Affordable housing?

This caught my eye in today’s story on Old Trail Village in Crozet.

Developer Justin Beights says Old Trail Village will include affordable housing and park land.

Hmmm. What is affordable housing? Albemarle County defines (pdf) affordable housing as

Affordable Housing, in general terms means safe, decent housing where housing costs do not exceed 30% of the gross household income. Housing costs for homeowners shall include principal, interest, real estate taxes, and homeowner’s insurance (PITI). Housing costs for tenants shall be tenant-paid rent and tenant-paid utilities with maximum allowances for utilities to be those adopted by the Housing Office for the Housing Choice Voucher Program.

Affordable Housing is defined, for the purpose of this policy, as those houses affordable to the forty percent of the County population that have household incomes at or below 80% of the area median income. For 2003, the maximum affordable home for purchase (80% median income) would be $172,000 and maximum housing costs (rent and utilities) for tenants would be $787 (50% median income).

The PITI payment for 100% financing for a purchase price of $172k would be about $1,197/month.

Old Trail has townhomes starting at $297,000 for a 1695 square foot, 3BR, 2 1/2 BA home (email me if you are interested). These are affordable to certain people, but even adjusting the above numbers for radical increases in value (20% per annum for the past two years), affordable housing would be $247,680 – still far below the base price at Old Trail. This PITI payment would be about $1675 per month. Does this sound affordable to you?

Park land is easy to add to a development. Simply set aside vacant land and voilà! Affordable housing is a trickier prospect and I do not purport to have the answer, nor that there is an answer – most likely the solution will comprise a cornucopia of ideas. It is naïve to believe that either a governmental agency can regulate market forces into submission or that a developer’s promises will make affordable housing appear. Better to subsidize the buyers than the properties themselves.

I won’t even address how “safe” equates “affordable,” nor how government can sanely legislate either. I face the affordable housing situation/crisis every day; it is not getting easier and playing this shell game serves only to complicate matters. Legislating the free market is a recipe for disaster.

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