Second of three parts.
Affordable housing continues to be a key component in providing a successful path to self-sufficiency for area residents.
That seems to be one of the key takeaways from a recent report to the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce.
A full-time employee earning minimum wage could not make it in Charlottesville.
Costs for food, transportation, child care, medical care and other necessities are steep enough. But it’s the price of housing that really shocks: a 42 percent increase since the Orange Dot project, founded in 2011, first started tracking local poverty rates.
The housing jump far, far exceeds the U.S. rate of inflation, which was just over 12 percent for 2011-2018. Additionally, the general cost of living in Charlottesville already is higher than the national average — about 13.3 percent higher.
So low-income residents face an especially difficult set of circumstances in the local housing market. Many such residents must live in Charlottesville or in Albemarle County’s urban ring, where they can use public transportation if they cannot afford a car. But housing costs may be higher in these locations due to competition for space — a Catch-22 in the choice between housing and transportation costs.
Meanwhile, even many middle-class people who work in Charlottesville or Albemarle County must live in adjacent counties, where housing costs are lower, and commute to their jobs — another difficult trade-off between housing and transportation.
In the public policy arena, some critics argue that Albemarle’s decision to channel residential and other development into limited growth areas curtails the amount of housing that can be built and raises the price of housing, by creating an “artificial” scarcity.
However, county residents have made clear, in surveys and in voting choices, that they want rural areas to be protected from ungoverned development. If residents want land preservation — and they do — they also should be willing to support housing programs for less fortunate neighbors who are being priced out of the market.
Charlottesville, meanwhile, also has limited space for development. Competition for space drives up prices, as it does in the county.
Programs already exist to help residents find affordable housing, to help them find vouchers for affordable housing, and to encourage developers to provide affordable housing — although, especially in the county, the latter has been hampered by General Assembly changes to the proffer system under which development requirements could be negotiated.
Meanwhile, Charlottesville’s current City Council has made affordable housing and other social justice issues a top priority. Like Albemarle — although not always for the same reasons — Charlottesville is having some difficulty, though, in working with developers to create privately financed affordable housing. It also has hit problems with some public programs, including how to address deteriorating conditions at certain public housing sites.
Based on sobering data such as the recent Chamber report and on the amount of time given to the issue by such bodies as City Council, affordable housing seems to be evolving into one of the top, if not the top, problems of our community.
Good people are being heavily burdened by Charlottesville-Albemarle’s high housing costs. They may be willing and able to work for a better life, but the deck is stacked against them.
Both jurisdictions must find solutions that include a combination of public, private and non-profit efforts.
Sunday: Charlottesville’s recent housing decisions.