Getting Feedback

State of Housing #3 • 820 Words

Editor’s note:

This is the third edition of our “State of Housing” series, which breaks down the HB854 Statewide Housing Study released this January. You can find our post introducing this series here.

What does Virginia’s affordable housing industry have to say?

The second part of the HB854 Statewide Housing Study describes and analyzes the various feedback received from affordable housing experts and practitioners across Virginia. Experts across the country were also consulted to learn more about best practices. This resulted in a wealth of information and opinions that helped inform the entire study.

Who had direct input in the study?

HB854 specifically stated that DHCD and Virginia Housing “convene a stakeholder advisory group consisting of individuals with expertise in land development, construction, affordable housing, real estate finance, tax credit syndication, and other areas of expertise as determined by the Department of Housing and Community Development and the Virginia Housing and Development Authority, and at least one resident of an affordable housing property.

Forty stakeholder advisory group (SAG) members were asked to represent the affordable housing landscape in Virginia, with careful consideration of geographic and racial diversity.

Along with a steering committee composed of DHCD and Virginia Housing staff, the SAG directed the study process and provided substantive feedback that shaped the findings and recommendations found throughout HB854.

Feedback was sought from individuals with specific knowledge and experience outside the scope of staff and members of the SAG. These individuals provided valuable context and best practices related to rental assistance, utility regulations, bond financing, property taxes, and the utilization of existing state-level programs.

Why it matters:

DHCD and Virginia Housing could not complete a study of their own programs in a vacuum. They needed feedback from experts and practitioners in affordable housing to understand the impact of their programs on Virginians.

Read more on the SAG and steering committee here and the experts here.

What did the rest of the Virginia affordable housing industry have to say?

Surveying the vast number of affordable housing providers and stakeholders across Virginia is no easy task. But in late 2020, over 400 survey responses were collected from individuals across the Commonwealth that work in the housing industry and have experience with state-level housing programs. Respondents represented the diverse range of professionals working in affordable housing—from homeless service providers to real estate professionals; from Northern Virginia to Southside, from the Eastern Shore to the Southwest.

Fifty-eight individuals participated across nine different focus groups to dive deeper into these major topic areas. There’s a lot to digest, but some of the key points brought up by respondents and focus group participants were:

  • Across the housing spectrum, respondents felt that the supply of housing—the amount, location, and type—and housing prices are a major problem in Virginia.
  • Respondents felt there was a need for improvement across all programs, but the call for improvements was strongest among homelessness prevention and special needs housing programs.
  • Many respondents cited administrative burdens, limited staff capacity, citizen opposition, program guideline issues, lack of funding, and difficulty in marketing as major challenges they faced in effectively using state-level programs.
  • The priorities and concerns of respondents vary widely depending on geographic location and clients served, but the need for resources and support in addressing the challenges down to the local-level remains high amid the COVID-19 pandemic and growing racial disparities.

More specific outreach was conducted with public housing authorities to determine immediate demand for housing that is affordable to very and extremely low income households. Even without full participation of the 33 public housing authorities, the waiting lists as of March 2021 were extensive—resulting in a deficit of over 40,000 deeply affordable rental units and over 32,000 rental assistance vouchers.

Why it matters:

The thoughts and opinions of housers across the Commonwealth were carefully considered throughout the HB854 study process because ultimately this study is a resource to them and their clients.

Read more about provider survey here, the focus groups here, and the public housing authority survey here.

What about input from affordable housing clients?

The SAG highly encouraged feedback from Virginians who received assistance from state housing programs. HousingForward Virginia and Virginia Housing Alliance, with support from Virginia Housing and DHCD, developed an online survey that was distributed in May and June 2021.

Although there was a financial incentive provided and hard copy versions available, the survey received too few responses to fairly represent the number of individuals that receive assistance through state programs. In spite of this, the effort demonstrated a clear need for well-planned and sustained engagement between state agencies and the recipients of housing assistance.

Why it matters:

The people that state housing programs impact are important when considering program design and improvements. The study clearly acknowledges the need for more involvement and input from program clients in future improvement and adjustments.

Read more about the client survey here.

Coming up next time…

In the next edition of this series, we’ll dive into the first part of the research and findings section of HB854—the demographic trends that are driving changes in housing in Virginia! Take a look at the Part 3 overview of the HB854 study for a preview.

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