Last week, Regional Housing Partnership representatives gathered at a Nelson County stakeholders meeting to discuss affordable housing in the county and concluded by planning a public meeting, where residents can weigh in.

On Aug. 27, Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission Housing Coordinator Christine Jacobs led the group of about 10 people in discussion about the need for affordable housing in Nelson County and how those needs relate to the whole region, which includes the counties of Fluvanna, Albemarle, Louisa, Greene, and the city of Charlottesville.

Participants included representatives from Nelson County government, for profits and nonprofits, as well as officials from the TJPDC. The goal of the stakeholder meetings is to begin finding a way to help each locality involved provide affordable housing to residents.

Jacobs started by defining affordable housing and shared statistics on housing costs in the county and the region. When an individual or family is considered a “cost-burden,” it means they are spending 30% of their total income on housing costs, which includes mortgage or rent, electric, and water, plumbing, and sewer. “Severely cost-burdened” means an individual or family is spending half of total income on housing.

“Nearly 11,000 renters in the region are considered cost burdened. Nearly 5,000 renters are severely cost-burden,” Jacobs said to the group. “Looking at home ownership, nearly 5,000 home owners in the region are spending more than 50% of what they earn on their housing.”

The data Jacobs used comes from the U.S. Census as well as different organizations that update data specifically to a locality, like the American Community Survey. Steve Carter, county administrator, pointed out some of the data about employee salary didn’t reflect the county accurately. Jacobs and Chip Boyles, executive director of TJPDC, said that is one reason the stakeholder meetings are necessary; to get more specific data for every locality in the region.

Jacobs looked to Boyles to get the ball rolling on the discussion of affordable housing specific to Nelson.

“What we really want to do is hear from you all,” Jacobs said.

Boyles agreed with Jacobs, stating it is important to have the most up-to-date numbers accurately reflect Nelson County.

“One of goals is getting input here because we don’t want to use a universal set of numbers. We want to have it verifiable, but we also want the local government — in this case Nelson — to be comfortable with how it’s portrayed,” Boyles said.

To get input from locals to accurately reflect needs, costs, and incomes of residents in the county, TJPDC staff asked six different questions to Nelson representatives. Nelson representatives included the individuals from the government, Jefferson Area Board for Aging, the Nelson County Community Development Fund, the Planning and Zoning department, and the Nelson County Home Builders group.

Questions included: what is your biggest concern for housing in Nelson, what do you see as the biggest needs for housing, does the Comprehensive Plan reflect the current vision of the county, what are some obstacles to achieving that vision, what are the opportunities or strengths in the county to help with the vision, and how can the stakeholders include citizen engagement or would citizen input be the same as the stakeholders’ input?

Concerns included depreciation and the requirement to have at least two acres minimum to build a house on agriculturally zoned property, which is what most of Nelson is made up of.

Suggestions to make housing more affordable included addressing land availability, zoning issues, getting special use permits if the area isn’t zoned residential, finding out how to keep those with jobs in the county living in the county, especially since the Virginia 151 corridor has grown so much over the last 10 years, and how to address the specific needs of residents 65 or older including transportation needs.

In a separate interview with Jesse Rutherford, Nelson County Board of Supervisors East District representative, Rutherford said there are many factors that go into making housing affordable. Rutherford, present at the meeting last week, owns a property management company and rents around 20 properties in Nelson.

“Rental units are a part of it, but you still need new homes. The [comprehensive] plan is one step, but it won’t solve the regulation burden,” Rutherford said. “You need to look at redefining ordinances and zoning regulations. Those things are critical to the future of housing development.”

The group went on to discuss how to re-visit the county’s Comprehensive Plan to address housing needs in the area and the vision the group wants for the county before discussing strengths and opportunities to enable the vision and how to get the community involved.

“Affordable housing is not a silver bullet solution,” Rutherford said in a separate interview on Aug. 29. “It’s not just doing one thing. It’s a silver buckshot. It’s going to take a lot of different things.”

A public meeting to get input from residents in the county on affordable housing needs will be held on Sept. 18 at 6 p.m. in the Nelson Center, located at 8445 Thomas Nelson Highway in Lovingston.

Erin Conway covers Nelson County for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5524.

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Erin Conway covers Nelson County for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5524.

Erin Conway covers Nelson County. Reach her at (434) 385-5524 or econway@newsadvance.com.

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