During months of talks about housing needs in James City County, the people who are working on updating the county’s plan for the future have heard one theme consistently reiterated to them by the public: the need for affordable housing.
The county’s Board of Supervisors met last week with the Planning Commission’s working group charged with analyzing the new draft of the comprehensive plan, a document that guides development in the county through 2035. The supervisors used some of that time to talk about the challenges of attracting developers to build affordable housing in James City County.
“That’s a tough thing to do in James City County,” Supervisor Michael Hipple (Powhatan), a builder by trade, said at last week’s meeting on building affordable housing. “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.”
Hipple suggested the key to getting more affordable housing on the market is to encourage more concentrated development, like condominiums and apartments. Supervisor John McGlennon (Roberts) agreed the solution for adding more affordable housing to the county is not the standalone house.
But James City County is a community largely defined by new single-family homes — think houses and townhouses built within the last 45 years — owned by those who live in them. Eighty-two percent of the 30,623 residential units in the county in 2012 were classified as single family, with 35 percent built after 2000, according to the American Community Survey conducted that year. More than three-quarters of those houses are owned by the people who live in them.
For those who lived in the county’s 5,180 rental properties in 2012 — with a median monthly rental rate of $1,162 — 52 percent were considered by the ACS survey to be rent burdened, meaning more than 30 percent of the household’s monthly income was spent on rent. According to figures from the county’s Office of Housing and Community Development, a household must have an annual median income of $46,480 to afford a median priced rental unit in the county.
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What is affordable housing?
Housing is considered affordable if it does not cost a household more than 30 percent of its total income. The 30 percent ratio includes mortgage payments or rent, taxes, insurance and homeowner’s association fees.
Wages and Housing
Figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show average wages in some of James City County’s largest classifications of employment are too low to afford a local rental or mortgage, with some classifications low enough that two people making the median wage in that industry could not together afford an average rental unit in the county. The county’s median household income in 2012 was $79,435.
In the health care and social assistance category, the largest type of employment in the county in 2012 with 3,706 jobs, the average annual pay was $35,898. In retail and accommodation/food services, the second and third largest classifications, the average annual pay was $18,991 and $19,262, respectively.
The demand for the services provided by those three largest categories of employment is fueled in part by the above average percentage of retirees and senior citizens living in James City County.
The senior population in the county is expected to grow by 236 percent from 13,870 in 2010 to 46,581 by 2040, at which point they are projected to make up 34 percent of the population. While those groups often contribute via real estate taxes to the costs of municipal services like schools and emergency responders, the draft update shows they are typically not part of the workforce and drive up the demand for services staffed by lower-wage workers.
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JCC’s Top 10 Sectors
Below are the top 10 employment categories in James City County along with their respective average annual wages for 2013. While many of the categories contain government employees, only the public administration category factors in their wages to the average wage. BLS does not furnish average wages for government employees in the other categories.
1. Health care and
social assistance – $36,611
2. Retail Trade – $19,348
3. Accommodation and
Food services – $20,187
4. Educational Services – $28,505
5. Manufacturing – $69,004
6. Construction – $42,741
7. Administrative Services – $28,960
8. Professional, Scientific
and Technical Services – $70,443
9. Wholesale Trade – $36,963
10.Public Administration – $46,687
A bright spot in the employment figures is in the manufacturing sector, the fifth largest category of employment in James City County, which had 1,659 workers in 2012 earning an average annual pay of $65,175. Other categories of employment with large numbers of employees and high wages include professional, scientific and technical services and public administration.
The James City County Office of Economic Development, which is responsible for seeking out economic opportunities in fields like manufacturing and technology, has been working to try to bring more high-wage employers to the county. Its director, Russell Seymour, said manufacturing is on the rise in the county and that James City County is outperforming several other neighboring municipalities. For example, James City County had 1,659 manufacturing jobs in 2012 compared to York County’s 292.
“We’d like to have employment here that will employ or at least provide opportunities for anyone in the area,” he said. “We’re faring much better than we have in the past.”
The county has worked with educational outlets in the area to let students know there are opportunities available in James City County. For example, students from the three high schools in Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools toured manufacturing operations in James City County early last month to learn about the sorts of jobs available after their graduation.
Seymour’s office is also working with Thomas Nelson Community College and the College of William & Mary to try to get a better fix on where graduates are going and what kind of jobs they are taking in those places.
County Regulations and Programs
For the developers working to build housing, they must work within the county’s ordinances, which outline numerous requirements for new developments.
Many new developments require open space for conservation and recreation, accommodations for pedestrians and storm water retention ponds to catch excess waters. Maintenance and upkeep of those amenities requires money, and that usually comes from a homeowner’s association and its added fees.
During the discussion last week, the chairwoman of the board of supervisors, Mary Jones (Berkeley), said the cost of doing business in the county can prohibit desired outcomes like more affordable housing.
“We do need to be very careful when we keep putting in these strategies and actions and that can bring more expectations and regulations in the end,” Jones said. “Some of our policies and regulations are almost prohibitive to achieving the goal we’re talking about.”
The newest policy for promoting affordable housing in the county is the Housing Opportunities Policy, enacted in November 2012. That policy requires at least 20 percent of a proposed development’s residences should be offered for sale or rent at prices affordable to households that earn below the area’s median income.
If the developers do not wish to build affordable housing, they may instead make in-lieu cash contributions to the county’s housing fund, which is to be used to increase the supply and availability of affordable homes. Since the policy was enacted, two housing proposals have passed through the county’s legislative approval process — one in Kingsmill and the other near the Wellington neighborhood off Rochambeau Drive — and both contained at least 20 percent affordable housing. Another proposal currently under consideration would permit up to 204 homes on undeveloped land near Williamsburg Crossing, all of which would be sold at prices considered affordable by the policy.
Another tool is the Community Development Block Grant, a state pool of funding the county applies for to help build affordable housing. Both Forest Heights off Richmond Road and Ironbound Square along Ironbound Road have received CDBG funds.
The housing section of the comprehensive plan contains several goals for housing, with many holdovers from the last iteration of the plan. Other goals from the last iteration have been removed because they have been completed, such as creating the Housing Opportunities Policy, examining accessory apartment rules and reviewing all land designations to consider added incentives for affordable housing development.
Among the items under the goal for affordable housing are continued use of the Housing Opportunities Policy, a review of county-owned land for its potential as sites for affordable housing, the creation of a fast-track process for affordable housing developments to move through the permitting process and consideration of waiving or reducing certain fees associated with development for proposed affordable housing.
The comprehensive plan update process will continue into next year, with final adoption not likely until the second half of 2015.