From the Editor’s Desk: Let’s talk about the dreaded ‘A’ word

Published 6:21 pm Friday, February 16, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Ok, so the headline is a bit of a tease. I can think of plenty ‘a’ words that people dread. But in this case, oddly enough, it seems to be the word affordable. To steal a quote from the movie The Princess Bride, “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.” 

Is affordable a bad word? We want it when it pertains to our food. I want cheap prices at whatever market I wander to, to make my dollars stretch farther. The same goes when my car’s gas tank is heading towards empty and I need to fill up. But then, something shifts. If furniture is too affordable, I start getting leery. My wife is all excited and I’m over here wondering what the catch is, what horrible interest rate or other long-term financing trap we’re being roped in with. If shoes are too affordable, we start to think they’re an inferior product, often trying to avoid them like the plague. 

And then yes, there’s affordable housing. Again, as Farmville Town Manager Dr. Scott Davis pointed out last week, I’m not quite sure that means what some residents think it does. Since Farmville started this discussion over affordable housing and the need for it, we’ve received plenty of phone calls, emails and the occasional DM (direct message on Facebook), saying “nope, I refuse to have that in my backyard.” In fact, some people are just adamantly against it. But what these residents seem to equate affordable housing with and what town officials are talking about are two different things. 

What is affordable housing? 

Email newsletter signup

When some Farmville residents hear the words affordable housing, they think Section 8. I know this because they’ve flat out told me. Those words trigger something for them, where they think about things they’ve heard on tv. They think about government subsidized housing, people who in their words don’t work, who ‘stay home and play video games.’ I’ve had people literally leave voicemails screaming that their tax dollars won’t be going to ‘fund affordable housing’, that they left New York and New England to avoid that. 

And yet, we’re not talking about any of those things. The conversations by town council are just focused on the literal meaning of the words, that is housing which is affordable. Council member Sallie Amos summed it up best when she pointed out there are very few, if any, first-time home buyers moving into this community. 

“My daughter is an RN (registered nurse),” Amos said. “She and her fiance don’t have the opportunity to buy a $200,000 home here. And that’s kind of sad.” 

Remember those conversations we’ve had about looking to bring more people into town? The restaurants you want, the shops you want to see? Those restaurants need employees to operate. Same goes for the shops. And they can’t rely just on college students, because the majority of them leave once the semester is over. Medical practices need help as well. We’re not just talking about the hospital. Late last year, we reported on the challenges this region faces with recruiting doctors and nurses, like Councilwoman Amos’ daughter. It’s a bit easier to convince someone to work in an area if they don’t have to commute between counties. 

The numbers don’t add up 

Another thing here is everyone doesn’t seem to have a good grasp on both how much people make in certain fields and how much an apartment costs. I’ve been in conversations over the last few months with folks that just throw out some amazing numbers. Well, they would be amazing if the salaries were true. 

For example, no, your average person coming out of college is not making $60,000 here in Farmville. If you cut that in half, you might have a better argument. So let’s think about this. We want these students to stay around after college, but yet as they take entry jobs that pay roughly $30,000 to $35,000 a year, we’re then turning around and asking them to either pay $1,000 to $1,200 for a single apartment or pick up some roommates and rent one for $1,600 to $1,700. Even with a roommate, sometimes that’s not feasible. 

We’re asking them to rent, to pay their power bill, water bill, car payment, every single thing that each of us complain about being too expensive. How do we think they feel? And how do we think they can afford it all, based on an entry level salary? They can’t and they won’t. They’ll just move to another part of Virginia where they can afford to live. Martinsville comes to mind. As does Henry County or Rocky Mount. 

So when we talk about affordable housing, it’s with folks like this in mind. Maybe they just got out of college. Maybe they have a family and need a bigger space. If we work on providing more options, rather than going with a ‘one size fits all’ mindset, I think we’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.

BRIAN CARLTON is the editor for The Farmville Herald and Farmville Newsmedia, LLC. He can be reached at