Story by Stefanie Jackson – Photo by Connie Morrison – The lack of affordable housing on the Eastern Shore has long been acknowledged by Accomack and Northampton elected officials, yet a regional housing needs assessment has not been conducted in nearly 20 years, attendees learned during a housing summit Sept. 27 at the Historic Onancock School.
The housing summit was organized by Ava Wise and sponsored by Sen. Lynwood Lewis. It was attended by more than 60 people, including representatives of the Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA), the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (VDHCD), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Locus Impact Investing, a community investment firm.
Others present included Accomack and Northampton officials and representatives from social services, the NAACP, and the Bayview, Bayside, and New Road communities.
The Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission would likely be the organization to carry out the housing assessment, said Executive Director Elaine Meil.
The last time a comprehensive, scholarly study of the Shore’s housing needs was completed was in 2000.
Another revelation that came out of the housing summit was the Eastern Shore’s lack of “opportunity zones.”
Opportunity zones were created through the U.S. Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Their purpose is to identify economically distressed communities and create opportunities for new investments in those areas to qualify for tax benefits.
Governors were tasked with selecting which census tracts in their states should be designated as opportunity zones.
County administrators received notices from VDHCD to select which areas they believed should become opportunity zones.
On the Eastern Shore, each county could pick just one area, and they were given three days to do it. Accomack chose Chincoteague and Northampton chose Cape Charles.
VDHCD Director Erik Johnson said the organization fought for the entire Shore to be an opportunity zone, though it didn’t happen.
According to Virginia Economic Development Partnership maps showing the opportunity zones, Accomack’s opportunity zone appears to contain areas besides Chincoteague, including Atlantic and New Church.
Likewise, Northampton’s opportunity zone appears to contain areas besides Cape Charles, including Cheriton and Capeville.
Yet a majority of the Shore is left out.
Northampton County Administrator Charlie Kolakowski said the summit highlighted both a “critical need” for affordable housing on the Shore and sources of available funding for affordable housing projects.
A follow-up session will be held Dec. 6, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Exmore town hall.