A major issue facing our community is the ability of people to find housing they can afford. In the past two years, both Albemarle and Charlottesville have adopted affordable housing plans that seek to encourage, incentivize, and require below-market units. Both localities are also part of the Regional Housing Partnership coordinated by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.
The Partnership invited Delegate Sally Hudson to their December 5, 2022 meeting so she would be able to hear directly from its members about issues facing the development community and local government. This took the form of a roundtable discussion with questions asked by the Regional Housing Partnership. Albemarle Supervisor Ned Gallaway was the moderator.
“The first question I will throw out is what legislative priorities if any do you have to impact affordable housing?” Gallaway said.
Hudson said she is glad to help build a bridge between localities and the legislature on the topic.
“I think we all know that affordable housing is priority one, two, and three from the constituents that we collectively serve and it’s going to take a lot of collaboration between state and local government in particular because the General Assembly is often handcuffing you all from doing the kind of things that you need and denying you both the resources and the flexibility to try to tackle the problem with a full suite of tools that you deserve,” Hudson said.
Hudson said she has carried bills to allow Charlottesville flexibility. In 2020, HB1105 easily passed both Houses of the General Assembly and added the city to the list of localities authorized to adopt inclusionary rezoning rules to require units to be built at below-market levels.
In 2021, Hudson introduced another bill (HB1900) to give more protection to tenants against evictions passed on a 55-44 vote in the House of Delegates and 20-19 in the Senate.
Later that year, the Republicans took back the House of Delegates, a body they currently hold a 51 to 47 majority with two vacancies. Special elections for two vacant House seats will be held on January 10. The General Assembly convenes the next day.
“Going into the next session, I am planning to introduce three bills, two of which were direct requests from local folks,” Hudson said. “One became a priority from the [Albemarle] Board of Supervisors which is allowing short-term rentals to expire if the property changes hands because I think we’re getting increasingly concerned about companies gobbling up lots of different properties that perhaps were originally intended for owner-occupied housing to have maybe another stream of income on their property.”
Hudson said another bill was requested by individual members of the Charlottesville Planning Commission to study the possibility of allowing properties and residential units to be taxed at different rates.
“Potentially allowing for some more flexibility when we know we’ve got some underutilized opportunities for urban infill in the city,” Hudson said.
The third bill would be to set up minimum standards for accessory dwelling units statewide.
Delegate Hudson also reminded the Regional Housing Partnership that Governor Glenn Youngkin has made the production of new housing a priority in the next session as part of his Make Virginia Home initiative. She said there needs to be additional funding.
“The current administration is sort of trying to pit demand-side subsidies and supply-side constraints against each other where really it’s a ‘yes and’ answer,” Hudson said. “There are some units that will need to be permanently subsidized for tenants or owners that we know will not be able to maintain the income stream they need to stay in place.”
Hudson said she is concerned about proposals to fast-track construction of affordable housing by trying to expedite the permit process and easing zoning rules.
“I am concerned that the administration also means cutting corners on labor and environmental regulations and allowing projects to go up faster because they are short-changing either workers or the environment,” Hudson said.
One big topic in the conversation regarded what many developers say is a big hold-up for the provision of all kinds of housing.
“I hear and I’m sure that you do as well in conversations with developers about bottlenecks at the local level in the permitting and approval process,” Hudson said. “I don’t feel like I have gotten a clear answer as to where in the pipes of government are the slow-downs and what can be done to speed them up?”
Supervisor Ned Gallaway said it was a complex issue.
“How I would answer that is that you have a systems issue,” Gallaway said. “We have antiquated systems in use. We’ve got a personnel drain… in terms trying to retain the people.”
In the last couple of months, Albemarle has lost its director of planning and a senior planning manager to the private sector.
But Gallaway also said that different people may bring different levels of scrutiny to whatever application may be in front of them. He said he’s interested in a three-pronged approach.
“Is the system, the mechanism they use to process the permits or whatever it is, as efficient as it can be?” Gallaway said. “Do you have the people in place to be able to do it? And then, do you have the right mentality being done on the work that’s actually being done?”
Albemarle has invested in new software, and that’s a topic I’ll cover in an upcoming edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement.
Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook said he believed there were personality conflicts that contribute to the bottlenecks.
“We’ve got a problem in the City of Charlottesville right now without getting into a lot of detail where you have folks on the private side who are just pissed off at the folks on the city side and vice-versa and they can’t see eye to eye on what an acceptable application looks like and the city manager is trying to mediate this dispute between them but we’ve got delays of up to a year or more on things like engineering details that ought to be resolvable and it’s so frustrating for those of us who get harped at from both sides and basically what we need is for these two groups of people to start acting like adults,” Snook said.
Snook said he was concerned about state mandates from Richmond for specific clocks for action.
“That assumes that, first of all, that the engineering people who are submitting the applications have actually done a good-faith effort to get the whole stupid thing finished instead of putting in 20 percent and then figuring it out as we go along,” Snook said. “And that’s the kind of thing we’ve had problems with.”
The Regional Housing Partnership includes members from the private sector including one developer who said he has experienced delays in both Albemarle and Charlottesville. He said he wanted to find solutions to getting building permits processed faster.
“I sit at this table because I’m passionate about it,” said Christoper Brement of Bramante Homes. “I volunteer for the Blue Ridge Home Builders Association because I’m passionate about it. And we’ve been very grateful to the Community Development Director in Albemarle County for holding several roundtables engaging the Blue Ridge Home Builders Association.”
Toward the end of the meeting, Supervisor Ned Gallaway asked about one of the bills Hudson carried in the 2022 General Assembly. HB1286 reduced the amount of time public housing authorities have to inform the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development about properties they may want to “demolish, liquidate, or otherwise dispose” of property.
“Last year I carried a bill which… was geared towards facilitating faster redevelopment of public housing projects,” Hudson said. “In order to let residents know that their units were about to be renovated there were two separate stages which could have proceeded in parallel and residents to still get the same level of timely notification that they were going to need to relocate temporarily while allowing the construction efforts to get moving.”
Hudson that bill was a collaboration with housing authorities across Virginia.
Delegate Hudson is also challenging Senator Creigh Deeds for the Democratic nomination for Senate District 11, which creates an open seat in House District 54 next year. So far, only one candidate has filed and that’s Albemarle School Board Member Katrina Callsen.
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