A $4 million investment is a drop in the bucket in the world of affordable housing costs, as it’s less than 1 percent of the cost of a typical project that the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development usually subsidizes.
But the $4 million that Virginia lawmakers added to the commonwealth’s affordable housing trust fund last week, at the request of Gov. Ralph Northam (D), has been hailed by those who distribute the money as a sign that the state is paying attention to a growing need.
“We are really excited we’re going to be able to turn this money around in the current fiscal year,” said Pam Kestner, deputy director of housing for the commonwealth’s Department of Housing and Community Development.
That money, in addition to a $1.5 million boost that the General Assembly ordered this year, increases the state funding for the trust fund to $9.5 million at least for the fiscal year, which ends June 30. The fund is essentially a revolving low-interest loan program that can be used to help communities and developers fill gaps in financing their projects.
The need for low- to middle-cost housing is increasing throughout Virginia, although the focus until recently has been on the expensive Northern Virginia suburbs of the District.
Kestner said 29 applicants from the commonwealth are seeking money from the fund, which is about one-third more applications than is typical. After the department sorts through the requests and verifies the information, its recommendations will be forwarded to Northam in mid- to late May.
The money is expected to be awarded before July 1.
Legislators also agreed in February to authorize $75 million over the next five years for affordable housing in Northern Virginia, as part of an economic development incentive package to draw Amazon’s new headquarters to Arlington County. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Arlington County, which has its own affordable housing incentive fund of about $14 million, promised to provide an additional $70 million over the next 10 years. Alexandria, whose Potomac Yard neighborhood is part of the National Landing area pitched to Amazon, will devote $80 million in the next decade, funded in part by a year-old meals tax increase.
Northam initially asked for $19 million for the housing fund this year. Del. Alfonso H. Lopez (D-Arlington), whose 2013 bill set up the fund, sought $50 million. Neither effort was successful.
Lopez called the $4 million addition “a good sign” but far short of what’s needed, and he pledged to keep focusing his attention on the issue.
“Housing should be thought of on the same level as transportation and transit and education, as a quality-of-life issue,” he said. “I’m very excited we’ve come so far. . . . It’s a great step forward to help Virginia families.”