State Senator John Watkins discussed housing issues with constituents over lunch on Tuesday October 25th. The “Community Conversation on Housing” was co-organized by Project:HOMES and Housing Opportunities Made Equal. Attendees included volunteers, clients, staff and Board members from these two Richmond area non-profit housing organizations.
Senator Watkins began the conversation by pointing out the economic conditions that complicate the housing crisis such as weak job growth, local barriers to housing development and the new rental reality. Senator Watkins spoke at length about the need to connect housing to job growth and transportation. Attendees from the affordable housing community raised concerns about rising rents and stagnant wages. A new post from The Economist points out that:
the latest CPI figures show that rents in America are up 2.1% over the past year and 0.9% in the last three months alone—nearly twice the increase in core inflation.
Homeless advocates and affordable housing developers expressed interest in Governor McDonnell’s proposal for a Virginia Housing Trust Fund.
A Virginia Housing Trust Fund would providing funding for affordable housing construction, grants to help first time home buyers and funding to prevent homelessness. An economic study found that a $10 million investment per year over 10 years will yield a $1 billion impact on Virginia’s economy and create 5,893 jobs. This study also found that even after the construction is complete, the ongoing economic impact will be $331.0 million per year, and will support 1,778 jobs in Virginia. The Governor’s Housing Policy has identified a housing trust fund with a dedicated revenue stream as a priority.
Realtors in attendance shared stories of strict lending standards as a barrier to home ownership in the current market. Even when low prices attract buyers, very few are able to get financing to purchase new homes due to the Banks tighter restrictions on lending. Attendees in the Banking industry shared stories of struggling to give out loans because of the losses they take from homes being sold at below market prices, further depressing assets on their balance sheets and restricting the amount they can lend.
A young constituent who is a first time home buyer mentioned she was less interested in purchasing a foreclosed home, despite the lower price, because they usually are not maintained as well. She said that buying such a home was a risk for her as a first time home buyer because she was not sure if she could handle the extra cost of fixing and maintaining such a home.
John C. Watkins is the State Senator representing the 10th Senate District in Virginia. He serves on the Virginia Housing Commission, whose goal is to promote safe, sound and affordable housing for every Virginian. As a member of the Housing Commission Senator Watkins is deeply involved on housing policy in Virginia, having sponsored many bills including SB 786 which made sure that foreclosure prevention services were widely available to all Virginians by exempting non-profit housing counselors from burdensome regulations.
The 10th Senatorial district includes Powhatan County, part of Chesterfield, and part of the City of Richmond.