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Alexandria mayor praises Youngkin’s new affordable housing plan

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin speaks at the Safeway at the Bradlee Shopping Center on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022. (Photo via Eli Wilson)

The tension between Alexandria’s leaders and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin is not exactly a secret, but there have been a few surprising examples of overlapping policy goals.

Most recently, Mayor Justin Wilson shared vocal support for Youngkin’s new Make Virginia Home plan.

The plan includes a multi-pronged approach to affordable housing, with a focus on:

  • Increasing the supply of land for housing: the plan promotes discretionary state grant funding for localities to use for affordable housing. The plan establishes “guard rails” for zoning and land use review processes for localities seeking state assistance, along with requiring transparency in reporting on affordable housing and a comprehensive review of the state’s land use and zoning laws.
  • Remove regulatory barriers to housing development: the plan makes it easier for affordable housing to meet certain environmental regulations and streamline the permitting process, along with translating the building regulations into Spanish.
  • Align housing development with economic growth: the plan includes housing in economic development planning and site development processes. It also includes goals for establishing public/private partnerships that include workforce housing in site development.

The plan has gotten some support, including praise online across the aisle from Wilson. In particular, Wilson said city staff and affordable housing leadership attended a conference last month where Youngkin outlined potential coordination on affordable housing goals.

“As you noted in your speech, this is a multi-faceted challenge that requires policy coordination across local, state and Federal governments,” Wilson wrote in a letter to Youngkin. “We believe there is considerable opportunity for bipartisan agreement to advance good policy and we want to be partners with your Administration to make this happen.”

Wilson outlined some of the progress Alexandria has made in affordable housing, particularly in the use of private development to fuel public affordable housing.

“Given that success, we strongly support your proposals to strengthen the linkage between housing and economic development,” Wilson said. “As you have noted, employers will not locate jobs in the Commonwealth without the ability to house the workforce required, including new jobs at a range of income levels.”

Wilson also praised the proposals to direct future state funding to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and encouraged investment in the State Housing Opportunity Tax Credit Program and the Virginia Housing Trust Fund.

There was one area of concern about potential punishments for local jurisdictions that fail to meet certain state requirements. According to Wilson:

While we strongly support the provisions of your Plan that will incentivize new housing creation, link economic attraction to housing production, and use state funding as a “carrot” for the adoption of pro-growth land-use policies, we are concerned by proposals that purport to punish local jurisdictions for the diligent exercise of ministerial acts, or proposals that remove local control as a method to accelerate housing creation.

Wilson said piecemeal acts by Richmond to erode local control over land-use processes have had a negative impact on housing creation, and that aspect of the Make Virginia Home plan would only reinforce that problem.

“We would instead suggest more comprehensive reform to expand local capabilities to manage the externalities of development, while providing robust incentives for the adoption of pro-growth land-use policies,” Wilson wrote. “This will not only accelerate housing creation, including enhanced housing affordability and accessibility, but also maintain the critical public support required to sustain these policies over time.”

Despite the political divide between the Republican Youngkin and the largely-Democratic Alexandria, there have been areas of overlap between local goals and state leadership. Early in Youngkin’s campaign, Wilson expressed enthusiasm for Youngkin’s goals of holding Dominion Energy more accountable and state officials appointed by Youngkin have worked with Alexandria’s local and federal representatives on infrastructure funding.

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