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While the area continues to grow in jobs and population, localities have to continuously brainstorm how to address the issue of affordable housing.
James City County
The county developed a workforce housing task force to analyze the current state of affordable housing and recommend solutions.
“The task force realized there isn’t one solution to fix affordable housing in James City County, it will have to come from a multitude of efforts,” said Paul Holt, director of community development for the county.
In February 2019 the task force published their initial findings in regards to workforce housing — a year later the county is continuing to work on efforts that address those findings.
The study showed there is a critical need for more diversely priced housing in the area to address workforce housing needs.
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“The task force defined workforce housing as the types of housing we need here in James City County to ensure we can attract and retain workers and continue to grow our local economy,” Holt said.
He said affordable housing is defined as 30 percent to 100 percent of the area median income (the are’s median household income is $79,300, according to the U.S. Census Bureau).
The study from the task force showed that in 2018 the average home price was $316,500, which means a resident would need an annual income of $79,000, and the average rent was $1,236, which means a resident would need an income of $49,440 to afford to rent.
Since the report, the county has worked with a number of programs and initiatives to address housing affordability. For example, the county received a Community Development Block Grant in August 2019 that helped rehabilitate 16 homes; there is also a project to build 45 townhomes in Forest Heights.
Holt said the mix of small rehabilitation projects with projects that construct entirely new homes helps address the issue from a number of angles.
“Because there are improvements that can be made for older houses already in the county, those require different solutions than brand new developments,” he said. “So just it’s all just different solutions.”
Holt said that’s an issue being addressed by localities across the state and many are finding it a long and challenging process.
“I’m not sure there is a fast or easy solution and that’s part of the dilemma,” he said.
The task force study suggested four different methods of not only creating but maintaining affordable homes in the county.
First, it recommended the county focus on housing preservation which would restore and preserve existing homes. The task force also recommended the county work to produce new workforce housing.
The study also recommended the county work to connect with workers in the area to provide information and resources on assessing affordability as well as plan strategies for future workforce housing growth.
“What it comes down to is workers in James City County should be able to live in the county should they choose to do so,” Holt said.
City of Williamsburg
Williamsburg has only just started to form and organize its workforce housing group, said Tyrone Franklin, executive director for the Williamsburg Redevelopment Housing Authority.
Franklin said the city has had housing affordability as part of its biennial goals, initiatives and outcomes plan for 2019 and 2020.
Similar to the task force in James City County, the work group will assess strategies and research best practices to tackle housing affordability. Once this is done, the group will make recommendations to the city.
That process could take around six to seven months, Franklin said. The work group is still organizing meeting schedules and planning focus areas. Franklin said the group will look at the Architectural Review Board’s impact of affordability, best practices of workforce housing in cities similar to Williamsburg.
“Nothing really changes until you impact how you can develop within the boundaries of the community,” Franklin said. “But every community is different so you want to take that into account before you roll out any recommendations.”
Franklin said it’s most important to make sure the assessments and recommendations are done properly, even if it takes extra time.
“In my opinion…anytime you deal with something of this importance, you don’t want to do it haphazardly,” he said. “Because there are usually unintended consequences when you try to expedite something.”