Affordable Housing Facts, Myths, and Strategies

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What can you do to help address the need for affordable housing in our community?

  1. Get Educated. Learn more, so that you can participate in community conversations from an informed perspective. Check out the FAQ and Myths vs. Facts on this page, where we have tried to address commonly asked questions and concerns.

  2. Ask Questions. Don't understand something about this issue? Use the ASK A QUESTION section below to get more information from Town staff.

  3. Stay Up to Date. Check out the HOUSING STRATEGIES section below, to learn more about affordable housing strategies underway in town.

  4. Provide Context. Share your housing story. Help local leaders and your neighbors understand that more affordable housing is a benefit to you and the community in the SHARE YOUR STORY section below.

  5. Get Engaged. Help be a problem solver by participating in community conversations focused on identifying and addressing housing needs. Let us know how you would like to get involved in the ENGAGE section below. Also, reach out to the Town's Housing staff in the WHO'S LISTENING section of this page, if you have an interest in joining a Housing Advisory group.

Keep scrolling to learn more and engage!

Myth #1 High-density and affordable housing will cause too much traffic.

REALITY: People who live in affordable housing own fewer cars and drive less. Higher-density housing can encourage nearby retail development, along with ease of walking and transit use. Mixing housing with commercial development is increasingly more important for traffic control since non-work trips constitute the largest number of trips. With higher-density housing, stores serving neighborhood residents move in, allowing residents to walk to buy groceries or to the dry cleaner instead of driving. Transit connections also become more common when neighborhood density increases, as transit is only cost-effective at densities above eight to 10 units per acre.

Myth #2 High-density development strains public services and infrastructure.

REALITY: Compact development offers greater efficiency in the use of public services and infrastructure. Higher-density residential development requires less extensive infrastructure networks than sprawl. When communities cannot take advantage of economies of scale in providing infrastructure, costs rise. Higher-density housing helps provide economies of scale both in trunk lines and in treatment plants. The cost savings can be passed on to new residents, and the smaller debt load can help ensure fiscal stability throughout the community.

Infill development can sometimes take advantage of unused capacity in public services and infrastructure. Communities can save taxpayers and new residents money when housing construction is allowed in areas where infrastructure and service capacity has already been paid for and is underutilized. Infill development can also make use of transit and provide better access to services while improving economic viability. Higher-density infill residential development can translate to higher retail sales.

Myth #3. Affordable housing looks “cheap and undesirable.”

REALITY: Builders of affordable housing must comply with all the same restrictions on design and construction standards as market-rate projects. In addition, because affordable housing projects frequently rely on some public money, they have to comply with additional restrictions and requirements than market-rate housing. New affordable housing projects have higher standards for things like the quality and durability of building materials used, energy efficiency standards, and amenities provided. The reality is that affordable housing is affordable because public and private funds go into making it less costly to live in, not because it is lower quality construction.

Myth #4. Affordable housing hurts the quality of local schools and lowers standardized test scores.

REALITY: The opposite is actually true. Without affordable housing, many families become trapped in a cycle of rising rents and have to move frequently to find housing they can afford. This means that their children are not able to stay in the same school for long, resulting in lower test scores on standardized tests.

When a child has a stable home and can remain in a single school system, their test scores rise. It also means children are able to build long-term relationships with peers, teachers, and mentors which are key to increasing performance in elementary and secondary schools. Finally, it increases the likelihood that children will be able to attend college. When housing disruptions are minimized, everybody wins.

Myth #5. People who live in affordable housing won’t fit into my neighborhood.

REALITY: People who need affordable housing already live and work in our community. Households earning lower incomes can have a variety of occupational and educational backgrounds. Families earning less than four-fifths (80%) of the area’s median income are officially lower-income households; families earning less than half of the median are known as very low-income households. For example, a starting elementary or high school teacher, with a gross monthly income of around $3,200, can afford to pay $960 a month in rent, which qualifies as low income if the teacher lives alone; if the salary must support a spouse and a child, the family would be a very low-income household.

Myth #6. Affordable housing reduces property values.

REALITY. No study has ever shown that affordable housing developments reduce property values. Many studies have been done. The truth is the single most significant factor affecting property values is the preexisting value of the land in a given community or area. This, in turn, is based on supply and demand, proximity to major retail centers, nearby attractions, any negative factors such as environmental contaminants, and availability of adequate infrastructure and services. Architectural standards and adequate maintenance also strongly influence property values, particularly as they apply to affordable rental properties. Properly maintained affordable housing developments, designed and built with sensitivity to the architectural and aesthetic standards may even increase property values.

Myth #7 High-density and affordable housing undermine community character.

REALITY. New affordable and high-density housing can always be designed to fit into existing communities. As communities across the U.S. grapple with worsening housing affordability, there is growing interest in how zoning rules could be relaxed to allow smaller, less expensive homes. Often, the choice is posed as a trade-off between detached homes with big yards or large apartment towers. In reality, the housing stock in most communities is much more diverse than these two extremes. Many single-family neighborhoods could easily yield more housing—and more affordable housing—if land-use rules allowed “gentle” increases in density, such as townhomes, two- to four-family homes, and small-scale apartment or condominium buildings.

