JCC housing task force fine tunes proposed strategies

Staff writer

The county’s Affordable Housing Task Force took another look at its draft of strategy recommendations to address housing needs Tuesday, putting the finishing touches on the document ahead of the formal approval of the strategies next month.

After coming to a consensus on the substance of recommendations in December, the task force further discussed how to incorporate funding suggestions for a proposed housing trust fund, deciding to include them with the document in an appendix. Those funding suggestions include a 1-cent increase to the county’s real estate rate. The trust fund would be a dedicated fund to support housing efforts.

The task force also decided to offer a variety of strategies rather than just two or three priorities in the report, which was requested by the Board of Supervisors.

The draft recommendations consist of 15 strategies to address the county’s housing needs and include financial aid programs and zoning policy changes.

Strategies include adaptive reuse, which is aimed at low- and moderate-income renters, and a proposal to redevelop existing motels and commercial buildings into residential units. Also among the recommendations are rehabilitation of existing housing, a housing trust fund and multi-family property tax exemptions and abatement.

The recommendations target workers across a range of income levels, from a low of $24,000 a year (workers such as substitute teachers and bus drivers) to a high of $73,000 (workers such as surgical technicians and elementary school teachers).

But while the recommendations and the workers they would support run the gamut, they’re united in that there’s money to be spent to make them happen. Costs and how to address them have been a familiar theme for the task force’s year-long discussions.

Task force member Jeanne Zeidler noted the inclusion of funding source suggestions and wondered whether providing funding source ideas was outside the scope of the force’s work.

To omit funding suggestions leaves out a major concern regarding how to enact the task force’s recommendations, member Ginny Wertman said.

“None of this is going to be costless. If I was the Board of Supervisors, I would say ‘OK, so, how are you going to pay for this stuff?’ ” Wertman said.

Kim Orthner said there was a value in including funding suggestions, saying to strike them out may mean they never get considered if staff or elected officials don’t think of the sources themselves.

The majority of recommendations in the draft document reviewed by the task force don’t include funding suggestions, except for the housing trust fund recommendation. The draft document proposes $900,000 in annual funding for the trust. In the first year, it would be used for rehabilitation of single-family homes.

The document suggests a variety of potential sources, such as a 1-cent increase to the real estate tax, or allocation of part of James City’s share of income generated by the Historic Triangle’s regional tourism tax revenue.

In September, Board of Supervisors members encouraged the task force to focus on several attainable recommendations during a joint meeting.

But while the task force intends to highlight that some recommendations can be completed more quickly than others in the report’s executive summary, it was less inclined to discard the majority of its work.

Lisa Sturtevant, an economic consultant assisting the task force, has said there are more than 8,000 households in James City that can’t afford their housing costs without sacrificing other expenses, such as medical care and food. That’s about a third of the households in the county. More than 3,300 households are severely cost burdened, spending more than half their wages on housing. A 2016 county study found there isn’t enough housing for low- and moderate-income residents.

The Board of Supervisors ultimately will decide which, if any, recommendations will be put into action. And it could be months or years before recommendations are fully fleshed out programs.

After a huddle with the Board of Supervisor to review the draft report next Tuesday, the task force is expected to approve its report Feb. 19.

Jack Jacobs, 757-298-6007, jojacobs@vagazette.com, @jajacobs_

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