RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A proposal to expand affordable housing programs across the commonwealth is getting a second life in the House of Delegates, after a similar proposal was killed earlier in this year’s session.
Senator Jeremy McPike’s (D – Manassas) SB 1141 seemed destined to fail in a mostly-empty House subcommittee room on Thursday, Feb. 17. The same fate earlier this month befell a mostly-identical proposal by Delegate Betsy Carr (D – Richmond) in the same subcommittee.
McPike’s bill would expand the power of local governments to enact affordable housing programs, offering developers increased density, mixed-use designations and financial incentives in exchange for new housing below the market rate.
The bill passed the Virginia Senate on Feb. 2, with Republican Senator Emmett Hanger (R – Waynesboro) crossing the aisle to join his Democratic colleagues.
Making the Case
McPike told a House subcommittee on Feb. 16 that the decision to enact affordable housing programs belonged in the hands of local governments.
“Our attempts to mandate one-size-fits-all is never gonna work when we’re dealing with affordable housing,” he said. “It has to be local jurisdictions that have the public process, the public hearings to create the context.”
The programs in question already exist, but only in a handful of counties with an “urban-executive” form of government. McPike’s bill would extend those powers to all of Virginia’s counties and cities.
Localities can already enact voluntary incentive programs for affordable housing, but McPike said these programs have proved ineffective compared to the mandatory programs in place in just a handful of counties.
“The key issue is that the voluntary ADU has only garnered three projects statewide,” he said. “Twenty projects have arisen where it’s mandatory.”
The proposal has attracted vocal support from the City of Richmond and affordable housing advocates, but a representative of the Home Builders Association of Virginia spoke out against the bill.
“I would totally agree with Senator McPike’s assessment that we need to do something now, it’s an urgent problem,” he said. “But the industry does not believe that these statutes really have been effective in increasing the supply.”
If the HBAV had an alternative in mind, however, he made no mention of it during his time at the podium.
The bill was also opposed by Delegate Scott Wyatt (R – King William), who said, “I am concerned about subsidies that may need to be paid to offset some of these.”
Turning It Around
When the motion came to lay the bill on the table, effectively killing it, Chair James Morefield (R – Tazewell), seemed prepared to see the bill set aside.
“Thank you senator,” he said, then, catching sight of the voting roll, “The um– well, nope. It’s back!”
On a vote of 4-5, with Delegate Dave LaRock (R – Frederick) crossing the aisle, the motion to kill the bill had been defeated
Moments later, the bill was recommended to report from committee on a vote of 5-4.
Then, on Friday morning, the bill came before the full House Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns. Once again, a motion to table the bill came forward — unusual for the House, where committees usually defer to the recommendations of their sub-committees — and once again was defeated.
Though Delegate LaRock reversed his position in the full committee, the absence of three of the committee’s Republican members — Delegate P.A. Scott (R – ), Marie March (R – ) and Howard Wachsmann (R – ) — ensured its passage out of committee on a narrow 10-9 vote.
The bill now faces an uncertain future as it moves towards a full floor vote in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates. The proposal will need the support of just three of the chamber’s Republican members (and unanimous support from its Democrats) to survive.
Then it will land on the desk of Governor Glenn Youngkin, who has previously made affordable housing a priority and supported policies to increase the housing supply, which could include density allowances outlined under McPike’s bill.
But Youngkin’s inaugural committee and Spirit of Virginia PAC have both received over $20,000 from the Home Builders Association of Virginia — which may spell doom for the bill if it eventually reaches his desk.