Better Communities

Advocating for a Region Where Everyone Can Thrive

Image: Somanath Senior Resident and Family

The Need is Great

The need for affordable housing in our region is great – an additional 22,000 units are needed by 2030. As we work to chip away at this number in our community, we battle a misinformed public, unfavorable or ineffective policies and diminished funding from public and private resources.

In Richmond, 25% of our neighbors – or 1 in 4 – live in poverty. This equates to 250,000 people. To better understand why this is, check out Mapping Inequality, which reveals discriminatory practices developed by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) between 1935-1940 in 250 cities. Maps color-coded credit worthiness and risk on a neighborhood and metropolitan levels, which set the rules for nearly a century of real estate practice. The project provides a new view for describing the relationship between wealth and poverty in America.

Affordable Housing Q&A

Need help understanding what affordable housing is all about? Here are some of the most common questions we receive:

  1. What is affordable housing? Who lives there and do they work?
  2. What’s considered “affordable”?
  3. Why is affordable housing necessary?
  4. Isn’t affordable housing really public housing?
  5. Do nonprofit groups like BHC pay real estate taxes?
  6. What are the myths of affordable housing?
  7. How can I help?

1. What is affordable housing? Who lives there and do they work?

Affordable housing serves individuals and families with incomes generally between 50% and 60% of the area median income (AMI). In Richmond, this means folks with incomes between $25,350 for a one-person household, up to $39,120 for a household of four.

Jobs of our residents that fall within this range: Retail, entry-level healthcare jobs like certified nursing assistants (CNAs), social workers, medical record clerks, teachers, and even entry-level police/sheriff.

More Facts from Make Room:

  • Rents are rising fast. At least 37% of renter households – in every state in the country – spend more than 30 percent of their income on the cost of their homes. Among BHC’s target population, for example, those making $34,000/year spent $10,200 on rent. In many states, well over 25 percent of renters are paying more than half their income just to keep a roof over their heads; any many are paying for substandard housing. Housing experts call those renters “severely cost-burdened.” Learn more about rental trends.
  • In 2014, 31% of senior renters (65+) paid more than half their income on housing. According to Make Room’s analysis, 43 percent of seniors who pay more than half their income on rent have no income except for Social Security. Meanwhile, there will be no Social Security payment increase in 2016 for only the third year since the federal government instated cost-of-living adjustments in 1975.

2. What’s considered “affordable”?

National standards recommend that a household pays no more than 30% of their gross income on housing, which includes mortgage/rent plus taxes and utilities. It’s especially important for moderate-income families because if they are paying more than 30%, they have considerably fewer resources available to pay for transportation, child care, medical expenses, food, etc.

3. Why is affordable housing necessary?

Affordable housing is not only important for families but also the economic vitality of communities. We believe families of all incomes need affordable homes – homes that are decent and accessible to jobs, shopping, and other services, and available at a cost that allows them to provide for life’s other necessities, such as food, clothing, and medical care.

  • Attract employers: Every community needs to have a variety of high-quality, affordable housing in order to attract employers. Our economy is expected to grow with more jobs in the service sector which usually pays less than professional jobs.
  • Help seniors age in place: We have a growing senior population because of the aging baby boomer generation. Many of our seniors, especially women who traditionally have taken time away from the workplace to care for children, do not have sufficient retirement income and need safe and affordable housing.
  • Give people choices: Not everyone wants to own a home or are ready to make that commitment, so the availability of affordable rental housing gives them choices.

4. Isn’t affordable housing really public housing?

No, the vast majority of affordable housing in the Richmond metro area is developed by private developers. Groups like BHC serve working families who have lower to moderate incomes.

Public housing is supervised by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, it is administered locally by public housing agencies such as RRHA (Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority).

5. Do nonprofit groups like BHC pay real estate taxes?

Yes, BHC pays real estate taxes on all of our properties, thus adding to city and county revenues.

6. What are the myths of affordable housing?

MYTH: Affordable Housing Increases Crime

TRUTH: There is no correlation between safe, high-quality affordable housing and crime. Studies show that crime is more often due to community disinvestment, overcrowding, and a lack of jobs and community services. When affordable housing is developed in inner cities and older neighborhoods, it replaces deteriorated and crime-ridden buildings and can even serve to reduce the neighborhood crime rate.

MYTH: Affordable Housing Lowers Property Values

TRUTH: Studies have found that affordable housing often has an insignificant or positive effect on property values in higher-valued neighborhoods, and typically improves values in lower-valued neighborhoods. As one example, BHC’s multi-block developments in the Church Hill neighborhood over the years have had a catalytic effect, spurring much private investment that continues to this day. One undesired side-effect is increased property values to the point that rents rise out of reach of many. That’s why our work is so important – we give people more choices in where to live by creating and maintaining the stock of affordable housing.

MYTH: Affordable Housing is Ugly

TRUTH: BHC communities are designed to fit the community character in size and style. Affordable housing must comply with the same building restrictions and design standards as market-rate housing. BHC uses high-quality, eco-friendly, attractive materials and modern amenities in its developments. In most cases, our developments are vast improvements over what came before.

MYTH: Affordable Housing Creates More Traffic

TRUTH: Building affordable housing near jobs supports the increased use of public transportation, shortens commutes, and lessens congestion. Studies show that affordable housing residents own fewer cars and drive less often than those in the surrounding neighborhood. And when families can afford housing, they do not need to “double up” to pay rent.

MYTH: Affordable Housing Overburdens Schools and Infrastructure

TRUTH: Studies show that traditional single- family home neighborhoods have 2 to 3 times the number of school- aged children than those residing in apartments. Higher density housing also provides economies of scale for utility infrastructure in trunk lines and treatment plants. Infrastructure costs per housing unit significantly decline as density increases.

MYTH: Affordable Housing Is Not A Community Asset

TRUTH: Affordable housing is an asset to the community and part of the solution to some of our problems. When it is located near jobs or public transit, it reduces traffic congestion and improves air quality. It reduces overcrowding. It helps restore a competitive business climate. It enables lower paid workers to avoid housing instability and the need for public benefits. It enables individuals to stabilize their lives so they can pursue jobs and gain access needed services.

7. How can I help?

As we work to address the need for affordable housing, you can help create a positive climate for our work.

Sources: National Multi Housing Council (NMHC); Housing Virginia Toolkit