Thursday, December 8, 2022

Forum will allow Williamsburg residents to offer input on housing

Williamsburg residents say there is a lack of affordable housing in the city. (WYDaily photo)
Williamsburg residents say there is a lack of affordable housing in the city. (WYDaily photo)

Residents of Williamsburg can give their input on housing in the city next week during a Planning Commission work session.

During the forum, scheduled for 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Stryker Center, residents will be able to offer their opinions on housing topics such as affordability, Airbnb and long-term rental units.

The insight of residents will then be collated and used to help formulate the city’s next comprehensive plan, according to the meeting agenda.

The comprehensive plan guides the city’s policies regarding land use and is readopted every five years. It is based on citizen input, including public hearings and online surveys for specific topics.

The city recently released the results of its 2018 National Citizen Survey. Residents were asked to rank their satisfaction with the city on a broad range of topics having to do with their perceived quality of life.

Citizens said they felt safe within the city, experienced an overall ease of travel, were pleased with the local economy and relished the city’s natural environment.

However, only a third of citizens said the city has affordable housing, and fewer than half reported satisfaction with the city’s housing options.

“There’s not as much stock of housing that is affordable to people who have minimum wage jobs or have the typical jobs in the area — teachers, medical assistants, that kind of thing,” said Sarah Stafford, a professor of economics at William & Mary.

Stafford briefed the Planning Commission in August on the city’s current housing market. She filed a housing assessment for the city with the hopes that it would serve as the basis for future policy decisions.

Her report found that Williamsburg’s housing stock is both older, smaller and more expensive on average than that of the surrounding counties. College students seeking off-campus housing also drive the city’s rental market.

“Housing is expensive all across the country, and lots of areas are struggling with housing affordability,” Stafford said. “Really, what I wanted to do with this report was put it in the context of the job market around here and include whether people could afford the typical rentals in the area or the typical houses that are available.”

Her report states that 12 percent of city households headed by someone 25 or older make less than $20,000 in annual income, and an additional 20 percent make less than $35,000. Low incomes can make home ownership economically unfeasible for many families.

“This is a national trend, but we’re certainly seeing it here,” Stafford said. “There are fewer people in the younger age range buying now than compared to 15 years ago.”

She said the lack of young homeowners can be the result of a few factors, such as lifestyle changes and the flexibility and lack of maintenance afforded by renting rather than owning. Some of it comes down to simple economics.

“There’s not a lot of starter homes on the low end of the housing market,” Stafford said. “It’s difficult for younger people to find something that’s affordable…It puts pressure on the whole system. When people at the lower end of the spectrum can’t find housing that’s affordable, they still have to find housing.”

Want to go?

The community forum on housing will be from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Stryker Center, 412 N. Boundary St.

Bryan DeVasher
Bryan DeVasher
Bryan DeVasher is the managing editor-digital of WYDaily. A resident of Hampton Roads for more than two decades, he has worked for news organizations in Virginia, Illinois, Missouri and Indiana. He most recently was a member of the public relations staff for Virginia State Police.

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