employment issues. In regards to education, the survey asks to prioritize types of education vs. child care. Housing issues are listed from lack of housing to knowledge of how to buy a home. Skyline CAP, Inc. was founded in 2009 and has the mission of helping those in need attain self-sufficiency. Here is the mission statement of Skyline CAP……

The agency is organized and operated as a not for profit corporation exclusively for community service activities including education and charitable purposes. Specifically, the purpose is to advance the general welfare and conditions of low income, elderly and/or disadvantaged person by providing programs and services that shall promote, develop and encourage activities and means to improve housing, educational and literacy needs. And further, will help low income families and individuals move out of poverty and help to alleviate the conditions associated with poverty; and to that d, sponsor, support, promote and undertake safe, affordable housing projects, education projects and other services to include the designated Counties of Greene, Orange, Madison, and in the future, contiguous counties that may be without community action services, without regard to race, religion, and national origin.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes Skyline Cap is a part of the affordable housing solution we wrote about earlier this week in a Daily Progress Guest Editorial.

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Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.

The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

“New Normal” Demands a New Affordable Housing Diagnosis

This editorial first appeared in The Daily Progress on Sunday, August 26, 2012

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By Neil Williamson, President, Free Enterprise Forum

Over the years, Central Virginia localities have attempted to address the need for affordable shelter in a variety of ways.  Every locality is mandated by the Code of Virginia to have an “Affordable Housing” chapter in their comprehensive plan. The Albemarle County Planning Commission is discussing their plan on Tuesday, August 28th.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the state mandate for an affordable housing chapter in comprehensive plans is both out-of-date and has created a myopic view of housing.  We encourage the Commonwealth and localities to use a wider lens and seek to understand how local actions, proffer requirements and regulations impact housing affordability across all price points.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes affordable housing must include the region’s significant affordable rental opportunities in addition to affordable for purchase housing.  Housing policy needs to be timely and comprehensive in addressing the needs of residents at all ages, income levels, and lifestyles.

While each locality is different in its approach, the Free Enterprise Forum believes there has been a misplaced emphasis on the supply side of affordable housing; we contend in most localities there could be an ample supply of affordable housing choices if financing and regulatory hurdles could be removed.

Further, as many of these policies were first written at the top of the housing bubble, it would be wise to revisit the concepts and the assumptions with the “new normal” in mind. 

If there is any lesson learned from the latest housing crash, it is that not everyone needs to, or should be, a homeowner.  Homeownership is of great value to a community but it is not for everyone.  National housing experts seem to agree 60-65% homeownership is sustainable.    Most of our localities already exceed this measure. 

What is each locality’s homeownership goal? 

Should a locality have a goal?

homeownership chart

Source US Census 2010

It is important to note that the City of Charlottesville’s percentage of homeownership is significantly lower than the neighboring localities. 

Is this a bad thing?

Much of the City’s housing is rental student housing.  The University of Virginia generally houses just 30% of its full-time students on grounds.  The balance fills rental opportunities in both the City of Charlottesville and to a lesser extent the urban ring of Albemarle County. In addition, the compact design and availability of public transit increase viability of city rentals.

For the purposes of this discussion, affordable is defined as dwelling units with a monthly cost equal or less than 30% of the household income at 80% of area median income.  If we use an annual median income of $50,000, 80% of that income is $40,000 which suggests a budget of $1,200 a month for shelter (30%*40,000).  Albemarle County currently defines affordable as “Maximum sales price of $211,250.  Rents would be determined based on bedroom size and tenant-paid utilities; ex. 2br $1,029 maximum with owner paying all utilities”

Failure of Financing – The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) provides financing for the vast majority of “affordable” buyers.  The FHA is reluctant to finance condominium purchases, wary of the restrictions placed on property owners holding such property.  This regulatory roulette keeps many families off what could be their first step on the homeownership ladder.

A recent property search of the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) Multiple Listing Service (MLS) resulted in 582 properties being listed at $175,000 or less.  When condominiums were eliminated from the search, the number of properties available dropped by more than 18% to 473.  If FHA financing regulations were reduced, the number of truly affordable units for purchase would increase without building one “new” unit.

Down Payment Catch 22 – Down payment assistance money is being left on the table.   Financing issues are by far the most difficult to conquer.  Despite interest rates being at a historic low point, the number of folks who can qualify for a mortgage in the current market is relatively small.

With this difficulty of folks being able to qualify for mortgage financing because of  tightening of credit terms, the unintended result is the inability of down payment assistance funds to be distributed to those in need.  In order to qualify for the assistance, applicants must not exceed certain income limits and such a limited income (and a low credit score) will not qualify for the needed underlying mortgage financing.

Cost of “Public Services” Harms Affordability – Most planners agree locating affordable shelter near services makes for more efficient delivery of such services.  To build in such “development areas” requires the unit to hook up to public water and sewer.  The cost of these hook ups is $10,000 each in Greene County (slightly lower in the other localities). 

