February 13, 2019

Honoring an Affordable Housing Champion

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Ron Terwilliger (center) was honored
 by APAH for his many contributions to the affordable housing mission.
It’s one thing to recognize a troubling and pervasive social problem. It’s quite another to be a tireless and articulate advocate who presses for solutions.

Affordable housing in the U.S. has just such a champion. His name: J. Ronald Terwilliger. In October, he was honored by the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) at an event attended by 300 people, including members of VHDA’s leadership team.

This event generated $650,000 for APAH, an Arlington-based nonprofit that serves more than 1,600 low-income households living in one of the organization’s 16 affordable properties countywide. 

Ron Terwilliger is an Arlington native and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. Now retired, he served as CEO of Trammell Crow Residential for 22 years at a time when it was the largest developer of multifamily housing in the nation. Since then, he has championed the nation’s need for more and better affordable housing. His $5 million gift paved the way for the creation of the Terwilliger Center for Workforce Housing at the Urban Land Institute, which works on the design, development, and financing of mixed-income workforce housing in Washington DC, Atlanta and Southeast Florida.

Terwilliger has served as Chairman of the Board for Enterprise Community Partners, Habitat for Humanity International and the I Have Dream Foundation. He’s been active in the Bipartisan Policy Center Housing Commission and has lobbied Congress to produce a more fair and effective national housing policy.

During the APAH ceremony, he spoke about how affordable housing is a critical economic development tool that attracts businesses and builds a stable workforce. He was also frank in his assessment of the inequities within the current housing system: “I like to believe that the three-quarters of the population that are well-housed just don’t know that a quarter of the people living in this country are not. I find it frustrating that of the $200 billion we spend as a nation on housing subsidy, 70 percent of it goes to homeownership and the majority of that goes to wealthy people.”

Ron Terwilliger is someone who not only understands the depth and scope of our nation’s housing problems, but who is doing something about it — through generosity, leadership and persistence. We congratulate him and thank him for his many contributions.

Closing the Door on Closing Costs

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In Virginia, military veterans and rural dwellers represent two distinct homebuying groups. Consider the following two scenarios:

  • Returning stateside after his third tour of duty overseas, Jeff was eager to jumpstart his civilian life. Job one: finding a home his family would love, and his budget could afford. Not the easiest task in the world, as he soon discovered …
      
  • After growing up in rural Southwest Virginia, George and Susan met in college, married and moved to the city. But after 35 years as urbanites, they decided it was time to return to their roots. Back to the country and farmhouse living …    
For years, VHDA has offered mortgage products specifically designed for people like Jeff, George and Susan. VHDA’s Veterans Affairs (VA) and Rural Housing Services (RHS) loan programs allow borrowers to finance up to 100 percent of their home’s sales price or its appraised value, depending on which loan they’re getting. Even with 100 percent financing, however, neither of these products could help buyers pay their closing costs. Now, there’s a program that can.

VHDA’s Closing Cost Assistance Grant program went into effect in November 2018. This income-restricted grant is only available to first-time buyers, and it must be paired with either a VA or an RHS first mortgage from VHDA. It provides funds of up to two percent of a home’s sales price or appraised value, whichever is less. The money can only be used to cover closing costs, including discount points, prepaid items, and the funding fee (for VA loans) or the upfront guarantee fee (RHS loans). Best of all, it never has to be repaid.

The new Closing Cost Assistance Grant program will undoubtedly change Virginia’s real estate landscape. For veterans and rural residents buying a first home, it lowers their out-of-pocket expenses and eliminates the need to fold their closing costs into long-term financing that carries interest charges. In many cases, a Closing Cost Assistance Grant could mean the difference between their offer being accepted or declined.

As for the bigger picture, this program is expected to create a wider and deeper pool of new homebuyers – and to position at least some of them to make offers on properties that would otherwise have been out of reach.

