Roanoke City Council looking into solutions to affordable housing crisis

Published: Jan. 31, 2023 at 6:33 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Roanoke City council is looking at ways to tackle the ongoing affordable housing crisis.

Council is planning to adopt an inclusionary zoning ordinance. This comes after the last city council meeting, where members approved a revitalization zone.

“We’re just desperate for housing,” Councilwoman Trish White-Boyd said.

It’s an issue everyone is looking at... developers, residents and city council.

“We’re trying to get all of our ducks in a row so that we know exactly what we want to put in this toolkit, exactly what tools we need,” Councilman Peter Volosin said.

One of those tools is inclusionary zoning. That would mean any future developers have to make 15% to 25% of their units affordable.

“What we could do with inclusionary zoning is mandate certain levels of affordability,” Volosin said. “On the flip side of that, in Virginia, we have to give them an incentive. We have to give them either a density bonus or a faster permitting process, something like that.”

Council also adopted a revitalization zone for Northeast Roanoke so future developers can claim low-income tax credits, another incentive to build up the area.

“You cannot fix the housing shortage, short-term, unfortunately,” White-Boyd said. “The long-term solution is to work with developers to try to get them to come in.”

However, the inclusionary zoning and revitalization plans only apply to future proposals. Developments that have already been approved and have started going up aren’t required to follow these ordinances.

“We know that more development is going to be coming to the city,” Volosin said. “We want to make sure that we get this on the books so that future developments have to follow these new rules.”

But the question remains, what is affordable? White-Boyd explained the term can have a different meaning to different groups.

“Affordable housing means something different to everyone,” White-Boyd said. “For us [city council], it’s increasing units that people can afford here, based on the market value.”

Based on the 2021 census report, the average median income (AMI) for Roanoke is $48,476. Affordable housing can be considered 30% of a locality’s AMI. According to the census data, affordable housing in Roanoke comes in at about $1,211 a month, including utilities.

The housing authority is reporting Roanoke is short about 4,000 units.

Council is working on the inclusionary zone ordinance and hopes to have it approved in the coming months.