Tenants and developers urged state officials last week to consider a number of measures to preserve rental housing in the state, particularly in Northern Virginia for low- and moderate-income families.
At a four-hour hearing before the Virginia Housing Study Commission, held at the Arlington Courthouse, the two normally discordant sides asked the state panel to seek General Assembly action to help ease the burdens of tenants swept up by condominium conversions.
About 70 persons attended the hearing and more than 30 spoke before the commission, addressing a wide range of housing issues.
Most speakers agreed that long-range solutions will require federal, state and local cooperation if the trend toward less rental housing is to be stemmed.
Among recommendations the commission heard from tenant groups, landlords and condominium developers were:
That legislation be enacted enabling local governments to use some of the increased tax revenues from condominum conversions to help low-and moderate-income tenants relocate or purchase condos and cooperatives.
Speakers also urged that landlords be given tax breaks or loans to rehabilitate -- rather than sell or convert -- rental buildings.
"There's a lot of crying and wailing about the housing problem, but we've seen no solutions coming (from local governments)," said John T. O'Neill, executive vice president of the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington.
O'Neill called for more creativity in meeting housing demands, such as waiving or reducing local fees and taxes and converting surplus school, county or state properties into apartments for low-income and elderly citizens.
The proposal was endorsed by Charles W. Rinker, a member of the Arlington Housing Corporation, which last May helped sponsor a broad-based forum on Arlington's housing needs.
Rinker noted that the forum produced several recommendations. Since property taxes and interest on mortgages held by landlords are included in rent, the forum suggested that tenants, like homeowners, be allowed to deduct their portion of those costs for federal tax purposes.
That the Virginia Housing Development Authority, the state's housing financing agency, be allowed to increase loan and income-eligibility levels for home buyers and to providing financing for persons who want to buy cooperatives.
Currently, Virginia limits VHDA loans to $35,000 for existing housing and $45,000 for new housing. Under income limits, a family can earn no more than $16,000 a year in adjusted income to qualify for a VHDA loan. In Northern virginia, the median sales price for a single-family home in the first six months of this year was $80,000 and the median income just more than $25,000.
Calling the VDHA standards "unrealistically low," particularly for Arlington, John Miliken, a Democratic candidate for the County Board, urged the commission to review "these arbitrary limits."
The VHDA, Miliken added, "should be willing to finance housing purchases through cooperatives and other joint purchasing arrangements which are likely to become the means of residential ownership for many of our citizens."
That legislation be enacted giving tenants, as a group, the "right of first refusal" to buy a building if an owner decides to sell the building to developer for condominium conversion, or legislation that gives the owner tax incentives to sell to the tenants.
However, some speakers urged that few if any curbs be put on condo conversions.
"There will be fewer rental units available (in the near future) independant of the level of conversions," said George Sebsow, representing the Condominium Developers Association."And we would be creating a new permanently disadvantaged class of citizens -- those not offered the opportunity to become homeowners when they were renters and could have afforded the purchase of a converted apartment."