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VHDA’s Closing Cost Assistance Grant at a Glance:

  • For first-time homebuyers only (at least three years removed from owning and occupying a primary residence).
  • Must be paired with a Veterans Affairs (VA) or Rural Housing Services (RHS) first mortgage from VHDA. (Home refinances do not qualify.)
  • Funds are limited to the lesser of two percent of the home’s sales price or the appraised value.
  • Grant funds must be applied to closing costs, discount points, prepaid items, and the funding fee (VA loans) or upfront guarantee fee (RHS loans).
  • Grants do not have to be repaid.
Other terms and conditions apply, including income restrictions. Contact any VHDA-approved lender for details on this or other VHDA products for first-time homebuyers, such as down payment grants and free homebuyer education. VHDA maintains a database of approved lenders and their contact information at vhda.com/FindALender.

New Award to Celebrate a Career of Distinction

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The new award is named in honor of retiring
Housing Choice Voucher Program Director
Sharon Fairburn (center). Celebrating with 

Sharon are Managing Director of Community 
Outreach Mike Hawkins and Executive 
Director Susan Dewey.
She will retire in February after working at VHDA for nearly 40 years. But her legacy will live on, in the form of an annual award that bears her name.

It’s called the Sharon Fairburn Housing Choice Voucher Award for Excellence, and going forward it will be presented to an agency in the VHDA Housing Choice Voucher program that best exemplifies the characteristics she has exhibited during her career – professionalism, innovation, collaboration and client advocacy.

The inaugural Sharon Fairburn award was presented in October to the Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services Board, which provides a variety of programs and client services to residents of Culpeper, Fauquier, Madison, Orange and Rappahannock Counties. The award included a $1,000 check for staff professional development.

Housing Choice Vouchers are financial subsidies that help low-income households, including those with elderly or disabled members, who are seeking a safe, affordable place to live. Vouchers are distributed by VHDA in partnership with local housing agencies such as Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services Board. Renters can select from a wide range of housing options – not just apartments, but also single-family homes and mobile homes – instead of residing in a designated housing project. They pay their landlord a percentage of their monthly income, and the voucher subsidizes the remaining rent.

As VHDA’s Housing Choice Voucher program director, Sharon Fairburn has worked with 31 agencies that provide vouchers to more than 9,700 households throughout the state. Looking back, she counts herself fortunate to have found a career so compatible with her academic training (she holds a bachelor’s degree in management, housing and family development from Virginia Tech). She’s seen the Housing Choice Voucher program grow and evolve over the years. And she’s come to appreciate the intrinsic value that vouchers offer to people who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

Fairburn believes the inaugural award recipient to be more than deserving. “We wanted to select an innovative and professional agency that exhibits strong knowledge of the voucher program and that applies its guidelines consistently,” she said. “Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services Board is all that, and they also act as strong advocates for their renters in ways that help them succeed.”

Which is exactly what Sharon Fairburn has done, for just short of 40 years. Having an award created in her honor is a fitting tribute to a long and noteworthy career dedicated to helping Virginians attain quality, affordable housing.

Helping Make Local Government Better for 100+ Years

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VML's Town & City Magazine, Nov 2018
When an organization remains in operation for more than a century, it’s doing something right. A case in point is the Virginia Municipal League, which has been helping improve local government in urban communities since 1905.

As in past years, VHDA was a sponsor and exhibitor at VML’s 2018 conference – and this year we were also part of the program, delivering a presentation on housing’s economic impact and leading a panel discussion on how our partnerships with localities help to increase affordable housing inventories.

The presentation was made by Chris Thompson, VHDA’s Director of Strategic Housing. He described how the housing industry generated 314,499 jobs, $14.2 billion in labor income and $1.66 billion in state and local taxes in 2015. In total, the economic impact reached $47.8 billion, making housing the sixth largest industry in Virginia. 

The panel discussion included Chris Thompson and officials from two Virginia cities: Karen Prochilo, Housing Development Administrator for Virginia Beach, and Helen McIlvaine, Director of the Office of Housing for Alexandria. Both of them discussed how they used VHDA Community Impact Grants to tackle housing challenges in their cities. Community Impact Grants are resources awarded by VHDA to help local governments revitalize neighborhoods, in particular by promoting the development of mixed use / mixed-income properties that spur economic growth. Grant funds are often used to produce studies, plans, assessments or analyses that help in this process.