Click through these tabs below to learn more about what the Town is doing to address this issue, ask a question, and engage on the topic! And make sure to visit this page again for updates on our progress, answers to questions, and to read new housing stories.

What can you do to help address the need for affordable housing in our community?

  1. Get Educated. Learn more, so that you can participate in community conversations from an informed perspective. Check out the FAQ and Myths vs. Facts on this page, where we have tried to address commonly asked questions and concerns.

  2. Ask Questions. Don't understand something about this issue? Use the ASK A QUESTION section below to get more information from Town staff.

  3. Stay Up to Date. Check out the HOUSING STRATEGIES section below, to learn more about affordable housing strategies underway in town.

  4. Provide Context. Share your housing story. Help local leaders and your neighbors understand that more affordable housing is a benefit to you and the community in the SHARE YOUR STORY section below.

  5. Get Engaged. Help be a problem solver by participating in community conversations focused on identifying and addressing housing needs. Let us know how you would like to get involved in the ENGAGE section below. Also, reach out to the Town's Housing staff in the WHO'S LISTENING section of this page, if you have an interest in joining a Housing Advisory group.

Keep scrolling to learn more and engage!

Myth #1 High-density and affordable housing will cause too much traffic.

REALITY: People who live in affordable housing own fewer cars and drive less. Higher-density housing can encourage nearby retail development, along with ease of walking and transit use. Mixing housing with commercial development is increasingly more important for traffic control since non-work trips constitute the largest number of trips. With higher-density housing, stores serving neighborhood residents move in, allowing residents to walk to buy groceries or to the dry cleaner instead of driving. Transit connections also become more common when neighborhood density increases, as transit is only cost-effective at densities above eight to 10 units per acre.

Myth #2 High-density development strains public services and infrastructure.

REALITY: Compact development offers greater efficiency in the use of public services and infrastructure. Higher-density residential development requires less extensive infrastructure networks than sprawl. When communities cannot take advantage of economies of scale in providing infrastructure, costs rise. Higher-density housing helps provide economies of scale both in trunk lines and in treatment plants. The cost savings can be passed on to new residents, and the smaller debt load can help ensure fiscal stability throughout the community.

Infill development can sometimes take advantage of unused capacity in public services and infrastructure. Communities can save taxpayers and new residents money when housing construction is allowed in areas where infrastructure and service capacity has already been paid for and is underutilized. Infill development can also make use of transit and provide better access to services while improving economic viability. Higher-density infill residential development can translate to higher retail sales.

Myth #3. Affordable housing looks “cheap and undesirable.”

REALITY: Builders of affordable housing must comply with all the same restrictions on design and construction standards as market-rate projects. In addition, because affordable housing projects frequently rely on some public money, they have to comply with additional restrictions and requirements than market-rate housing. New affordable housing projects have higher standards for things like the quality and durability of building materials used, energy efficiency standards, and amenities provided. The reality is that affordable housing is affordable because public and private funds go into making it less costly to live in, not because it is lower quality construction.

Myth #4. Affordable housing hurts the quality of local schools and lowers standardized test scores.

REALITY: The opposite is actually true. Without affordable housing, many families become trapped in a cycle of rising rents and have to move frequently to find housing they can afford. This means that their children are not able to stay in the same school for long, resulting in lower test scores on standardized tests.

When a child has a stable home and can remain in a single school system, their test scores rise. It also means children are able to build long-term relationships with peers, teachers, and mentors which are key to increasing performance in elementary and secondary schools. Finally, it increases the likelihood that children will be able to attend college. When housing disruptions are minimized, everybody wins.

Myth #5. People who live in affordable housing won’t fit into my neighborhood.

REALITY: People who need affordable housing already live and work in our community. Households earning lower incomes can have a variety of occupational and educational backgrounds. Families earning less than four-fifths (80%) of the area’s median income are officially lower-income households; families earning less than half of the median are known as very low-income households. For example, a starting elementary or high school teacher, with a gross monthly income of around $3,200, can afford to pay $960 a month in rent, which qualifies as low income if the teacher lives alone; if the salary must support a spouse and a child, the family would be a very low-income household.

Myth #6. Affordable housing reduces property values.

REALITY. No study has ever shown that affordable housing developments reduce property values. Many studies have been done. The truth is the single most significant factor affecting property values is the preexisting value of the land in a given community or area. This, in turn, is based on supply and demand, proximity to major retail centers, nearby attractions, any negative factors such as environmental contaminants, and availability of adequate infrastructure and services. Architectural standards and adequate maintenance also strongly influence property values, particularly as they apply to affordable rental properties. Properly maintained affordable housing developments, designed and built with sensitivity to the architectural and aesthetic standards may even increase property values.

Myth #7 High-density and affordable housing undermine community character.

