Housing Coalition Finds Many Challenges to Building Affordable Housing

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By Stefanie Jackson – The Eastern Shore Regional Housing Coalition met March 6 at the Historic Onancock School, where participants shared insights on why the Shore lacks affordable housing and what must be done to fix the problem.

Ramona Chapman, of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, facilitated.

David Koogler, of the Houston, Texas, area, is the developer responsible for four of Accomack and Northampton’s affordable housing apartment complexes, including Accomack Manor and Exmore Village I and II. He provided a different perspective on the Eastern Shore’s lack of affordable housing.

Accomack supervisors support the construction of affordable housing, but they don’t always vote for it if citizens voice opposition, he noted.

Koogler, age 91, had proposed a construction project at the site of the former Mary N. Smith Middle School in Accomac in 2012. He had invested $100,000 in the project and believed there was support for it, but when it was time for supervisors to vote, “the community showed up and wrote it off,” he said.

Koogler invested $40,000 in another Accomack project in 2015, but that proposal also fell through.

Stacey Johnson, assistant executive director of the Eastern Shore of Virginia Habitat for Humanity, said, “I would love to see what we can do to bring people together, because there’s really a division between the people that are in need of (affordable housing) and those that have the final say over it.”

“There needs to be an iceberg broken up between those two sectors,” she said.

Bobbie Jo Wert, of the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission (A-NPDC), called the phenomenon “nimbyism,” or the “not in my backyard” movement – meaning some locals support housing development only if it isn’t in or near their own neighborhoods.

Koogler, who traveled from Spring, Texas to attend the housing coalition meeting, advised members to speak up at county supervisors meetings. If there’s public discussion on a housing project and only one person speaks in support, but a dozen others speak in opposition, the project won’t be approved, he cautioned.

Wert said local contractors get a “bad rep.” Many want to help build affordable housing, but often they can’t bid on those jobs because of related regulations and bonding requirements, or they’re overloaded with other projects.

The A-NPDC is working on obtaining funding for an up-to-date housing needs assessment for the Eastern Shore. The most recent one dates back to 1999, more than 20 years ago.

The Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA) and the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (VHCD) each will contribute about $40,000 for that project.

The housing needs assessment will include meetings called charettes for local elected officials.

But housing studies are meaningless if supervisors don’t support the resulting recommendations, Koogler warned.

Another challenge for developers is that building low-income housing isn’t financially feasible without government subsidies, and contractors can’t apply directly for funding, “the county has to do it,” Koogler pointed out.

One resource available to developers is low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs), available through a partnership of the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD.

The tax credits reduce construction costs and allow the apartments to be rented at affordable rates that are lower than the average rates in the area.

For example, when Accomack Manor was built, rent on the Eastern Shore ranged from $600 to $2,000 a month, but an Accomack Manor apartment could be rented for approximately $350 a month, Koogler said.

The National Council on Agricultural Life and Labor (NCALL) is a Delaware nonprofit that can provide technical assistance with LIHTCs.

A-NPDC is planning to arrange an Eastern Shore meet-and-greet with members of NCALL.

NCALL also could share information about starting a self-help housing program on the Shore, Wert said.

In the same way that Habitat for Humanity participants put “sweat equity” into their new homes, families who participate in a self-help program assist one another with the construction of the buildings, and all the families move into their new homes at the same time, Wert said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides Mutual Self-Help Housing Technical Assistance Grants to selected applicants through its Rural Development agency.

USDA offers multiple financial assistance programs for renovating or buying homes.

Contacting U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria about re-opening a USDA housing office on the Eastern Shore is on the housing coalition’s to-do list.

Andrew Mack, of the Baltimore, Md., area, is a member of a real estate investors association, or REIA. He owns a home in Cape Charles, where he plans to retire. Mack advised the housing coalition to speak with potential investors about the criteria that must be met for Shore housing projects to be profitable for them.

Sheri Sample Carpenter, of Hampton, Va., is a real estate agent, who is originally from the Shore. She suggested that the housing coalition should also work with real estate appraisers, who play a role in housing affordability.

Jorge Diaz-Herrera, of Onancock, is also a real estate agent, who wants to help the housing coalition develop a partnership with the Eastern Shore Association of Realtors.

Carpenter and Diaz-Herrera are both VDHA-certified to teach potential buyers about home ownership, and Diaz-Herrera speaks Spanish. Wert recommended they also obtain HUD certification.

Housing coalition members also discussed the Acquire, Renovate, Sell program (ARS) administered by VDHCD and funded by VHDA.

The goal of ARS is to take undervalued homes – including homes that are vacant or abandoned or were foreclosed or auctioned – and transform them into community assets.

Eligible organizations use ARS funds to renovate homes and sell them at fair market value, then they return the rehab funds and keep the net proceeds.

All ARS activities benefit low and moderate-income individuals and families, or those at or below 80% of the area median income.

The line of credit required for participation in the program was recently reduced from $800,000 to $250,000, opening an opportunity for more organizations to participate.

The New Road Community Development Group, based in Exmore, will be the first organization on the Eastern Shore to participate in ARS.

Another affordable housing resource that nonprofits can access is the Virginia Individual Development Accounts program (VIDA), also administered by VDHCD with funding from VHDA.

Nonprofits recruit participants who must save at least $25 a month for six months. For every dollar saved, VIDA will match $8, for a total match of up to $4,000 that can be applied to closing costs and a down payment on a home.

Housing coalition members also emphasized the importance of the 2020 U.S. Census.

Virginia received nearly $17.8 billion in federal funds as a result of the 2010 U.S. Census.

Every person who does not complete the census represents a loss of $20,000 in federal funding, or $2,000 per person, per year, during a ten-year period.

Next steps for the housing coalition will include scheduling a meeting with VDHCD staff member Willie Fobbs to discuss how to create more Community Housing Development Organizations or CHDOs on the Shore.

The next meeting of the Eastern Shore Regional Housing Coalition is currently scheduled for Friday, June 5.

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