When presented with this question last year, Albemarle County Service Authority (ACSA) Executive Director Gary O’Connell said that the ACSA is about building and maintaining infrastructure as well as providing water and sewer service efficiently to its customers; affordable housing is not an ACSA issue.

Cost of Community Design Harms Affordability – Many of the localities have pursued a complete street philosophy regarding new neighborhood construction.  A complete street may include curb, gutter, bike lane, on street parking, street trees and a sidewalk.  Each of these mandated amenities comes at a cost, making the delivery of affordable housing even more challenging.

Overlapping/Conflicting Agency Responsibilities Harms Affordability – Super agencies such as Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), US Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), and Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) often have overlapping jurisdiction with localities and each other, the additional time it takes to sort out this alphabet soup of regulators adds time and cost to every project.

Rental Stock Blinders – While the state code is very clear that rental housing is a part of the housing equation and several localities include the use of “affordable housing” proffers on rental assistance, rarely is such housing considered when calculating the availability of affordable housing.  

A recent review of the Blue Ridge Apartment Council website showed 158 properties currently available for rental under $850 a month.  While no such rental database exists for the outlying counties, it is reasonable to assume a significant portion of the affordable housing in those communities is being provided by private landlords both with and without the use of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) vouchers.  Comprehensive plans must recognize the significant role affordable rental stock has on the market.  In addition, localities should embrace the property owner community and build bridges to better serve these important taxpayers and service providers.

As localities prepare their five-year revisions of their comprehensive plans, the Free Enterprise Forum has several questions related to their housing policies:

  • What is the locality’s goal percentage of owner occupied housing and why?
  • What is a sustainable rate of homeownership?
  • Is rental stock considered a part of the locality’s affordable housing inventory?
  • How is the locality helping property owners achieve affordability?
  • What is the level of community investment dedicated to affordable housing?
  • Is the locality providing financial literacy training?
  • If new affordable housing stock is created how will is stay affordable?
  • Should dwelling units be distributed equally throughout the community or should they be focused close to services (transit, employment opportunities etc.)?
  • Some of the affordable housing stock is of low quality.  This makes it less desirable for purchase and more expensive to maintain.  Can/should affordable housing policies include incentives to upgrade, or replace, substandard housing stock?
  • Can, and should, localities forgive or reduce required fees on new affordable housing creation?

Just as the housing market is dynamic, the discussion of affordability must be an ongoing conversation.  The Free Enterprise Forum welcomes an open, comprehensive discussion regarding how to best support our community’s housing goals.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

20070731williamson

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,

FCI’s Greene County Development Proposal Narrowly Approved, 3-2

By Pauline Hovey, Field Officer

After a two-hour public hearing on Tuesday (2/28) evening, the Greene County Board of Supervisors approved, by a vote of 3-2, a controversial planned unit development (PUD) on Route 29 north that will bring townhomes to Greene County.

“This will put us in a unique market position that nobody’s serving right now,” Steve Jones, chief operating officer of Fried Companies, Inc., said after the meeting. “We think this is a better project that will provide more market diversity. There already are many single family options out there.”

The applicant BlueMarle LLC/Missus LLC/Fried Companies’ had requested a rezoning that would allow the developer to change its model from an approved 800 unit by-right subdivision to a PUD of 1,180 dwelling units, to include no more than 600 single family homes and 580 townhomes. This request has raised the ire and interest of local residents and businesses over the past several months, attested by the standing-room-only crowd that turned out for the public hearing.

Of particular interest here and in the Board’s recent denial of Greenecroft’s application to amend proffers is that both decisions are in opposition to the Planning Commission’s recommendations. The Planning Commission had unanimously recommended approval of Greenecroft’s request, which also would have brought townhomes to the county and created less controversy among residents, and unanimously recommended denial of the BlueMarle/Fried Companies’ request.

About a dozen people on either side of the issue addressed the board, with many local business owners supporting the rezoning request because of the anticipated increase in their business and boon to the local economy the additional homes would bring. Referring to Fried Companies’ proposal to build the additional 380 homes over a 20-year period, Alan Pyle, owner of The Lafayette Inn in Stanardsville, said, “The question is, what do we have to gain for the extra 19 new homes per year?” Pyle noted the developer already has approval for 800 by-right homes on that site, so the traffic will increase regardless. But, he argued, if supervisors did not approve this PUD, they would not only not receive needed proffers but would eventually pass on the county’s water and sewer financial needs to taxpayers.

Pyle’s sentiments were echoed by other business interests such as the owners of the local Dunkin Donuts, Fabio’s Restaurant, and Anytime Fitness; Jim Kuznar of the Blue Ridge Homebuilders Association; Harry Daniel, principal of the Greene County Tech Center; and Don Pamenter representing the Economic Development Authority board.

