Local Commentary

Editorial: Bold Moves Needed On Affordable Housing

Two measures that failed to gain any traction in Richmond this session, otherwise destined for the history books as one of the most progressive in Virginia history, dealt with perhaps the single most critical issue of all: the grave shortage of affordable housing. This is a problem that is only going to get worse, right now headed in the direction of mass homelessness on the streets in all the major urban centers of the land.

There may be a “recovery” continuing in the macro-data that political campaigns use to fuel their efforts, but there are other more important statistics, like the fact that 17 percent of all American adults are seriously in default on their credit card debt. There are lots of other statistics like that, showing, among other things, that even a $15 per hour minimum wage is not enough for a family to afford even the most modest rental housing. Another shows over 40 percent of Americans are one paycheck away from homelessness. As long as it is not “us” that’s the victim of such a situation, we presume, “we” will not be serious doing anything about it.

So getting serious about addressing this problem is going to be tough, and it will be instructive to see who in the political arena does take it on, and who either punts or settles for inadequate half measures. Insofar as little Falls Church makes up for her small size by her reputation for standing in the forefront of major issues of the day, this would be one that could set a standard for the whole country.

The two pieces of legislation, neither of which made it out of subcommittees, had to do with state laws to incentivize the conversion of private residential properties into duplexes, on the one hand, and to encourage the construction of the so-called “tiny houses,” or whatever other name might apply, that allow for a homeowner to build a small unit behind, below or above their existing residence that can work as a residence for another person or family.

Now, everyone who is involved in the current lucrative but highly-limiting policy of subdividing lots and replacing an old home with two megamansions, as is happening at a torrid pace in the City and throughout the region, will have a perceived vested interest in blocking these two affordable housing options. And so the lobbies on their half did in Richmond this last session.

Perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise for a legislature that despite its progressive bonafides is not able to muster the gumption required to ban military-style assault weapons on our streets. Affordable housing is being addressed by the use of some surplus revenues to do patchwork efforts around the state.

But much bigger and bolder moves are required before you find three families camping out on your front porch. Now’s the time for Falls Church to buck the “gated city” trend, to be counterintuitive and truly progressive.