As the economy develops and changes in the Historic Triangle, a workforce trend has emerged: Many working in the county either do not or cannot live in the same locality they work in.
As the trend continues, James City County has made plans to address the lack of housing for lower-wage workers – reducing their commutes, transportation costs and time spent traveling each week.
On Friday, James City County submitted a request for proposals, seeking a consultant to evaluate the need for affordable and workforce housing in the county, according to documents released Friday morning.
The request calls for a consultant to guide “a workforce and affordable housing task force,” which will develop a set of recommendations to present to the Board of Supervisors.
Keeping James City County’s workforce both employed and housed in the county would help with business development and expansion, documents state. Economic development patterns in the county show many residents work outside of the county, and many workforce members commute into the county for their jobs.
“This disconnect between jobs and housing can cause many challenges for the community, including high housing and transportation costs and traffic congestion, and can dampen desirable economic development due to a lack of diversity in the local labor force,” the documents state.
County Administrator Bryan Hill said hiring a consultant has been discussed by community stakeholders at board meetings and neighborhood forums. The process started in September 2014.
The objective is to “develop a synergy to enhance our community,” he added.
The task force will discuss the issue of affordable housing with the public, as well as look at variables that affect availability of affordable housing.
The task force’s work is estimated to take about 12 to 18 months, documents state.
In November, the Board of Supervisors adopted the 2035 Strategic Plan, a road map for the county’s future. The plan puts an emphasis on “expanding and diversifying” the local economy, which, in part, requires affordable workforce housing for those who work in the area.
The county has set aside some funds to implement various parts of the strategic plan, such as the affordable and workforce housing consultant, Hill said.
He added the county has not budgeted a particular amount for the consultant, but “if it breaks the budget,” it will be pushed back to the next fiscal year.
Before the strategic plan was adopted, the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission found affordable housing was high on the list of needs in the county.
A housing conditions study by the Virginia Center for Housing Research at Virginia Tech presented to the Board of Supervisors in February 2016, showed individuals must earn at least $35,000 a year to secure “decent” housing.
Robert Krupicka, a representative of consultant CZB, which worked with Virginia Tech on the study, said a large sector of the county’s economy – including retail, restaurants and elderly care – does not pay workers’ salaries at or above $35,000.
Even before the study, during a November 2014 meeting, Supervisor Michael Hipple explained roadblocks the county must overcome to build affordable housing.
“That’s a tough thing to do in James City County,” said Hipple, a builder by trade. “Is it something we should do? Yeah. But with the regulations and the standards and the cost of land and the cost of doing business, you cannot make enough to even build a house that’s affordable – that’s really an affordable house in James City County.”
In May, the James City County Planning Commission had a tie vote on a 45-unit “affordable housing” subdivision proposed near the intersection of Longhill and Centerville roads. The project has not yet moved to the Board of Supervisors, and was not reflected in meeting agendas available online Friday.
The deadline for the affordable housing consultant applications is Sept. 6.
WYDaily archives were used in this article.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include information from County Administrator Bryan Hill.