Area builders tackle challenge of affordable Augusta County housing

Scott Williams, a local builder and a board member of the Augusta Home Builders Association, discusses Thursday ways to provide affordable new housing in Augusta County. 

"There is a hole in the market for new single, detached homes in the area in the $200,000 to $250,000 range," said Scott Williams, the president of Crescent Development, a developer of commercial and residential property in Augusta County.

Williams is also a board member of the Augusta Home Builders Association, a group whose membership includes bankers, electricians, engineers and builders. For the past year, a building and public affairs committee of the association has collectively considered what can be done to make new three-bedroom homes that are 1,300-square feet in size available at an affordable price. Williams said the range being aimed for is affordable for someone whose income falls within 75 percent of the median family income, or $42,600 a year.

Carolyn Bragg, vice chair of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors and the South River District member, said there is a need for new and moderately priced houses for families with workers who can be employed in local manufacturing.

"We need people in Augusta County to fill these slots," she said of local industry. "The $200,000-$250,000 cost is affordable."

Members of the home builders association and Augusta County leaders brainstormed to consider what could be done to lower the price of new housing. Some of the options include changes to Augusta County's subdivision and zoning ordinances, a lowering or adjustment in the myriad of fees home buyers must pay, and other considerations.

Williams said if an Augusta County zoning requirement of a 75-foot width for a single-family lot with curb, gutter and sidewalk could be lowered to 50-feet, it would cut the cost of the lot portion the buyer must pay.

"There are three or four ways to crack that," Williams said. "You could have a cluster or homes or a phase of a project." For such an adjustment, Augusta County supervisors would have to approve a change in the county's subdivision ordinance. If the lower width were approved, home buyers would save $25,000 on a purchase.

Thursday's discussion probed more deeply into the issue of new housing. Williams said older homes are more expensive to maintain, less energy efficient and can require repairs that are costly. And while renting a house is an option, Williams pointed to another factor.

"Renters miss out on building equity. You don't build equity when you rent," he said. Equity is the value a home buyer builds in property while paying the mortgage, and can be used to obtain additional financing.

Williams said while there was no expectation of a solution to the new affordable housing dilemma on Thursday, some ideas were developed. The next step is to meet with the Augusta County Board of Supervisors, Augusta County Service Authority and perhaps VDOT to see what changes could be made to lower the cost of affordable housing in the county.

At a followup meeting of the building and public affairs committee in January, Williams said the next step will be to develop a report for action.

"It would make sense to develop a directional report of where we are going," he said. 

North River District Supervisor Marshall Pattie said housing inventory new or old is low in the area now. Besides lowering fees and requirements, Pattie also would like to quicken the process for the home buyer.

"The thing we could do as a government is speed up the permit process," he said. Pattie said having a more efficient government would be a good first step. 

If a strategy for affordable new housing can be successful in Augusta County, Williams said there would be similar discussions with both Staunton and Waynesboro.


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