NoBro’s affordable housing is affordable for whomst?

From this morning’s GMRVA;

Roberto Roldan at Virginia Public Media, which is now the name of our local public media…group? collection of stations? squad?…looks into the affordable housing component of the proposed North of Broad development. Here’s the deal: The developer will build 80 affordable units by 2022 and then “the developer expects to build another 200 in the next five to seven years. The developer will also need to help raise $10 million in private donations. That money would go to the nonprofit affordable housing developer Better Housing Coalition, which will build 200 affordable apartments elsewhere in downtown.” That’s how we get to the Mayor’s promised 480 affordable units.

Of course, as with all conversations about affordable housing, the word “affordable” does a lot of the lifting. Roldan says that, of those 480 units, 40% will go to folks who make 60% of the area median income, and 60% will go to folks making 80% of the area median income. That’s a majority of the affordable, income-restricted units reserved for people who make $46,000 per year. It’s not that I’m against building housing for people making moderate incomes like that—we, of course, need to build more housing for everyone. But I am unconvinced that a downtown arena and the required BigTIF is the only way to get more housing for those folks. @SmithNicholas on Twitter even points out that the private market in Richmond is already building similarly affordable units on its own.

So here’s my take, and, remember, I am not a housing expert: If the City wants to subsidize affordable housing, which I believe it has the moral responsibility to do so, it should focus on housing for people making 30–50% of AMI—the stuff the private market won’t touch. Here are a couple quotes from a paper (PDF) by a real expert, local Kathryn Howell: “The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that the Richmond region faces a shortage of 33,206 units available and affordable to households earning less than 30% of the AMI and a shortage of 28,626 units for those earning less than 50% of Area Median Income” and “We find that a robust housing preservation and production strategy must focus on housing for households earning less than 50% of the Area Median Income to reduce rent burden and prevent future evictions.” We need a lot of units, way more than 80 or even 480, and we need them for folks making very, very little money. The City could and should come up with good policies to help with that—even a TIF! Portland, for example, has used TIFs to help build 2,200 affordable units over the course of a single decade. But if we’re going to dedicate a big chunk of our City’s future revenue to a big project like the proposed North of Broad development, we should make sure that it’s building the right kind of housing Richmond needs at the right affordability level.