Housing grant awarded

Published 3:34 pm Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA) recently awarded a grant that will help Prince Edward County and the Town of Farmville organize a strategic plan to address affordable housing needs in the county.

VHDA awarded STEPS, Inc. and the Affordable Housing Coalition $20,000 to develop the plan, according to an announcement of the award provided by STEPS.

“STEPS, Inc. submitted a Community Impact Grant to VHDA with the assistance of the Commonwealth Regional Council [(CRC)],” the announcement cited. “Advisers will assist STEPS and the newly formed Affordable Housing Coalition to seek county-wide input to identify and clearly define housing needs; create a local asset map of existing housing strengths and assets; develop a housing resource guide; conduct a market needs and gap analysis to determine market demand and potential styles for development; as well as developing a Prioritized Plan for execution of affordable housing options.”

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The VHDA is a not-for-profit organization established in 1972 by the Commonwealth of Virginia to help those in Virginia, according to the VHDA website, “attain quality, affordable housing.”

Sharon Harrup, president and CEO of STEPS, credited representatives of Farmville Area Habitat for bringing awareness of issues with affordable housing in the area.

Sharon Harrup

“After a meeting with Jayne and Sam, David Whitus, Mayor of the Town of Farmville, convened a roundtable of local stakeholders on April 16, to discuss affordable housing,” Harrup said in an email Dec. 12. “The (Affordable Housing) Coalition was formed as a result of that meeting and has been meeting monthly since April. Stakeholders include representatives from the following: Town of Farmville, Prince Edward County, Longwood University, Hampden-Sydney College, Prince Edward County Public Schools, Fuqua School, Centra Southside Community Hospital, Habitat for Humanity and STEPS.”

Harrup said STEPS is the administrative lead for the coalition.

According to an excerpt of the grant application submitted by the coalition and CRC, there is a discretion between the volume of people coming to the area and the amount of affordable housing available to meet the demand.

“While the Town of Farmville, the hub of the County, is growing with economic opportunities, available affordable housing is not keeping up at the same pace,” the application cited. “This need has been realized based on input from prospective employees from the school system, hospital, Longwood University, Hampden-Sydney and other businesses who are unable to find affordable, suitable housing for incoming employees. In many cases employees are living outside the area and commuting to work.”

The unavailable housing has caused challenges for some businesses and local governments, where lack of housing has prevented the businesses from being competitive with other areas.

It’s also created challenges for those graduating from Hampden-Sydney College and Longwood University, according to the application.

“While many students who graduate from these institutions may want to stay on and live in the area, based on input from students, affordable housing (not college student housing) is not available,” the application cited.

The lack of available affordable housing has been a challenge for baby boomers and elderly residents, according to the application.

“For many baby boomers reaching retirement age and beyond, the cost of maintaining existing dwellings can become a financial burden,” the application cited. “Alternative housing options that are both affordable and accessible are limited. Therefore, there will be a need for expansion of affordable housing options for the elderly as well.”

The application cited quotes from Habitat’s Johnson and Dr. Andrew P. McCoy, director of the Virginia Center for Housing Research (VCHR) given the Rural Housing Roundtable at Longwood University June 5.

“The people that we build homes for, they work in the hospital, they work for the college, they work in the public schools,” Johnson said in the application. “Sometimes there is a perception that they always are on public assistance, and that’s just not true.”

Johnson commented on the grant award Dec. 12.

“We are thrilled that the Affordable Housing Coalition will be receiving VHDA’s Community Impact Grant,” Johnson said. “The Affordable Housing Coalition is less than a year old and receiving this grant speaks to the commitment of the coalition members to understand the housing needs of everyone in our community. Habitat for Humanity is honored to be a part of this effort.”

McCoy spoke about an unusual dynamic where older residents who seek to downsize are competing with younger buyers for homes. The starter homes they are often bidding on, the application cited, are owned by middle-aged couples holding the homes for rental income.

“So that’s the complexity of what we’re seeing,” McCoy said in the application. “But it also serves as a good time in the market to figure out how we can inject some innovation and push along a process of getting the housing market to drive our economy.”

Melody Foster, executive director of CRC, said in an email Dec.12 the VHDA Community Impact Grant (CIP) was submitted Nov. 6.

Melody Foster

“Applicants are encouraged to discuss their project ideas with VHDA staff prior to submitting a CIG application for input and feedback,” Foster said. “STEPS as well as myself discussed the project with VHDA staff prior to the submission of the STEPS Grant.”

Foster said work is expected to begin on the project after the first of the year.