The FWD #201 • 1,165 Words
Here’s a peek behind the curtains at some of our big plans for this year—and some housing news to watch out for.
Last week we gave you a recap on everything we were up to in 2023. This week, we’re giving you a preview of what we’ve got in store for 2024, along with some of the notable housing happenings you might want to keep an eye on.
What we’re doing:
Bigger and better Virginia Zoning Atlas
The Virginia Zoning Atlas will continue to expand beyond Hampton Roads this year. Thanks in large part to the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, the Northern Virginia region will be completed by May 2024. Meanwhile, the Mercatus Center also has students working on the Central Shenandoah region.
Later this year, we’ll begin work on the Richmond-Petersburg region with an estimated completion by Fall 2024. We’re already grateful for support from the Bob and Anna Lou Schaberg Foundation, Fulton Forward Foundation, and the League of Women Voters Virginia Education Fund for kicking off this work.
The Northern Shenandoah Valley region will be spearheaded by Tyler Hinkle, a Shenandoah County Planner, while Virginia Tech professor Diane Zahm is already exploring the New River Valley region.
A couple years ago, we combined R and Tableau to give Sourcebook a much-needed modern refresh. Developing reusable R scripts to gather and prepare data saved us hours of work, and leveraging Tableau let us easily build dozens of new interactive dashboards.
It was a major improvement, but one problem remained: R and Tableau—in very technical terms—don’t like to talk with each other. This required some tedious intermediary work we were willing to accept.
Since then, we’ve continued to track best practices for collecting, analyzing, and visualizing data. Continued innovation among R’s diverse development community has opened up the opportunity for it to now do Tableau’s job, and be our soup-to-nuts Sourcebook solution.
So what does any of this mean for you? First, you’ll see much more frequent data refreshes in many places. Second, we’ll have full creative control over what our dashboards can do and look like. And because R is free and publicly licensed, we can make all of our documentation open source and available as a learning tool for anyone.
Completely new Playbook
Playbook is our comprehensive inventory of affordable housing policies and programs within Virginia. Launched a full decade ago and last updated 2017 it’s been in need of a refresh for quite some time. Thankfully, that update is on the way! We’re currently working behind the scenes to redesign it from the ground up, which will include a new statewide census of local housing initiatives.
Why should you care about a new Playbook?
Policymakers and advocates alike stand to benefit from seeing what their colleagues are doing in other communities. While Playbook today is still the most complete look at all local housing policies and programs across the Commonwealth, it hasn’t captured the flurry of progress that’s occurred over the last several years. This database will be a powerful tool for local officials, nonprofits, and others to better understand where communities across the state are finding success.
Our first strategic plan
Did you know that HousingForward Virginia has been around since 2004? Neither did some of our staff! But throughout all those years since, there has never been a “true” strategic planning process to set a vision and long-term goals for the organization.
We think there’s no time like the present, so we’re teeing up our first bonafide strategic plan for 2024. Given our significant growth and evolution in recent years—including the retirement of founding board members and new leadership—we think it’s incumbent for us to be introspective and find our best role in Virginia’s affordable housing landscape.
We look forward to sharing more about the future of our organization by the end of 2024!
What we’re watching:
45 days and counting
The General Assembly gaveled in a 60-day session on January 10. Newly redrawn districts and a historic wave of retirements have given us a legislature that looks—and will likely act—quite different from what we’ve seen before. In addition to perennial debates on the usual high-visibility topics, lawmakers must also approve a brand new biennial budget, which Governor Youngkin proposed one month ago.
As expected, there’s no shortage of housing bills this year, either. We recommend bookmarking Virginia Housing Alliance’s hub for the 2024 session to keep tabs on everything, but here are a handful of proposals you should know about.
HB 1105: Creates a new “Zoning for Housing Production Fund” that makes grants available to local governments only if its zoning ordinance meets certain criteria to promote affordability, including the removal of any districts that ban new apartments.
SB 597: Makes every locality in the Commonwealth eligible to adopt inclusionary zoning policies under §15.2-2304, which grants broader powers than current universal enabling statutes.
SB 195: Directs DHCD and stakeholders to study and propose recommendations for amending state building code to allow single-stair apartment buildings. (Have no idea what this means? Check out our xChats webinar from last year.)
SCOTUS takes on pivotal homelessness case
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court granted a petition to hear City of Grants Pass v. Johnson. The Oregon city is defending its ability to prohibit public camping—a de facto ban on homeless persons. So far, this is the furthest challenge against the 2018 decision in Martin v. City of Boise, where the 9th Circuit held that any ban on public camping violated the Eighth Amendment rights of persons who are homeless. (This ruling currently applies only to nine Western states.)
Whether the Court will affirm or strike down the 9th Circuit’s decision, it will be one of the most consequential rulings on the rights of homeless people in generations. Do local governments have the constitutional authority to criminalize homelessness, or are these bans “cruel and unusual” punishments against those with no other options? Oral arguments are scheduled for April at the earliest, so don’t expect an outcome until the summer.
Bipartisan (!) federal tax reform
The reports of bipartisanship’s death in Congress might be greatly exaggerated. Announced last week—and following extended negotiations between parties—the new Smith-Wyden tax package proposes major updates to numerous parts of the federal tax code. The flagship change is a major expansion of the child tax credit that would put significant dollars back into the pockets of low-income working families.
The deal also includes long-desired provisions to expand LIHTC by restoring the 12.5% allocation increase and making it easier to use Private Activity Bonds to finance projects. Alone, these measures could lead to 200,000 new affordable homes. However, the proposal does not incorporate several other reforms pressed by housing advocates that would allow LIHTC to more easily serve very low-income renters and persons experiencing homelessness.