It’s been two-and-a-half months since Oakland Pointe Apartments were approved by the James City County Board of Supervisors — but the affordable housing complex still needs to secure funding.
As the developer vies for tax credits through a competitive state selection process, they are looking for ways to fortify the application.
In this case, that means getting some help from Hampton.
On March 14 — two weeks after supervisors approved the 119-unit project — James City County’s top administrator Scott Stevens wrote a letter of support for the development.
The letter also voiced support for the provision of 13 project-based housing vouchers from the Hampton Redevelopment and Housing Authority, which would be given to 13 qualified Oakland Pointe tenants to assist with rent.
“If project has project based vouchers, you get more points — it helps the overall score,” Stevens said. “Then it’s more competitive and more likely to get funded.”
The county’s support is contingent upon prioritization of James City County residents during the voucher selection process.
Stevens said the project-based vouchers were requested by the developer, Connelly Builders, because they could help the project score higher in the tax credit program — the project’s main funding source.
To increase the likelihood of getting tax credits, the developer requested the county to write a letter voicing support for the project and the vouchers from Hampton.
Stevens said the request for the letter was first made in early March, and originally the county wasn’t willing to write it.
Powhatan Terrace, another affordable housing project, also requested a letter of support.
The developer then made another appeal to the county, saying the project was less likely to get funded without the vouchers.
Stevens said the Oakland Pointe rezoning was controversial enough that he checked individually with each supervisor before writing the letter.
Called a straw poll, Stevens took an unofficial census from the supervisors to see where each one stood — although writing the letter is an administrative action and doesn’t require a board vote.
Initially, two of the five supervisors said they would support the letter and housing vouchers. Two others were in opposition. One was not in favor unless James City County residents were prioritized as voucher recipients.
Stevens said he spoke with the Hampton Redevelopment and Housing Authority, who confirmed there was a way to prioritize county residents. Stevens checked back in with the supervisor who was on the fence, who said the letter could be supported.
Stevens proceeded with the letter.
The mechanics of the process for prioritizing voucher applicants is still not set in stone, but Stevens said there is time to figure that out.
If the project is awarded tax credits, it would still need time to be built before any tenants can live there through vouchers, he added.
“During that time, we’d work with Hampton to figure out how the list works,” Stevens said.
The tax credit program is competitive.
Preliminary tax credit rankings released by the Virginia Housing Development Authority May 2 show Oakland Pointe scored a 535.40, scoring sixth out of eight tax credit projects in the Tidewater pool. The highest-scoring project, Grande Oak in York County, had a score of 550.36.
The two highest-ranking projects are in York County and Norfolk, which are for the elderly and people with disabilities, respectively.
In the Tidewater area, eight applicants requested $8.36 million in tax credits, while only $2.55 million is available.
After the preliminary tax credit rankings, two of the eight projects have been funded, totaling $1.89 million.
There is $661,094 left in tax credits for the remaining projects, which have moved to tier one and two for the next list of rankings.
Section 8, but not project-based
So, why can’t James City County give its own project-based vouchers and keep the process local?
The county cannot give out project-based vouchers like the Hampton Redevelopment and Housing Authority because it does not have any available under the current version of its housing plan, Social Services Director Rebecca Vinroot said.
The county’s social services department gives out section 8 housing choice vouchers. Both are federal Department of Housing and Urban Development funding, but they are different in the way they can be used, Vinroot said.
Similar to project-based vouchers, section 8 housing choice vouchers assist tenants with their rent based on their income. The voucher issuer — in this case, James City County — writes a check directly to the landlord.
Vinroot said the housing choice vouchers give the tenant more flexibility to live where they want or need.
Further, if a person with a project-based voucher leaves the complex designated by the voucher, that person does not get to keep it. Instead, the voucher stays tied to that particular housing unit.
Section 8 housing vouchers are in high-demand through James City County Social Services, Vinroot said.
The wait list for section 8 vouchers is currently closed. It was last open in 2017 and received 509 applicants from James City County alone. More people from outside the county applied, but the county gave preference to county residents.
The county’s Housing Assistance Payment funding has fluctuated between about $86,000 to $93,000 per month, depending on the number of vouchers leased, Vinroot said.
There are 165 households receiving housing choice vouchers from James City County, 64 percent of which are working households, Vinroot said.
“How many vouchers we can issue is based on how much money we get,” she added.