Living in Virginia – context for debate

Courtesy Housing Forward Virginia

by James C Sherlock

Dick Hall-Sizemore did a good job this morning describe the phenomena where people in a given iteration are explicitly opposed to public policies that they support in the abstract.

The topic was middle-income housing in Arlington County.

The problem with short articles by anyone (including me) on housing issues is that they can’t begin to account for all federal, state and local government interventions in housing and forces such as inflation in the broader economy that are disrupting the housing market before forces in that single market take effect.

We see articles and columns flooding the press this week commenting – mainly to criticize – Gov. Youngkin’s announced goal to increase the housing stock.

They tend to be misleading at best – inflating his potential impact on housing to say he’s not doing enough.

No governor, because of the Code of Virginia and the vastness of the market, can have anything other than a very little impact on housing.

The federal government The hand is very heavy here.

I won’t go through everything for breath, but there are more state housing programs than Carter has pills, including the enormous and occasionally dysfunctional effects of federal insurance and credit buying.

In Va, Title 36. Housing of the Code of Virginia creates a very complex web of state and local government agencies.

The governor may ask the general assembly for more money for the Virginia Housing Trust Fund (VHTF). But that fund is controlled by law by the Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA) and the Board of Housing and Community Development (BHCD), both of which have independent commissioners.

The VHTF received $55 million in budget funding for fiscal year 2022. I hear there are other demands on the household.

live forward virginia, an advocacy group claims that

“Over the past four years, every dollar from (V)HTF has resulted in an additional $30 leveraged from federal, local and private funds. These sources include the other streams wrapped up in ASNH (Affordable and Special Needs Housing) and VCI (Vibrant Community Initiative), low-income housing tax credits from Virginia Housing (VHDA), and additional grants and loans from local governments.”

I have no way of verifying this claim.

But all of these federal grants and loans come with formulas that are prescribed for their use. And even if that multiple is correct, the full effect of the VHTF in fiscal 2022 was just $1.6 billion.

Virginia home sales in 2021 totaled $67 billion.

VHDA and BHCD also carry out the regulatory work. The constantly revised state building regulations of the BHCD contribute enormously to the costs.

At the local levelthere are state-recognized regional housing authorities in the places they set up.

City and district councils make development decisions. Under tremendous pressure, illustrated in Jim’s article.

Then there are zoning codes for many buildable lots – flood zones, historic zones, special zones of all kinds, and protection class impairment laws.

bottom line. All of these knobs, pulleys, and levers may be theoretically desirable, some even necessary, but they lead to a Rube Goldberg housing venture in Virginia.

We all want machines to work efficiently and effectively. We all expect that will not be the case.

But then we come to market forces, which include inflation, mortgage rates, supply chains and labor.

I point all this out to suggest that giving a governor authority over the housing market is a chimera.

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