Amazon’s plans for Virginia sparks renewed interest in affordable housing

Amazon’s plans for Virginia sparks renewed interest in affordable housing
Finding state money to address the issues remained a tough sell in the General Assembly.

Amazon’s plan to hire 25,000 high-paid workers in Northern Virginia prompted a surge of interest in affordable housing and gentrification this year.

Finding state money to address the issues, however, remained a tough sell in the General Assembly, where Gov. Ralph Northam had proposed a $20 million increase in funding but ended up barely eking out a $4 million boost during the veto session — not a ton considering apartment complexes cost an average of $200,000 per unit to construct, according to some research.

Building affordable housing, in fact, “is not particularly affordable,” according to the Urban Institute, because of “a huge gap between what these buildings cost to construct and maintain and the rents most people can pay.”

Some members of the GOP majority say they aren’t sure there are even issues to address, reacting with skepticism and exasperation to a long presentation on gentrification at a State Housing Commission meeting earlier this month that ended with a plea for additional state money.

“We want the extra jobs coming to a locality. I want nice houses. I want to up the property values,” said Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach. “We in the General Assembly — I know you talk about trying to get more money and we don’t have enough for housing and all this and all that — we just can’t be all things to everybody.”

While advocates contend that the state can grow property values while maintaining affordable housing with dedicated funding and the right policies in place, the exchange echoes a debate that began quietly when Virginia was still negotiating with Amazon last year and continued through the General Assembly’s veto session: Is affordable housing something for the state to tackle, or should it be left to cities and counties to address with local money?

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.