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What is the Affordable Housing Crisis?


A Housing Partnership client enjoys the freedom offered by a newly installed disability ramp.

Housing Partnerships, Inc. has worked to repair and replace substandard housing in the Historic Triangle area since 1985. After three decades, our role within the community is more important than ever due to the ever-growing Affordable Housing Crisis in the City of Williamsburg, James City County, and York County.


It’s not a lack of jobs, but a lack of pay


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the local unemployment rate in Williamsburg in January 2019 was 4.5%, just 0.5% greater than the January national unemployment rate. The problem is not a lack of jobs — rather, wages have not increased at the same pace as housing prices and rent costs.


A 2017 United Way ALICE report documented this specific problem. ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained and Employed—the report states that 37% of James City County residents, and a whopping 57% of Williamsburg residents qualify as ALICE households. ALICE households live either below the federal poverty line or the area basic cost of living.


The ALICE report tells the story of families who work hard but still struggle to make ends meet. The Historic Triangle is an expensive area to live in, but salaries simply haven’t kept up.


How does this affect Williamsburg area households?


In the Williamsburg region, 30% of households were cost-burdened by housing according to a 2017 report made by the Williamsburg Health Foundation. A household is cost-burdened in terms of housing if they spend over 30% of their gross, untaxed income on housing. The problem is even greater with residents over the age of 65: 56% of senior households are cost-burdened.


These housing problems directly impact every other aspect of life. Families who struggle to afford housing make difficult decisions between going to the doctor’s office, paying rent, and buying groceries. For other families, the housing that they can afford is barely inhabitable. In the past, Housing Partnerships has rehabilitated homes in the Williamsburg Area that had dirt floors, no running water, and no electricity. Further, many seniors who have limited movement or are wheelchair-bound can’t afford to make their home accessible and therefore can’t fully live in within their own homes.


Why should we construct more affordable housing?


The construction of affordable housing is a net-positive and economic boon for the entire community.


For one, the availability of low-income housing will primarily serve residents who already live in the area but cannot afford their current homes.


Further, the availability of high-quality affordable income housing tends to stabilize or increase local housing prices. A recent James City County housing conditions report states that a lack of affordable housing forces low-income employees to live far from their workplace and drastically increase local traffic levels and decreasing the quality of life of residents. Distant, low-quality affordable housing also creates sprawling developments that strain public resources and require the construction of expensive new infrastructure. These developments also decrease housing prices by developing otherwise pristine land, transforming the natural beauty of the Historic Triangle into a suburban sprawl.


Lastly, the absence of affordable housing hurts local businesses and slows economic growth. Local businesses need workers, and a lack of affordable housing makes it difficult for businesses to hire and retain vital, lower-paid employees like waiters, janitorial staff, and cashiers.


What can local community members do?

The two main ways you can combat the Affordable Housing Crisis are through advocacy and supporting local organizations.


In the long-term, there simply needs to be more affordable housing. Despite the demonstrated need for affordable housing, it has proven difficult to build new affordable housing complexes. Many local politicians and community members have misconceptions about affordable housing developments and have attempted to prevent such constructions. Therefore, education on the Affordable Housing Crisis is essential. Talk to neighbors, spread the word, and most importantly, go to community meetings and support resolutions in favor new affordable housing developments.

However, it takes time to create these developments. For now, supporting local organizations like Housing Partnerships and the Williamsburg Health Foundation is essential. Housing Partnerships fulfills vital home repairs for community members. For example, Housing Partnerships often constructs disability ramps for disabled residents and repairs plumbing systems, among other projects. When residents are already struggling to pay rent or mortgages, they cannot afford to take on these projects. Organizations like the Health Foundation help pay for health services for residents under the poverty line. Cost-burdened households statistically have much lower life expectancies due to high healthcare costs and the stress of house insecurity.


Contact Housing Partnerships at volunteers@housingpartnerships.org, or call us at 757-221-0225 for more information on how to get involved.


Sources cited:

https://beta.bls.gov/dataViewer/view/timeseries/LAUCN518300000000003

https://wydaily.com/local-news/2018/03/17/report-many-of-its-residents-cant-afford-to-live-in-williamsburg/

https://www.unitedforalice.org/all-reports

https://www.jccalert.org/3056/Recommendations

http://williamsburghealthfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/housing-virginia-connecting-housing-and-health-in-the-williamsburg-region-2017-06-29.pdf

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