[Hpn] Virginia sits on a pile of unspent housing money

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Mon, 18 Jun 2001 14:18:37 -0700


http://washingtonpost.com:80/wp-dyn/articles/A8496-2001Jun15.html

Washington Post

Virginia sits on a pile of unspent housing money.

Sunday, June 17, 2001; Page B08

Thousands of hard-working Virginians can't find decent housing that they can
afford. Meanwhile 10 political appointees sit atop a huge pile of public
money that has been earmarked for the development of affordable housing.

More than 400,000 Virginians now live in substandard housing or pay more
than 30 percent of their income for housing (30 percent is the national
standard for affordability). Yet the Virginia Housing Development Authority,
the state's finance agency for affordable housing, retained a $1.1 billion
surplus last year. An independent audit by the Joint Legislative Audit and
Review Commission published last year found that the authority could reduce
its surplus by $737 million and still retain its bond rating, which is the
highest of any similar public housing finance agency in the country.

Barry Duval, state commerce secretary, recently directed the authority and
the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development to research the
state's need for affordable housing. In nine public meetings conducted
around the state this spring, however, the focus was on the special-needs
segments of the affordable housing market -- the mentally ill, the disabled,
recent immigrants and the homeless. The fact that thousands of families in
need of affordable housing have at least one full-time wage earner went
unaddressed.

Teachers, sanitation workers, clerks, child care providers, and hotel and
restaurant workers often are paid wages too low to allow them to compete
effectively in the private mortgage and rental markets. Local communities,
wrongly fearing that affordable housing is a euphemism for slums, do little
to encourage the housing authority to put its vast financial clout to work
by financing private affordable housing.

The authority touts the success of its first-time home-buyer program, but 39
percent of its buyers could have qualified for private mortgages at their
local banks or mortgage-lending institutions. The authority was created by
the state legislature in 1972 specifically to provide housing financing for
Virginians who are otherwise unable to afford it, not for those who can go
elsewhere and find financing.

The authority is empowered to sell tax-exempt bonds on the private market
and distribute federal low-income housing tax credits for investors in
construction of affordable rental units. The income from its bond sales and
repayment of mortgages should allow it to invest aggressively in rental
construction and mortgage financing for those who can't qualify in the
private market. 

Many low-income Virginians are able to make regular mortgage payments given
a below-market break on down payments and interest rates. And increasing the
supply of rental housing certainly would be more effective in reducing
overcrowding than laws against the use of family rooms and dens for
sleeping, a proposal that was defeated by the state legislature this year.
But the board of the Virginia Housing Development Authority seems content to
ignore its mission to provide financing for those otherwise unable to afford
it. 

When Virginians stop at a convenience store, stay in a motel, pick up their
children from day care or hear the sanitation truck clattering through their
neighborhoods, they should ask themselves if the people who do this
essential work deserve decent places to live. If the answer is yes, they
should push the Virginia Housing Development Authority to get the financing
out there to those who need it most.

-- Danielle Poux chairs the Virginia Organizing Project, a nonprofit
organization that works on state and local issues.

 2001 The Washington Post Company
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