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City of Williamsburg Planning Commission Discusses Affordable Housing Solutions

City of Williamsburg Planning Commission held a work session on March 23 to discuss affordable housing in the area. (WYDaily/Ben Mackin)

WILLIAMSBURG — The Williamsburg Planning Commission held a work session on March 23, 2022, to discuss affordable housing.

The presentation was given by Williamsburg City Manager Andrew Trivette.

“This initiative was born out of the city’s strategic planning process that we do every two years,” said Trivette. “The city council wanted us to address affordable housing but we didn’t really have a lot of good strategies and we knew that we wanted to involve experts in the field to come up with a good list that then could come back to the city council for consideration and implementation.”

The Affordable Housing Workgroup examined plans used by three other Virginia cities. The group looked into ideas, concepts, and the overall plan design that could potentially be used in Williamsburg. The plans considered are being used in Alexandria, Charlottesville and and Fairfax, respectively.

The report boiled down a list of more than eighty affordable housing initiatives to 13 recommendations. The affordable housing workgroup used a survey tool where they ranked their concepts in the order of what they liked most. The top five were heavily favored by the housing workgroup. The list from the report included the following concepts:

  1. Hotel to Affordable Housing Conversion: “The City should add up to 843 new units to the existing Planned Development Housing District in phases to allow more existing hotels to convert to affordable housing.”
  2. Triangle Redevelopment: “The City should pursue redevelopment of the Triangle Buiding and the Blayton Building to provide new affordable housing units in a mixed-income and mixed-use development pattern.”
  3. Workforce Housing at Waller Mill: “The City should proceed with the construction of at least 35 workforce units on city property surrounding Waller Mill Reservoir.”
  4. Mixed-Income Mixed-Use plan: “The City should implement a design requirement for mixed-use and mixed-income on all new commercial spaces and redevelopment applications along Capitol Landing Road.”
  5. CDBG Rehab Grants: “The City should seek a Community Development Block Fund Grant(s) to assist in neighborhood-scale rehabilitation as a preservation tool for existing affordable housing units.”
  6. Inclusionary Zoning: “Inclusionary zoning is a zoning policy that either requires or encourages, through density or height bonuses, the inclusion of AFH units in a market-rate development or redevelopment.”
  7. Two-Story Development Requirement: “Requiring at least two-story structures provides for higher density and the opportunity for AFH units above commercial or office space.”
  8. Soft Density: “Soft density is seen as an equity strategy. As a practice, this tool eliminates single-family-only zoning categories and ass a minimum density of duplexes to each zone.”
  9. Affordable Accessory Units: “Allowing detached accessory dwelling units for owner-occupied homes makes the home more affordable and adds a new affordable unit.”
  10. Community Land Trust: “Using a Community Land Trust to purchase properties and then sell the structure lowers the purchase price and keeps the home affordable in perpetuity.”
  11. Impact/Linkage Fees: “Imposing impact fees on new residential development applications or linkage fees on new commercial applications provides a funding stream for a multitude of AFH projects.”
  12. PPP Loan Consortium: “A public-private partnership loan consortium is a partnership of for-profit and not-for-profit entities for the purpose of funding affordable housing projects.”
  13. W&M Assisted Employee Housing: “Employer-assisted housing as an employee benefit for university faculty and staff is used as a recruitment and retention tool for its staff in high-cost housing markets.”

According to the report, “The first five recommendations were prioritized based on the time to impact, affordable housing (AFH) units created, and income category addressed. The additional eight concepts are valid AFH strategies and could be considered as further action steps.”

“The message here isn’t, ‘only do the five.’ The message here is you really need to consider all 13, and as circumstances change, the environment changes around us, maybe one of those 6-13 actually rises to the top and we decide to do that earlier,” Trivette said in his presentation to the City Planning Commission.

Each of the top five concepts had potential challenges that the report made sure to include. For example, challenges for Hotel to AFH Conversion include:

  1. Loss of Commercial Properties
  2. Increased School Population
  3. Adjacent Property Acceptance
  4. Lowering the Median Income
  5. Community Acceptance

More in-depth information on the affordable housing workgroup report can be found on the Williamsburg City website.

The next regular City Planning Commission meeting is slated for April 20, 2020.

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