Better Housing Coalition is building a 160-unit affordable apartment project, Winchester Forest, in the Route 1 corridor.
In January 2020, the Partnership for Housing Affordability released a report that concluded the Richmond region has a significant shortage of residential units that are affordable to people with low and moderate incomes.
Housing costs have risen faster than household incomes over the last several years. One-quarter of Chesterfield households spent more than 30% of their pretax income on monthly mortgage or rent payments – a national benchmark on the affordability of housing – in 2020. When more than 30% of a household’s income is allocated to housing, the household becomes cost-burdened and may struggle to afford other basic life needs such as healthcare, childcare, and transportation.
“Research shows that having access to stable, quality housing in good neighborhoods is associated with education, positive health and welfare, as well as economic outcomes for individuals and families,” said Dan Cohen, director of the county’s Community Enhancement Department. “Having a sufficient supply of housing that is affordable to our workforce, at all points along the income continuum, is critical in supporting a vibrant and sustainable local economy.”
Prices of sale and rental properties have continued to march upward since the partnership went public with its findings nearly three years ago -- fueled by heavy demand, lack of inventory, the rising cost of buildable lots and construction, and until recently, historically low interest rates.
In 2009, the sale price of an average single-family home in Chesterfield was $215,000 in 2009. By August 2022, according to the Central Virginia Multiple Listing Service, it had nearly doubled to $429,899. That number looms particularly large when you consider that single-family houses make up more than 70% of the housing units across the county.
In response, the local government has embraced a multifaceted approach to increase the diversity of Chesterfield’s housing stock and expand opportunities for low- and moderate-income workers to find safe, stable residences in the county.
“Chesterfield has used numerous resources, including surplus property and Community Development Block Grant funds, to make generous, catalytic investments in housing nonprofits working in the county, including Better Housing Coalition, Project:HOMES and the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust,” said Laura Lafayette, chair of the land trust’s board of directors.
“Dan Cohen is just incredible. He thinks outside the box and he is always looking for how do we get to ‘yes.’ That kind of creativity and persistence are essential to bring to the very hard work of developing quality affordable housing,” she added.
Located along Chesterfield’s stretch of Route 1, Better Housing Coalition’s 60-acre Westchester Greens development is both a thriving redevelopment project and a model for sustainable communities – with wraparound services and engaged property management that positions residents to be successful.
The nonprofit bought the troubled 424-unit Park Lee apartment complex out of foreclosure from the federal government in 1997, demolished it and replaced it with a mixed-use, mixed-income housing community that includes healthcare and childcare facilities, retail and banking, as well as walking trails, pocket parks and playgrounds.
Last Friday, BHC broke ground on Winchester Forest, a $45 million project that will add 160 affordable garden-style apartments to the site’s existing 240 multifamily and 234 senior housing units.
“I’m thankful for the community understanding how important a project like this is, and for Better Housing Coalition to take the lead,” said Bermuda District Supervisor Jim Ingle during the groundbreaking ceremony. “What they’ve done over the last 20-plus years has truly been transformative to this community, and it’s a shining example of what we can do when we all work together.”
Later this month, Maggie Walker Community Land Trust is breaking ground on a first-of-its-kind residential redevelopment in the South Chesterfield village of Ettrick: a 10-unit subdivision with single-family houses that will be sold for less than $200,000 apiece.
It’s a different type of project for the land trust, which typically purchases, rehabilitates and resells existing homes. After declaring it to be surplus property, Chesterfield donated the 5-acre former Ettrick Annex site to the land trust and demolished the annex building, absorbing a pair of up-front costs that ordinarily would have been factored into the sale price of the new houses.
As it sells off the 10 homes to households earning no more than 80% of Area Median Income, the land trust will retain ownership of the land – keeping the properties affordable in perpetuity even as they are re-sold and real estate values increase.
According to Erica Sims, the land trust’s CEO, it has completed 10 permanently affordable homes in Chesterfield and has another 24 in the pipeline. The average price of the 10 homes sold was $160,000, which is less than half of the county’s median sale price.
Previously, Chesterfield worked with Project:HOMES to facilitate its acquisition of the Bermuda Estates mobile home community as part of an ambitious revitalization effort. The nonprofit’s plan for the 7.8-acre property is to gradually replace most of the 50 existing trailers with more sustainable, energy-efficient manufactured housing that meets Department of Housing and Urban Development standards.
The county has allocated more than $700,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding for the three projects.
In addition to partnerships with nonprofits, Chesterfield also has formed a housing diversity work group -- comprised of staff from multiple departments, nonprofit builders, developers and two planning commissioners -- that continues to explore various options for expanding the county’s inventory of housing that is affordable to moderate-income workers.
“We want to make sure that the teachers, police officers, firefighters and other government workers that serve us every day can afford to live in the county,” said Dr. LeQuan Hylton, planning commissioner for the Dale District. “We're trying to come up with solutions that keep them as residents in our county and not just commuting in to serve us, then leaving.”