County planners defer affordable housing changes

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To increase the supply of area homes under $200,000, the Albemarle County Planning Commission considered, but deferred action on, changes to the zoning code that would provide extra incentives to by-right developers who include affordable housing. Though the County currently has a 15 percent affordable policy in place for projects needing special permits, current incentives for by-right projects (those that don’t need commission approval in order to go through) are rarely used, says Ron White, chief of housing.
    As it stands now, County zoning allows a developer to increase density by 30 percent on a by-right project, assuming that those additional units are “affordable” to those earning 80 percent of median area income—which translates into a roughly $190,000 home. That means that if developers can legally build 100 homes in a growth area, the policy allows them to add 30 homes to the project—providing all 30 are affordable.
    White proposed changing the zoning so that developers can profit more from the extra density, allowing 30 percent more units if half of additional units are affordable. The developer building 100 homes could add 30 homes providing at least 15 are considered affordable, and thereby get 15 more market-priced homes out of the deal.
    Discussion quickly shifted from the specifics of the plan to larger questions of affordable housing—how much greater supply is needed, the extent to which government should get involved, and the trade-offs working-class families are willing to make.
    “In the whole discussion of affordable housing, we leave out a focus on whether we should let the market deal with it,” said White.
    The best support for the need of affordable housing was anecdotal. “We had a joint leadership council meeting with the schools a few weeks ago,” said White. “All they wanted to talk about was affordable housing because the teachers coming in can’t find a place to live.” He also cited government employees who live in surrounding counties: “There’s enough information to show you there’s something missing in the supply chain here.”
    A more scientific assessment of area housing demand is currently in the works at Virginia Tech, commissioned by the Thomas Jefferson District Planning Commission, and should be available in late September.

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