Those speaking against the rezoning were concerned about the additional traffic, the condition and safety of Preddy Creek Road, the increased need for fire and rescue services, the impact on the school system, and the county’s growing water and sewer needs. Some suggested the board take time to consider all options, including additional proffers, before approving the request.

“The capacity of the sewer plant will be reached without these additional homes,” warned Andrea Wilkinson, of the Ruckersville Citizens Council.

carl_schmittFormer supervisor Carl Schmitt had several issues with the proposal, including the unneeded increased residential potential, noting that Greene County “is second only to Albemarle in population density,” and the public water supply. “We don’t even have the permit application approved yet,” he said of the water impoundment project. “Few people appreciate the difficult situation we’re in.”

Based on the number of townhomes expected to be built as a result of the rezoning, the applicant estimates the county will receive $7.6 million in tap fees. This amount is based on Greene’s current $20,000 combined water and sewer hookup fees. Proffers offered are $1.6 million in transportation improvements, three acres of land dedicated to public use, $570,000 in cash, and $1,500 per single family unit for the first three units. The developer is proffering a connector road running east to west, from Preddy Creek Road at its intersection with Autumn Oaks Lane through the development emptying onto Route 29. Although Jones said they would build the connector road, which was recommended in a traffic impact study, before any homes are constructed, the road is contingent upon VDOT’s approval of a traffic signal and entrance location on Route 29. Jones argued it would relieve the congestion on Matthew Mill Road that residents experience during commuter hours. “VDOT supports this connector road and is on record as saying the improvements they’re making to 607 will not be enough to alleviate traffic,” he said.

But local residents challenged that claim and many were particularly concerned about adding any vehicles to the already dangerous Preddy Creek Road—the site of numerous accidents and a few deaths. Greg Krystyniak, a licensed engineer and resident, expressed concern about the road’s current condition and suggested more proffers were needed to fix the road before allowing any increased traffic.

After the lengthy hearing, Supervisors Eddied Deane (at-large) and David Cox (Monroe) voted without hesitation to approve the project. Chairman Buggs Peyton (Stanardsville), despite noting some positive considerations about the project, voted against it, as did Supervisor Davis Lamb (Ruckersville).

jim_frydlWhen the vote came to Supervisor Jim Frydl (Midway), he wavered before approving the project. When the Free Enterprise Forum asked him later about his hesitation, Frydl said, “I thought it was the least bad of two bad choices. It was a tradeoff for the county to get some things we need from this decision and obtain more than we’ll lose. With the sewer plant debt looming and the future water impoundment, this will help offset payments. We’ll get 15 to 20 water sewer taps at a time with the townhomes.”

At the same time, Frydl is concerned about the board not following any written cash proffer policy and handling this on an individual basis. “It’s setting a precedent, making it difficult to make such decisions in the future,” he said.

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Pauline Hovey is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.

The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits: Greene County

Budget Woes Arrive in Fluvanna; Ullenbruch’s Support Erodes

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer

Well that did not take long. Just a week after Fluvanna County’s draft budget was announced, the fractures in the Budget Committee presentation appeared, with one committee member – new supervisor Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra) backpedalling from his support for spending cuts and a large tax increase.

During the February 15th Board of Supervisors meeting, at which there was a paucity of substantive action, some budgetary outlines did emerge. Subsequent conversations showed even more fissures.

Both supervisors Don Weaver (Cunningham) and Ullenbruch opposed establishing a capital reserve fund that would allow for planned replacement and repair of county facilities and equipment. This was one of the more novel additions to the Capital Improvement Plan by the Budget Committee and is designed to institute a more professional approach to county management.

Mr. Weaver introduced a number of other budget cut proposals to the Board that would drastically reduce the need for major tax increase, but the supervisors took no action on his proposal. Mr. Ullenbruch sought to introduce into this budget operational funding necessary to support future capital improvement projects beyond FY 2013. Chairman Shaun Kenney politely informed him that such expenditures would be irrelevant until such time as the projects are undertaken.

Subsequent conversations with government officials revealed heightened frustration with the turn of events. Instead of working from an endorsed budget committee proposal to the supervisors, the backtracking began almost immediately. For example, small cuts to constitutional officers — less than $100,000 — now may be restored if one supervisor gets his way, according to one source.

Moreover there is a strong element of mistrust creeping into the whole process. One supervisor has accused the staff of duplicity, saying he “was duped”, according to a senior official. Moreover, Mr. Ullenbruch has publically informed his colleagues that he “probably knows more about the budget than anyone at this table”. Frequently he also has publically informed the staff that they are wrong on particular points.

Frustration also was evident when Ullenbruch could not get one colleague to support his “government reform committee” proposal. It went beyond the Board of Supervisors’ governing authority and his colleagues returned it to him for further work.

The supervisors will meet with the Fluvanna School Board on February 22nd for an initial budget discussion.

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William Des Rochers is the Fluvanna County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.

The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org