REALITY. New affordable and high-density housing can always be designed to fit into existing communities. As communities across the U.S. grapple with worsening housing affordability, there is growing interest in how zoning rules could be relaxed to allow smaller, less expensive homes. Often, the choice is posed as a trade-off between detached homes with big yards or large apartment towers. In reality, the housing stock in most communities is much more diverse than these two extremes. Many single-family neighborhoods could easily yield more housing—and more affordable housing—if land-use rules allowed “gentle” increases in density, such as townhomes, two- to four-family homes, and small-scale apartment or condominium buildings.

Click through these tabs below to learn more about what the Town is doing to address this issue, ask a question, and engage on the topic! And make sure to visit this page again for updates on our progress, answers to questions, and to read new housing stories.

Share your Housing Story

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    For a single income family, housing will never be affordable on a teacher’s salary

    by Megan Ihlefeld, 3 days ago

    Megan Ihlefeld moved to Blacksburg in 2009 with her two young children after her husband passed away in 2008. She loves her job as a science teacher at Blacksburg Middle School, but has struggled to find affordable housing in Blacksburg. Megan lives with her two children in an apartment of a family-style home in a neighborhood that is a mix of student rentals and families. It is strange for her to see students renting a home in what is intended to be a family neighborhood knowing she can’t afford to rent the same home.

    Megan feels connected to Blacksburg’s mountain... Continue reading

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    Don't Forget Housing for Front Line Workers

    by jjones, 5 days ago

    “People saw us differently during the pandemic. It was not just doctors and nurses. We were front line workers. People have to eat.”

    John Jones has been a mainstay at the North Main Street Food Lion for nine years. He started his employment there as a student at Virginia Tech in 2013. John arrived in Blacksburg from a small town in Nelson County, Virginia. “My hometown has one traffic light and only 135 people in my graduating high school class.” Even though coming to a larger town was a transition, Blacksburg reminded John of his hometown. “It is a good... Continue reading

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    Certain Things become More Important as You Get Older

    by lvoss, 7 days ago

    Digitizing history: The final act of throwing out her baby book was painful for Lois but the process of digitizing her baby photographs and snippets of writings in her mother’s hand was particularly meaningful. Lois recognizes “if she doesn’t go through her belongings now so her family can enjoy them, they might be packed up and put in boxes until her children retire and have time to look through them.”

    Lois moved to Blacksburg five years ago. She and her husband lived in a house in Minnesota for 31 years before moving into an apartment when her husband needed... Continue reading

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    Finding a Home in My Own Hometown

    10 days ago

    “There are a million reasons to live in Blacksburg.” 25-year-old Peter Sorensen grew up here and graduated from Babson College. When the pandemic hit he was living in Brooklyn, New York. As he moved to remote work, with the newfound flexibility to live wherever he chooses, he was drawn back to his hometown.

    In addition to being close to family, Peter was attracted to Blacksburg’s unique mix: a rural setting, where his love of nature was fed by opportunities for kayaking, fishing, and canoeing, blended with a city feel that comes with cool coffee houses and restaurants with menus in... Continue reading

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    A Habitat for Humanity Success Story

    by NMcBryde, 12 days ago

    For the past 22 years, Nakia has worked her way up at Rainbow Rider Child Care Center from floater to overseeing teacher mentoring for the facility. Charles, her husband, has worked at Spectrum Brands for 9 years, currently as a Consumer Relations Specialist. Their oldest son, Christopher, was diagnosed with microcephaly resulting in developmental delays and is confined to a wheelchair. Their youngest, Christian, is a thriving 6th grader at Blacksburg Middle School who loves to read and play basketball. Nakia and her husband partnered with Habitat for Humanity in 2018 to buy their first home- an affordable townhouse... Continue reading

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    I can’t afford to live where I have called home, and it’s heartbreaking.

    by C.McCoy, 12 days ago
    My name is Courtney McCoy. I’m 32 years old and I live in Blacksburg and have for the majority of my life. When I was 15 and 1/2 I started EMT classes at Virginia tech whilst attending high school at Blacksburg High (class of 07-graduated early). I became a certified EMT by 16 and was captain of the Junior crew on Longshop-McCoy rescue where I served for three years and won multiple awards and served in an officer position. I then moved to Blacksburg rescue where I spent two more years volunteering for our beautiful community. Due to all I... Continue reading
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    Finding Housing as a Young Professional

    by lschneider, 14 days ago

    Laina Schneider originally moved to Blacksburg in 2010 to attend Virginia Tech. Her mother used to live in Blacksburg and her grandfather was a professor at Virginia Tech, so even though she did not grow up here it has always felt like home. She left Blacksburg to go to graduate school in California and although she loved it there, her connection to the landscape and culture of the New River Valley, as well as the ability to be closer to her family, brought her back.

    Laina is now the Executive Director of a small nonprofit, Live Work Eat Grow. A... Continue reading

Page last updated: 13 May 2022, 01:33 PM