Another presentation on housing resources was given by VHDA Managing Director of Community Outreach Mike Hawkins, to VML’s 2018 Virginia Mayors Institute – a gathering of approximately 50 mayors, local elected officials, and executive staff from across the Commonwealth. He explained various ways VHDA works with local governments to assist with their housing planning and revitalization efforts. He also focused on the relationship between housing and economic development. According to VML, the 2018 Mayors Institute was one of the most successful in event’s history, and participant feedback on the housing resource session was very positive.

The Virginia Municipal League is a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization that works with
stakeholders to find new and better ways to deliver essential services, and to ensure that sufficient governmental resources exist to help Virginians lead safe and productive lives. Among other activities, VML represents localities before the General Assembly, trains newly elected local government officials, operates a member inquiry service and provides self-insurance programs for Virginia public entities.

The League also publishes a monthly magazine for its members. In the November 2018 edition of VML’s Town & City Magazine, there is a feature article describing in detail how VHDA has worked with local governments around the state, providing Housing Credits, Community Impact Grants and other resources. The article begins on page 9 of the November edition.

VHDA congratulates VML for another successful annual conference, and another productive year working in partnership with Virginia’s local governments.

December 18, 2018

VHDA Grant Helps Planning Efforts to Preserve Affordable Housing Along Alexandria’s Route 1 Corridor

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Alexandria is putting the final touches on a plan it hopes will safeguard its dwindling inventory of affordable housing.

Since 2000, 88 percent of Alexandria’s market-affordable units have been lost. These units, which have unregulated rents, often house low- to moderate-income families. With two rental properties on its Route 1 corridor – 215 units in all – in danger of joining that list in the next two years, the city wants to change its redevelopment and zoning guidelines to protect those properties and others. A Community Impact Grant from VHDA has helped fund that work in its early stages.

At the heart of the process was a series of community engagement activities designed to solicit feedback and gain consensus from a broad cross section of stakeholders. The most meaningful activity,by far, was a collaborative planning and policy session called a charrette. This week-long meeting was attended by several hundred people including neighbors, the residents and owners of the two Route 1 properties, city staff members, and community service organization representatives, some of whom brought special expertise to the group.

“Without VHDA’s grant money, there’s no way we could have pulled off such a comprehensive strategy and planning effort,” said Helen McIlvaine, Alexandria’s director of housing. “In addition to the charrette, VHDA’s funds helped pay for market and housing development studies, postcard mailings, door-to-door outreach and similar activities. It also covered language interpretation and translation services that helped us engage the diverse group of residents who are likely to be impacted.”

Federal subsidy contracts have helped the two Route 1 rental properties remain financially viable over the years. But those subsidies will expire in 2019 and 2020, increasing the likelihood that the property owners will choose to redevelop them. If that happens, the families who reside there – nearly all of whom make less than the area’s median income – could be priced out of their homes.

Alexandria’s charrette focused on both short- and long-term issues related to the properties, including a plan to relocate the tenants temporarily if redevelopment occurs. Traffic patterns, school capacity and housing density were also key topics. It’s estimated that three or more new market-rate rental units will need to be built in order to conserve one of the existing affordable units.

McIlvaine believes their work can jump-start tangible improvements to the city’s housing environment. “We want our planning and strategy work to create an envelope that can guide redevelopment along the Route 1 corridor, and potentially be a template for elsewhere in the city,” she said. “That will include, hopefully, zoning changes that help maintain our existing inventory of affordable housing, at close to their current level of affordability.”

Recommendations from the charrette were integral provisions in Alexandria’s long-term planning document, titled the Rt. 1 South Housing Affordability Strategy. It was unanimously approved by the planning commission on September 4, and by the city council on September 15, 2018.

The safe bet is that redevelopment economics, as well as other financial pressures, will continue to put affordable housing inventories in jeopardy. But in Alexandria, the belief is strong that proactive planning will drive policy and zoning changes that can balance those realities.

Building More Housing Options in Southwest Virginia

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As game plans go, “Build it, and they will come” was a home run for Kevin Costner in his 1989 movie which was set in the cornfields of Iowa. But here in the hills of Southwest Virginia, officials are learning to play by a different rulebook: “They’re coming, and it’s time to build.”

Since 2015, employment levels in Botetourt County have spiked 17 percent, a welcome trend that could continue. While this has put the county in an enviable position, it’s also caused complications. One of them stands out perhaps above the others: Botetourt’s diverse and growing population needs more housing.

