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Some Albemarle planning commissioners would like proposed housing policy to be bolder

Some Albemarle planning commissioners would like proposed housing policy to be bolder

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Despite what is already in the residential development pipeline in Albemarle, the county still will need additional units to fully accommodate projected household growth through 2040.

Increasing the overall housing supply in Albemarle is one of 12 policy objectives included in a draft updated housing policy for the county, which was presented to the Planning Commission last week for feedback.

While all of the commissioners were supportive of the draft, many said they wanted to see the policy be more bold.

“But the question I ask is, I’m not sure whether you’re bold enough in this document,” Commissioner Rick Randolph said. “And the reason I say that is because I think the housing needs in the county are much more significant, and the solutions presented here, I’m not confident they’re going to be successful in meeting the objectives.”

The draft policy contains objectives around increasing the overall housing supply; increasing the supply of affordable and workforce housing; preservation of existing housing and communities; community engagement; fair housing and community equity; homelessness and special populations; and sustainable communities. Each objective contains multiple strategies.

Proposed priority actions for the first three years of the plan include to create a package of developer incentives for affordable and workforce housing; implement an affordable dwelling unit program ordinance; create an affordable housing trust fund; and create a housing advisory committee.

Albemarle’s current affordable housing policy was established in 2004 and was tweaked during the 2015 Comprehensive Plan update. The policy defines affordable housing and safe, decent housing, with housing costs that do not exceed 30% of the gross household income, and sets the expectation that, at minimum, 15% of all units developed under a rezoning or special-use permit should be affordable for people at or below 80% of the area median income.

In 2019, the Board of Supervisors supported moving forward with a process to update the county’s affordable housing policy using county data from a regional housing study and needs assessment.

The new draft policy proposes that affordable housing would be for those with incomes no greater than 60% of AMI adjusted for household size, and workforce housing would be for households with incomes between 60% and 120% of AMI adjusted for household size.

Area median income is currently $93,900 per household, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Commissioner Tim Keller said he was afraid that if they go “really bold” and put a lot of specifics in it, it could be hard to tackle everything.

“What is going to be the really important issue of the moment that we want to jump on?” he said. “And I think that you’ve provided an excellent set of policies that would allow supervisors from this point forward to say, ‘We really want to concentrate more here, or concentrate more there.’”

Commissioner Karen Firehock said she would like to see more links to transportation planning, mention of COVID-19’s effect on the economy and nonprofits and more benchmarks.

“There’s a number of places where you say, ‘will issue a report,’ or ‘catalog something,’ but I’d like to see, ‘We knew we were successful, because these are the outcomes we had,’” she said. “I mean, you can’t control the market, but what is it that the county actually is specifically committing to do? So when we pick this up in five to 10 years, we’ll say, ‘Hey, we got 50% of the way or we got 75% of the way.’”

Commission Chairman Julian Bivins said he is concerned that the county is “steadily moving” into a type of economic segregation.

“I would ask us to be thoughtful about figuring out a way not to have something that’s called ‘affordable housing,’ because I think words do matter,” he said. “I think Karen touched on something that many of you have heard me speak over the time that I’ve been here about how our fellow Albemarle citizens, in the language that they’ve talked about new developments, particularly when those new developments have people in them that don’t look exactly like them, and that could just be from a balance sheet.”

“It has nothing to do with race. It has to do with a balance sheet and how we talk about crafting a community through housing, through development, that is about the integration of those balance sheets and not segregation of those balance sheets.”

Feedback from the commissioners will be incorporated into the draft policy prior to a work session with the Board of Supervisors in October. After the board gives its feedback, the public will be able to comment on the draft policy. The Planning Commission will then be able to review the final policy recommendations at the end of the year or the beginning of 2021.

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