Developers talk affordable housing


“The real answer to solve our affordability problems for our mainstream workforce lie in our for-profit developers.” So thought Dave Phillips, CEO of the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors, following an August affordable housing info session with various nonprofit groups at the County Planning Commission. To give the County the developers’ perspective on affordable housing, Phillips organized a similar work session on October 24 with local developers Vito Cetta, Josh Goldschmidt and Don Franco.
“The affordable housing aspect is a civic responsibility,” said Franco, of KG Associates. “Our goal is not to talk you out of affordable housing, convince you that you can’t produce it, but to share with you some of the realities of what we’re facing trying to produce that housing.”
Cetta, who leads Weather Hill Homes, began by praising the County’s policies, which has guidelines suggesting 15 percent of housing on projects needing special approval be “affordable”—costing roughly $190,000 or less (developers can also choose to provide money for a County housing fund instead).
“We started the affordable housing process three years ago, and I’d say if nothing changes, we all should be quite pleased with the success we’ve had,” Cetta said. Goldschmidt, CEO of Church Hill Homes, shared that though he originally thought the housing policy a “huge, huge mistake,” he supports it now.
Developers agreed that one large problem with current policy is how to maintain that supply of affordable housing. Characterizing many current affordable units as subsidies provided by developers, Cetta suggested a deed restriction on the homes that would link resale value with the consumer price index.
Concerning the market, Cetta said that he’s finding that land prices are coming down—or at least stabilizing—which came as a surprise to many on the commission. “It’s a buyer’s market right now,” said Cetta.
Both Goldschmidt and Franco were in favor of a 1 or 2 cent property tax increase, designated for a housing trust fund. “I think it’s a community issue and the community should help support it,” said Franco.
Phillips raised the question of UVA’s role: “I think overall the University is the player here that’s not at the table, ever, on this discussion. If we can’t get them on board, we can never solve the affordable housing thing.” Phillips made it clear that the session was about “workforce” housing—not housing for the “working poor.”
Commissioners expressed interest in following up with developers to learn more about unintended consequences of many of the County’s policies.
Developers seemed willing, but Goldschmidt stressed that the process “has to start with trust.”