Knowing that, in late 2016 the county commissioned a study to evaluate housing demand by type and price range. The results of that study were eventually presented at a day-long housing summit sponsored by VHDA and local partners such as the Roanoke Regional Home Builders Association.

A VHDA Community Impact Grant helped fund that study as well as other activities the county is undertaking to improve its housing environment.

“VHDA’s grant money has been an important catalyst,” said Gary Larrowe, Botetourt’s County Administrator. “It provided the means for us to tap the expertise of external consultants, and it will also help fund a toolkit designed to help us drive smart housing growth. Our conversations regarding housing have yielded amazing results.”

Botetourt’s goal for new housing is ambitious: to build 1,000 new units, equally split between apartments and townhomes. So far, progress has exceeded expectations – 500 homes in four new developments have been approved, which will create enough space for at least a thousand residents, if not more.

A large luxury apartment complex called The Reserve at Daleville is one of those developments. With 188 units spread over 17 acres, The Reserve required a change in zoning from agricultural and shopping centers to high-density residential (R-4), with a special exception permit for up to 15 multifamily units per acre. That change was approved by the county in November 2017. Botetourt supervisors passed a resolution in September that will allow VHDA to finance this development through its Mixed-use/Mixed-income loan program. Households with a broad range of incomes will be eligible to rent homes there.

Daleville Town Center, whose 99 units will be flanked by townhomes and additional single-family units now under construction, is another pending addition to the county.

Meanwhile, Botetourt’s housing task force continues its work. On its agenda are meetings with county stakeholders as well as with the planning commission and board of supervisors. Its policy toolkit, which will describe regulatory barriers to housing development and outline strategies to overcome impediments to housing production and affordability, is slated for completion by the end of 2018.

Botetourt County’s response to its housing shortage has yielded strong early results, thanks in part to VHDA grant funding and loan financing. Here in Southwest Virginia, the building has just begun.

Closing the Housing Affordability Gap in Northern Virginia

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In the shadow of the nation’s capital, Loudoun County has a growing, diverse and affluent population. For years, it’s been America’s richest county, achieving a median annual household income of $134,000 in 2016. Yet too many people who work there – including many number of law enforcement officers, fire and rescue squad members, teachers, nurses and other professionals – can’t afford to live there because of high housing costs.

Against that backdrop, Phyllis Randall, chair at-large of Loudoun’s Board of Supervisors, brought forward an item to the board to take a holistic look at the county’s housing challenges. VHDA was one of the organizations invited to participate.

Dale Wittie, VHDA’s Director of Rental Housing, covered a range of topics at the Board of Supervisors meeting. He explained how VHDA finances housing properties, both newly constructed and renovated, through loans that require owners to rent a portion of their units to households of limited means. He also described how the authority administers the federal Housing Credit program (formerly the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program), which encourages the private development of affordable rental properties.

As a summary, he emphasized that VHDA’s financing options offer developers and localities not one approach, but many. “What works well in one situation may be ineffective in another,” he said. “Our funding sources and lending terms allow developers to do what they do best – that is, to structure economically viable deals that create self-supporting commercial real estate.”

According to Randall, VHDA’s presentation was helpful on several fronts. “We knew they had a wealth of information, and they didn’t disappoint,” she said. “Of particular value were the comments on zoning. They reinforced what we already knew – that zoning needs to be a malleable entity, and not a brick wall.”

Since then, Loudoun has convened a housing summit which included private, nonprofit and public sector entities to discuss actionable steps to increase its stock of affordable housing. It has explored ways to increase the assets in its Affordable Dwelling Unit Program, which helps low- and moderate-income households rent or buy housing. It also has designated parts of eastern Loudoun as revitalization areas. This designation assists developers and localities in their efforts to create and sustain housing for low- and moderate-income residents.

In addition, the county has inventoried its public lands and is studying whether some may be suitable as development sites. The county also is looking at new guidelines for housing loans, and has begun to streamline its zoning process.

Chair Randall believes Loudoun is building a better housing environment, but that the job is far from over. And it remains one of her highest priorities. “Loudoun is a remarkable place, and we want everyone who works here to be able to live here.”