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Report: County needs at least 8,800 affordable rental units

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A new report found that Prince William County is short at least 8,800 affordable rental units as housing costs in the region continue to rise. 

The findings were part of a statewide review published by Virginia’s Joint Legislative and Audit Review Commission (JLARC) in December that examined affordability, the state’s existing housing programs and the impact of local zoning policies. 

The report found that Virginia is short at least 200,000 affordable rental units, with the bulk of those needed in the commonwealth’s “urban crescent” of Northern Virginia, central Virginia and Hampton Roads. Analysts for the agency found that 29% of Virginia households are “cost-burdened,” a measure that refers to individuals and families who spend more than 30% of their income on housing. 

“Virginians most affected by the lack of affordable housing are renters, have low incomes, are more likely to live in the state’s populated areas, and often work in common, essential occupations,” the report said. “... Black and Hispanic households are more likely to be cost burdened than white households.”

The report notes that the prevalence of housing cost burden among low-income Virginians has increased over the last decade from 60% to 63% and affects Virginians with relatively low salaries such as home health aides, teaching assistants, bus drivers and social workers. 

Local zoning ordinances, which govern land use within localities, can be a major hurdle to constructing affordable housing and restrict affordable housing most in the state’s fastest-growing localities, according to the JLARC report. 

Prince William County is cited in the report as an area in which land zoned for single-family development is constraining the local housing supply. 

“Localities with high population growth and high housing costs were most likely to report that zoning constrains local housing supply,” the report said.

Like the rest of Northern Virginia, home and rental prices have steadily increased in Prince William County over the last decade. The average home price in the county rose 33% over the last seven years from $312,100 in 2014 to $415,588 in 2021. The average rental price rose 17% during the same period from $1,333 per month to $1,562 per month in 2021, according to county data

The county’s population increased by 80,000 residents between 2010 and 2020. Prince William is expected add another 90,000 residents by 2040, according to estimates from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. 

Prince William County supervisors are taking steps to address the need for affordable housing in their upcoming comprehensive plan update. They directed county staff to draft an affordable dwelling unit ordinance that could stipulate that new housing developments include a certain percentage of affordable units to be approved for necessary rezonings.   

The county is currently updating the land-use chapter of its 2040 comprehensive plan. It’s the first such update since 2010. 

Reach Daniel Berti at dberti@fauquier.com

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