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Albemarle board wants more affordable housing talks

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors want another meeting to review an update to the county’s housing policy.

The Board at its meeting Wednesday reviewed and provided feedback on a draft of the updated housing policy. Supervisors ultimately asked that a joint work session on the policy update be scheduled with the Planning Commission.

“…We just need to sit down and get in the weeds and have some time on this,” Board Chairman Ned Gallaway said “I think there’s a bigger picture philosophy and policy questions here relevant to your density bonus that I’d love to get into.”

Citing a Daily Progress story, Supervisor Donna Price noted that only about half of affordable for-sale homes constructed in Albemarle through its current policy have been purchased by income-qualified homebuyers. Only about 22% of estimated proffered for-sale homes have been built to date.

“Without casting aspersions on any individual, I would say that that is a demonstration that the current housing plan in Albemarle County has not only been unsuccessful, but frankly, would be an abysmal failure,” she said.

The draft policy contains objectives aimed at increasing the overall housing supply; increasing the supply of affordable and workforce housing; preservation of existing housing and communities; community engagement; fair housing and community equity; homelessness and special populations; and sustainable communities. Each objective contains multiple strategies.

Proposed priority actions for the first three years of the plan include to create a package of developer incentives for affordable and workforce housing; implement an affordable dwelling unit program ordinance; create an affordable housing trust fund; and create a housing advisory committee.

Albemarle’s current affordable housing policy was established in 2004 and was tweaked during the 2015 Comprehensive Plan update. The policy defines affordable housing and safe, decent housing, with housing costs that do not exceed 30% of the gross household income, and sets the expectation that, at minimum, 15% of all units developed under a rezoning or special-use permit should be affordable for people at or below 80% of the area median income.

The new draft policy proposes that affordable housing would be for those with incomes no greater than 60% of AMI, adjusted for household size, for renters, and no greater than 80% AMI for homebuyers.

A new category of workforce housing would be for households with incomes between 60% and 120% AMI for renters and between 80% and 120% AMI for buyers.

Area median income is currently $93,900 per household, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Currently, a developer must offer proffered for-sale homes to income qualifying homebuyers for a period of around 90 days, depending upon the period in the proffer, said Stacy Pethia, the county’ principal planner for housing. If no buyer is identified during that time period then the developer can sell that unit at market rate and the proffer is considered satisfied.

Developers had worked with a county program and now work with Piedmont Housing Alliance to connect with potentially eligible homebuyers.

“Many of them are not able to qualify for a mortgage at the $243,000 price level, but there’s also a marketing problem — it’s difficult for the developers to get connected with homebuyers,” Pethia said.

Pethia said housing advocates are hoping a housing locator website being set up through the Central Virginia Regional Housing Partnership will help bring in more income qualified buyers to that process.

Price spoke about her near-vote against Parkway Place, a proposed apartment complex that was ultimately deferred after supervisors expressed concerns about traffic. Parkway Place was offering at least 49 units of affordable housing, which were to be maintained as affordable rental units at fair market rents for 10 years.

“That is a vote I’ve come to regret, because when I voted against that development, it took away a plan for a substantial number of affordable housing units,” she said. “I have contributed in that vote to not making housing available and affordable.”

Supervisor Diantha McKeel said she was concerned about the community becoming more financially segregated.

“We have segregated communities right now and I think it’s based a lot on the balance sheet, right, the finances, and that’s concerning me,” she said.

During public comment, Neil Williamson, president of the Free Enterprise Forum, asked the board if it will prioritize affordability over homeowners who say “not in my backyard.”

“After 17 years of watching development proposals shrink in density throughout the development review process, I’m curious if this or any board will be able to stand up to those who have said as we heard earlier this year, ‘Affordable housing is great just not here,’ when we’re looking at rezonings,” he said. “Politically, we need to turn NIMBY into YIMBY, yes in my backyard, to increase the affordable housing units.”


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