Delegate Jennifer McClellan, who represents a portion of the City of Richmond in the Virginia General Assembly, spoke to over thirty constituents and community members about housing issues on Thursday June 30th. The “Community Conversation on Housing” was held at the offices of Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) a non-profit housing counseling agency located in the City. Delegate McClellan spent over an hour discussing various housing issues ranging from affordable housing and weatherization to foreclosures.
The event was kick started by a brief presentation by Brian Koziol, Housing Policy & Research Analyst at HOME. Brian reviewed data about Virginia and the City of Richmond covering home sales, foreclosures, employment, wages and home prices. This presentation set the stage for the moderated discussion about housing issues led by Delegate McClellan. The discussion began with Delegate McClellan explaining how important it was for citizens to contact their elected officials outside of the General Assembly session. She explained the status of several foreclosure reform bills that were introduced during the 2011 General Assembly session. As a member of the House Courts Committee, Delegate McClellan was an active participant in the debates about foreclosure reform. According to her, the General Assembly felt they needed to study the foreclosure process before making any reforms so all foreclosure legislation was sent to the Governor’s Foreclosure Task Force to be studied.
During the foreclosure discussion, many expressed shock that despite the ongoing housing and fraudulent foreclosure crisis, federal funding for housing counselors has been eliminated. Housing counselors, such as those employed by HOME, help paying Virginia homeowners stay in their homes by preventing unnecessary foreclosures. Housing counselors also help first time home buyers from falling into bad mortgages or buying more house than they can afford. This promotes stable neighborhoods and responsible, sustainable home ownership. These services are all free of charge and supported by government funding. Representatives from ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions spoke about how important and cost effective their services were in this weak housing market.
Another big discussion item was reducing housing costs for low income Virginians through increased energy efficiency. Many housing groups in Virginia received federal stimulus funds to “weatherize” homes in Virginia. Unfortunately, most of this funding is being cut from the federal budget, despite the success of the weatherization program in creating jobs, lowering energy costs and making home ownership sustainable for low income Virginians.
Several attendees brought up housing affordability as a continued issue. With weak job growth, stagnant/reduced wages and rising rent prices many Virginians are suffering from increased housing cost burden. Despite the large housing inventory, most Virginians cannot afford these homes, even at reduced prices. A Virginia Housing Trust Fund would stimulate the housing market and create jobs by providing funding for affordable housing construction. It would also provide grants to help first time home buyers purchase a house. North Caroline and South Carolina have both had housing trust funds with great success. Unfortunately, Virginia does not have any revenue dedicated to this sort of fund. The Governor’s Housing Policy has identified a housing trust fund with a dedicated revenue stream as a priority.
This “Community Conversation on Housing” was held on Thursday June 30th from 12pm – 2pm and co-organized by Housing Opportunities Made Equal and the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. It was attended by representatives from several housing organizations including ElderHomes, Richmond Metro Habitat for Humanity, the Better Housing Coalition and ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions. Also attending were constituents from the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, a grassroots faith-based social justice organization, the Virginia Poverty Law Center, the Virginia Bankers Association and the Virginia Conservation Network.
Jennifer McClellan was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates from the 71st District in 2005. She is assigned to the House Commerce & Labor, Court of Justice and Education Committees. Jennifer is a member of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, and Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus. She also served on Governor Kaine’s Poverty Reduction Task Force, the Advisory Council on Career and Technical Education. Delegate McClellan accepted a member position on the Virginia Center of Aging Board in 2010.