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Affordable homes are difficult to find in Louisa County

Posted on Saturday, May 18, 2019 at 5:00 am

As developers stampede to rezone land in Zion Crossroads for housing, county leaders are thinking about how to make some of the new homes affordable.

The strong economy has caused rents and home prices to climb gradually in Louisa County. The median sales price in the county was $222,000 in the first quarter of 2019, while apartments and houses are difficult to rent for less than $1,000 per month. Five years ago, the median sales price was $199,000.

The trend has created a renewed interest in affordability among county leaders, who hadn’t talked much about it in the past decade. The board of supervisors even did away with the Affordable Housing Committee a few years ago. Now there are worries that rising prices could make it harder for some Louisa residents to put down roots, or to maintain them.

“We have a segment in our community that cannot afford to live here,” Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes (Patrick Henry district) said. “The average rent in the Charlottesville area is $1,300 a month. I found that pretty shocking. When you put that together with the average monthly income of our residents, it makes it pretty tough.”

Barnes asked his colleagues at the Louisa County Board of Supervisors’ May 6 meeting to consider using tax credits as an incentive for private builders to include affordable housing in otherwise market-rate developments. He recently visited neighborhoods in Baltimore and Nashville where this has been a successful model.

“You could not tell in those buildings who was making what,” he said. “You had people making $80,000 a year and others making $8,000 a year.”

Brian Roy, a developer who has applied to rezone property south of Interstate 64 in Zion Crossroads to build apartments and townhomes, said in an email that his client, Gordon Sutton, would be open to the idea of designating some units as affordable. But Roy said “it is premature to say what direction they will go.”

William Park, president of Pinnacle Construction and Development Corporation, which needs a conditional use permit to build apartments in Sommerfield Business Park in Zion Crossroads, said his firm has built housing developments using federal tax credits. In those instances, all of the units were affordable, rather than a portion of them.

Park said at a neighborhood meeting on May 8 that rents in the Zion Crossroads development would range from $1,000 for a one-bedroom unit to $1,500 for three bedrooms. Chris Henry, who heads Stony Point Design Build, which has proposed hundreds of apartments, townhomes and single-family units behind Walmart, said the market prices would be similar in that neighborhood. Townhomes could start in the low $200,000 range, he said.

The affordability challenge isn’t only for people at the low end of the income scale, Barnes said. It’s also a problem for teachers, police officers and other professionals who make mid-range salaries, he said, arguing that the county should try to help people in both income groups.

(Article by David Holtzman)

This is a partial article. Read the full story in The Central Virginian’s May 16, 2019 issue.

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