Recent headlines in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and other newspapers across the commonwealth note the “hot” housing market with inventory down and prices up. While this market is great for sellers, where does it leave the thousands of working Virginians who are looking for safe, affordable housing to rent or buy?
In late June, the problem of housing affordability was one of the main themes that emerged during the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Metro Business Live forum. The panelists discussed the fact that the inventory of homes for sale in the Richmond region was down significantly from last year — especially for first-time homebuyers. They concluded that a combination of this low inventory, along with rising prices, has created a crisis in affordability.
As a local Realtor and broker in the Roanoke Valley since 1991 and active member in the Virginia Realtors and the National Association of Realtors, I’ve had a front row seat to the changing housing landscape. That experience led to my service on the Virginia Housing Development Authority’s (VHDA) Board of Commissioners. As I end my term on the board, I am proud of the work being done by VHDA to increase the availability of affordable housing.
VHDA, one of the top state housing finance agencies in the country, receives no state tax dollars and is self-supporting. For almost 50 years, VHDA has increased affordable housing across the commonwealth by working in public-private partnerships with local governments, community service organizations, lenders, Realtors, developers and others.
VHDA provides mortgage loans and down payment grants for first-time homebuyers, as well as tax credits and financing for apartment communities and neighborhood revitalization efforts. Through its REACH Virginia programs, VHDA also provides tens of millions of dollars each year for lower interest rate financing and grants to its partners including nonprofit and public agencies serving targeted housing needs.
Also, for more than a decade, VHDA has worked to increase workforce housing through its mixed-use/mixed-income (MU/MI) program. This is complex work requiring years of planning and involving many partners — local government, developers and lenders. But the idea is simple: Focus revitalization efforts in areas where affordable housing and community development are most needed. Often these projects are close to employment centers and provide housing for the workforce, including teachers, police officers and nurses.
Roanokers know the importance of restoring the historic Patrick Henry Hotel as apartments; South 16 At The Bridges transformed an old mill and scrap yard; and the Locker Room Lofts repurposed the former YMCA. With the VHDA MU/MI financing comes the requirement to set aside at least 20% of the apartments for low- and moderate-income renters. Without the MU/MI program, it is likely that all of these units would serve higher-income renters.
Typically, VHDA is willing to take the risk of being the first lender in a community revitalization effort. In Richmond, The Locks I and II transformed the old Reynolds Metals manufacturing plants on the James River into 175 apartments close to downtown offices, shopping and restaurants. Currently under construction is the Church Hill North community, on the site of the old Armstrong High School. This area with a high concentration of poverty is being transformed into a mix of both rental and homeownership opportunities for low- and moderate-income families. And Artisan Hill in Richmond’s East End, which includes historic preservation, is expected to spark revitalization in a neglected part of the city.
Recognizing that the diverse areas of the commonwealth have different market needs, VHDA has created a tremendous array of loan products. Over the past five years, VHDA made almost 31,000 home loans. To help first-time homebuyers, VHDA provided down payment assistance and free homeownership education.
VHDA also financed more than 18,000 rental units, most of which provide stable housing for low-income, homeless or disabled people as well as workforce housing. I am very proud of the support VHDA is providing to public housing authorities in transforming neighborhoods. And VHDA is increasingly recognized as a partner in economic development efforts across the state.
We know that when housing is affordable and accessible to good jobs, good schools and good transportation, it strengthens the economy and builds strong communities. While VHDA cannot do it all, it is dedicated to being a mobilizing force for affordable housing by ensuring that VHDA is well-positioned to work with a variety of partners and stakeholders to meet its mission in every housing market across the commonwealth.