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Albemarle officials discuss update of affordable housing policy

Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors and Planning Commissioners want to do more for affordable housing.

The county is in the process of updating its affordable housing policy, which originally was implemented in 2004 and was tweaked during the 2015 Comprehensive Plan update.

The two bodies met earlier this week to discuss the draft updated affordable housing policy, which 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.

Planning Commissioner Karen Firehock said she was concerned about the county’s willingness to approve higher density, affordable developments in the urban ring around Charlottesville.

“There have been several that have been turned down, and if we are indeed committed to this, I think we need to rise above some of the concerns of some of the neighbors who have come in and testified to the Planning Commission saying that they have their $450,000 house and they don’t think it’s right that someone might live across the street in a $250,000 unit,” she said at the meeting. “And I don’t think that’s right.”

Earlier this year, the board was heading toward a tie vote, which would have resulted in a denial, on a proposal for up to 328 apartments at the intersection of the John W. Warner Parkway and Rio Road, but the developer deferred the request. Supervisors were concerned about traffic around the project.

The Planning Commission had voted 5-2 to recommend approval of the development, called Parkway Place.

The proposal included at least 49 units of affordable housing, which were to be maintained as affordable rental units at fair market rents for 10 years. Fair market rent in 2020 is $1,082 for a one-bedroom unit, $1,262 for a two-bedroom unit and $1,573 for a three-bedroom unit.

According to an attorney representing the developer of Parkway Place, the company no longer has the property under contract and won’t be moving forward with the project.

Firehock said she would like to see the county invest its resources in finding ways to acquire land or units that will not “disappear” once a person sells their house.

“Albemarle’s urban ring and the county in general are beautiful and attractive and wonderful places to live, and they’re going to keep becoming a hotter and hotter prospect,” she said. “I think what’s going to happen is affordability is going to continue to decline, and I’m concerned that we do these strategies, but we lose the units that we’ve invested in.”

Supervisor Diantha McKeel said they need to think “big and audacious” and suggested they move the school division’s transportation department and school bus yard to proffered land across from the new Brookhill development on U.S. 29., and use the area on Lambs Lane to build housing.

“We have been denying proposals that add density in areas where we have been saying … we need density,” she said. “So let’s put a stake in the ground and say we’re serious about affordable housing, and this is what we’re going to do.”

Some commissioners and supervisors also said they want to make sure the proffered for-sale affordable housing units are getting purchased by qualifying families at the affordable rate.

“My brain is totally wrapped around the things we can do right now, which are things we used to do in 2010,” said Supervisor Ann H. Mallek. “That would get us back on track so much more quickly, because we did have homeowner training that went on for a year, while things were being built, [and] we did have voucher lists that were kept up to date. I guess my great concern is that over the last several months, I have learned that we don’t do any of those things anymore.”

Stacy Pethia, the county’ principal planner for housing, said she is notified when the proffered for-sale units are about to become available, and she sends information out to area nonprofits. Many developers have started working directly with the Piedmont Housing Alliance to locate buyers.

“Part of the problem that we’re running into is that many lower- and moderate-income homebuyers just can’t afford to pay $243,000 perhaps,” she said.

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

Based on the current area household median income of $93,900, a for-sale affordable level house would be sold for $191,750.

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.

Based on the current AMI, a for-sale workforce-level house would be sold for $215,150.

Mallek said the “biggest obstacle” that community members have with additional growth is around infrastructure.

“As we make progress with our infrastructure, that will help people to be more comfortable that we actually have the ability to cope with more people,” she said.

Commissioner Julian Bivens encouraged supervisors to help change the conversation about the area housing stock needs, and to help “bring down some of the anxiety in our community about what density feels like, and what that might do to our community writ large.”

“Having a different type of housing structure or housing community adjacent to yours is not a fourth horse in the apocalypse, that’s not what it is,” he said.

He said he also hopes that supervisors will consider what the county can contribute in terms of land or money.

“I would offer a suggestion that if we invest in bringing businesses here, as we invest in improving our school systems, and keeping them on the cutting edge, that we also need to invest in providing accessible — and I like to call it income accessible — housing to the people who come here and work,” he said.

County staff will be adding the officials’ comments to the document, and then in January it will be posted for public viewing and public comment. It will again be brought to the Board of Supervisors in March.


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