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State watchdog: Restrictive local zoning is biggest challenge to affordable housing

In this Jan. 27, 2021, file photo, a For Rent sign is posted in Sacramento, Calif.
Rich Pedroncelli
In this Jan. 27, 2021, file photo, a For Rent sign is posted in Sacramento, Calif.

Does your local zoning ordinance stand in the way of affordable housing? Many people think so, and so when the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission outlined ways lawmakers in Richmond could increase the stock of affordable housing last year, hopes were high. But the General Assembly failed to take action.

This week, JLARC director Hal Greer listed last year's recommendations on affordable housing as unimplemented but important recommendations.

"One of the biggest challenges to developing more affordable housing is restrictive local zoning ordinances," Greer told lawmakers. "The report has a recommendation for the General Assembly to direct DHCD to develop an incentive program to incentivize localities to develop zoning policies that facilitate the development of more affordable housing."

Click here to read the JLARC report

Next year, lawmakers are poised to consider the latest recommendations from JLARC to make the income tax more progressive. But Sheila Herlihy at the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy says the time for action on affordable housing is now.

"The General Assembly is likely to talk about increasing tax relief. But more important and more key to people on the ground is housing relief," Herlihy contended. "We don't need study. We know that one in three Virginia families are struggling to pay for housing, and so we need to allocate resources to support them."

According to researchers at the commission, about one in three Virginia families pays too much of their income on housing expenses.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.
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