Since Governor Ralph Northam’s historic 3.7 billion dollar rail deal, eyes from across the country have been focused on Virginia’s attempt to transform statewide transportation policy. A flurry of exciting proposals from the General Assembly has reinforced the notion of a mobility revolution in the Commonwealth. The enthusiasm for change seems to have carried over to the state’s housing policy as well. Here are the top housing bills we’ll be watching.
From the sheer volume of legislation, it seems the top problem in Virginia’s housing market lawmakers are looking to tackle is discrimination. HB3, HB23, and HB217 from Delegates Delores McQuinn, Joe Lindsey, and Kelly Convirs-Fowler, respectively, are competing to become legislators’ choice vehicle for ending discrimination in housing based on sexual orientation or gender identity. If any of the three proposals out of the General Assembly pass, Virginia would become only the twenty-second state to guarantee such protections to the LGBTQ community.
Two further bills set their sights on ending housing discrimination in the Commonwealth. HB99 introduced by Delegate Sam Rasoul of Roanoke would add discrimination on the basis of an individual’s status as a victim of family abuse as an unlawful housing practice. Both HB6 from Richmond Delegate Jeff Bourne and HB357 from Delegate Alfonso Lopez would ensure similar protections based on an individual’s “source of income.”
The reality of today’s housing market is that even with assistance secured, many renters struggle to find a good home. Current law allows landlords to turn away tenants who receive government assistance in the form of housing vouchers, whether they’re elderly, disabled, or just can’t afford the state’s skyrocketing housing costs. A recent analysis by Richmond’s Partnership for Housing Affordability found that fewer than one in five apartment communities in Central Virginia accept Housing Choice Vouchers.
To try and boost the supply of units renters can afford, Delegate Bourne also sponsored HB7—a bill which would prohibit any locality from using land use guidelines and ordinances to block the development of affordable housing. Rather than just ensure plans for affordable housing aren’t killed by localities, two other proposals would mandate cities and counties themselves begin to tackle Virginia’s growing affordability crisis.
HB545 from Delegate Betsy Carr takes a sweeping approach to the problem by requiring all Virginia localities “to develop and promulgate housing plans that address the supply of safe, sanitary, and affordable shelter for all current and anticipated residents of their communities.” In contrast, SB638 introduced by Senator Scott Surovell of Mount Vernon takes a highly targeted approach. His proposal would mandate 10% of all units be affordable in buildings six stories or taller within a half-mile of a Metro stop.
Other lawmakers simply want accurate data on how bad Virginia’s affordability crisis has become. Resolution HJ31 from Delegate Lopez directs the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development to survey the current housing stock, review state policies, and recommend changes to address the Commonwealth’s future housing needs.
The wave of articles either lambasting or lauding the housing agenda of Delegate Ibraheem Samirah belies the fact that there is an emerging consensus in Virginia that the state’s housing policies have not kept up with the times. With costs across the Commonwealth soaring and five of the 10 worst cities for evictions, Virginia’s 161st General Assembly is hoping their latest policy proposals bring the house down this session.