Development approvals spark conversation on affordable housing in Roanoke

Published: Jan. 18, 2023 at 10:46 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - The approval of one of the largest apartment complexes in the Roanoke Valley at Tuesday’s City Council meeting sparked a conversation about affordable housing, Especially after council learned the lowest rate will be $1,100 for a one-bedroom apartment.

“I’m certainly excited about the housing. 768 units is a lot of units; that is going to help with our shortage and our housing market, but I would be remiss if I did not say that we need some affordable housing.” said councilwoman Trish White-Boyd at Tuesday night’s meeting.

The housing shortage is not unique to Roanoke, but with developments popping up left and right, city leaders and organizations want the future to include more access to affordable housing.

“We do have a crisis in reference to homeless individuals, in reference to people seeking affordable housing, people who are working, people who are disabled who cannot afford some of the high rents that will be expected of new tenants,” said Annette Lewis, president and CEO of Total Action for Progress.

The city said it has a number of studies showing there is clearly a housing shortage in the Star City.

“That tells us that we’re probably around 4,000 units short of housing, which is huge,” said Chris Chittum, Roanoke’s assistant city manager.

Chittum said another Virginia Tech study showed people who can afford the higher end apartments are currently living in cheaper options. But that new development, no matter the focus, is going to help address the housing crisis.

“The private sector is generating new apartment housing; it’s just that it’s not necessarily low-income. We think that will help and we think that people will move into these new housing developments that come online, and they’ll move out of more affordable units.”

For some members of city council, they’d like to see things like inclusionary zoning ordinances that would require developers to dedicate a portion of their units as affordable.

“We’re seeing a lot of development happening in Roanoke. That’s why I’m excited to get started on working on an inclusionary zoning ordinance,” said councilman Peter Volosin at Tuesday night’s meeting.

“If we build that in, then we’re planning from the beginning to ensure that we’re going to fill some of those gaps, instead of just responding or reacting to development proposals that come our way,” said Joe Cobb, vice mayor of Roanoke City Council.

But Chittum felt they’ll need to figure out if that’s the best option.

“We know that in Northern Virginia, counties that are high growth, there’s so much demand and their developers will do pretty much whatever the county or the city or the town asked them to do. We are not in that position here in Roanoke. We’ve got to assess whether it’s the right tool for us in our market here, versus there are a lot of other things I think we can bring to bear that would be helpful,” said Chittum.

In the future the city is going to want to work with developers and with each other on how they can make all this possible. Cobb said when it comes to building a sustainable housing community, they need to think of all residents, from the poorest to the wealthiest.