Lynchburg leaders set path for affordable housing discussion and vision
Community stakeholders packed a room in Lynchburg City Hall Tuesday afternoon to discuss a nationwide issue that, city leaders say, is uniquely affecting Lynchburg: the lack of affordable housing.
Tuesday’s meeting marks the third time that city council members met to discuss affordable housing in 2019. This time, members of the Lynchburg Regional Housing Authority joined.
City Manager Bonnie Svrcek stressed the severity of the problem and tasked the group with forming an answer to an affordable housing issue that is being felt across the nation. Svrcek said that the lack of affordable housing impacts all aspects of the city from the workforce, to education, to the poverty initiative. She said it will be important that affordable housing is added to Lynchburg’s housing stock.
According to a recent study conducted in 2018, nearly 4,500 people in Lynchburg were spending 50 percent of their incomes on housing in 2016. The study also notes that there is a shortage of 2,340 affordable homes in Lynchburg for the extremely low-income population.
Deputy City Manager Reid Wodicka told WDBJ7 that people who struggle to find affordable housing in the city hold various jobs. Wodicka said it is possible that some of the people struggling to pay their rent could be public safety officers, teachers and other people who may work for the city.
City staff stressed Tuesday afternoon that housing insecurity touches all demographics and especially vulnerable populations. The city has been working to address affordable housing concerns since before 2012.
“We know we have a long way to go, but we are making strides,” said Kent White, Director of Community Development, citing two housing studies completed and presented to council this year.
In July the Collaborative for a Livable Lynchburg, made up of the Departments of Community Development, Public Works, Economic Development and Tourism, and the City Manager’s Office, presented a study on leading practices used by localities across the country to tackle affordable housing issues.
Wodicka led the group and submitted a 44-page document to city council. While the group gathered information on what other localities are doing, Wodicka made the point that Lynchburg is different than other cities and city leaders would have to tailor any programs specifically to Lynchburg’s needs. He added that it will take a prolonged, multi-pronged effort to fully address housing concerns.
“Local data is what will lead us to local solutions,” said White.
Tuesday’s meeting was designed to address a draft vision written by city staff for housing affordability. City leaders made suggestions for changes that included being intentional about recognizing vulnerable populations, using community partnerships and evaluating the current programs to make sure the city is utilizing them to the best of their abilities.
City staff will take the suggestions and rewrite a vision for housing affordability in the city.
The second recommendation was to expand the membership of the existing Lynchburg Housing Collaborative.
Council-member Beau Wright suggested they include people such as private developers, lending institutions and employers who might want to invest in the workforce.
Wodicka stressed the importance of having the right people at the table to identify a path moving forward.
Mayor Treney Tweedy said the discussion was important to bring attention to the programs existing in the city and where they would like to go. Tweedy said that Tuesday’s meeting will help leaders determine how to define where and what programs the city wants to expand and what smart growth will look like.