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Henrico’s ‘forward-leaning’ approach to affordable homeownership could be model for country, Warner says

Henrico County’s strategy for expanding access to affordable homeownership is an exciting model that could be replicated across the Commonwealth and nation, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner said.

Sen Warner

In a meeting Friday with county officials and housing industry representatives, the Virginia senator said he was intrigued by Henrico’s plan to establish an affordable housing trust that will be supported with revenues from data centers. Using the fund, the county plans to partner with nonprofit and for-profit developers to buy and retain housing lots. Qualifying buyers would pay less because their monthly mortgage costs would cover only the dwelling.

“I thought I was going to hear a data-center pitch. I hear a holistic pitch that is so much more forward-leaning,” Warner said at the end of the meeting at Fairfield Area Library. “… Please, count me in on any way we can help.”

On Monday, Warner touted Henrico’s approach in an affordable housing summit held at Amazon’s HQ2 in Pentagon City. The company has pledged $3.6 billion in loans and grants to create and preserve affordable housing for qualifying individuals and families in Arlington and other communities where it operates.

Shake Hands

“I am wide open, and my office is wide open for business for new ideas because I really do think … all the good programs [that exist are] not going to get the supply enough,” said Warner, a member of the Senate’s Committee on Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs. “We’re going to need some newer ideas.”

Henrico’s affordable housing trust, announced in broad terms May 16, will take effect July 1 with an appropriation of $60 million. The program will be administered by the nonprofit Partnership for Housing Affordability and work with nonprofit and for-profit builders.

For homes built through the program, Henrico will waive permit and utility hookup fees. It also will provide expedited review of proposed developments that include affordable units.

In his meeting with county officials, Warner called for a lowering of interest rates and other tools to address housing affordability. He’s co-sponsoring legislation to help homebuyers more quickly build equity and generational wealth.

He also noted the strong presence and demand for data centers in Virginia, and wondered whether a link to affordable housing could reshape the often-contentious zoning debates over the facilities.

“We have more data centers in Virginia than, frankly, the whole rest of the country combined,” he said.

Supervisors At Warner Pc

Board of Supervisors Chairman Tyrone E. Nelson said the idea for Henrico’s affordable housing trust grew out of the county’s recent consideration – and eventual approval – of a data center in Varina.

The idea was “to dedicate this revenue toward something that actually can benefit our citizens, not just go to the bottom line, not just go to the rainy-day fund,” said Nelson, the Varina District supervisor. “We want to try to help our citizens create generational wealth. The way we can do that is to focus on homeownership.”

Fairfield District Supervisor Roscoe D. Cooper III, pastor of Rising Mount Zion Baptist Church, recalled a retiree at his church who is still struggling to buy her first home. He urged for the construction of affordable single-family homes, not just apartments and condominiums.

“For me first-time homeownership is key,” he said.

Nelson emphasized that the goal of Henrico’s initiative is to make the homes being built more affordable, not to build smaller or less-expensive homes. “What we’re talking about here is making it affordable,” he said.

Tuckahoe District Supervisor Jody K. Rogish agreed and said he envisions homes built through the trust to be indistinguishable from comparable, market-rate homes. He cited a hypothetical neighborhood with nine market-rate homes and one home built through the affordable housing trust.

“The one that’s part of the trust is going to look the same as the other nine,” he said.

Three Chopt District Supervisor Misty D. Whitehead said she sees the potential for the trust to address issues of affordability throughout Henrico.

“At its essence, it’s a product that can work in every district in the county,” she said.

 
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