RICHMOND, Va. -- Tenant and housing advocates were not shocked by a new study of affordable housing in Virginia that found a major unit shortage and a large chunk of the population were cost burdens by rent or their mortgage. The review was published Monday but the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) found Virginia has an affordable housing shortage of at least 200,000 units statewide.
Christie Marra, Director of Housing Advocacy for the Virginia Poverty Law Center, knows what the numbers actually look like for Virginia families who experience housing insecurity.
“Being housing insecure affects every aspect of a family’s life,” she said. “A child who is not sleeping in their own home, who’s sleeping in a shelter or with one neighbor one night and another neighbor another night, really can’t be thinking about the test coming up.”
The JLARC report found the affordable rental unit shortage spans across Virginia but was most concentrated in Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads, and Richmond regions. State investigators estimate the shortage in the Richmond region at 35,000 units.
According to the study, 905,000 households experience housing as a cost burden, which means they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs. Nearly half o those families, an 410,000, spend more than 50 percent of their income on rent or mortgage payments.
JLARC staff said not enough land is zoned to encourage developers to build affordable rental units, especially in cities or counties with rapid population growth. Called “inclusionary zoning,” Marra said advocates widely agree more localities need to include affordable housing units in their zoning strategies.
“We just can’t have requirements of five-acre lots and huge setbacks when we don’t have enough townhomes,” she said.
Since it takes years to build new complexes, Marra said a more immediate need is a permanent rental assistance program, similar to one that stood up on an emergency basis during the pandemic.
“Tens of thousands of Virginians, if not more, but at least tens of thousands of Virginians who are eligible for housing choice vouchers who cannot get them because only one in four people nationally who qualify for a housing choice voucher through HUD actually gets one because there is such a ridiculous undersupply,” she said. “This is an immediate problem and a long-term problem. We need immediate solutions and long-term solutions. So, let’s keep our sleeves rolled up and get to work.”
Anyone who might be struggling to pay the rent should see if they qualify for the current rental relief program, Marra said. You can check eligibility here.
Read see the entire JLARC presentation here.