Habitat for Humanity, Blacksburg Presbyterian aim to build affordable housing

Liz Kirchner

Photo by Liz Kirchner
The grassy field on the corner of Church and Hemlock Streets is the patch of land that Blacksburg Presbyterian Church and Habitat for Humanity of the NRV hope to have rezoned for affordable housing in downtown Blacksburg.

As downtown Blacksburg puzzles out how to enact the vision it wishes for itself as a walkable, livable community, two local groups seek to rezone a small patch of land on Church Street to build income-restricted townhomes within walking distance of Virginia Tech, one of the region’s largest employers.

Blacksburg Presbyterian Church is gifting the 0.69 acres to Habitat for Humanity of the New River Valley at the corner of Church Street and Hemlock

“It’s terrific. We’re over the moon to be thinking of this parcel. Blacksburg and Christiansburg are pretty tough areas to construct affordable housing, so when we have the opportunity, we’re going to put multi-family houses there,” Shelley Fortier, Executive Director of NRV H4H told the News Messenger. ”So, affordable housing in the town of Blacksburg is especially valuable.”

The Planning Commission Work Session will review the rezoning request and the staff report at 5 p.m. Tuesday. Public comment will be held on Feb. 6, 2018, 7:30 p.m. Both meetings are at the Municipal Building (300 S Main St.).

Income qualifications to become a Habitat for Humanity partner family require earning 30-60 percent of the area median income (around $49,000) depending on a family’s size.

“Many of those who work and serve the Blacksburg community—teachers, police officers, university housekeeping staff—can’t afford to live here. The bus system is geared entirely to students, not workers,” Blacksburg Presbyterian Church Senior Pastor, the Reverend Dr. Catherine Taylor said. “Guaranteed affordable housing near a bus line is a pressing need the church has wanted to address for some time, since stable housing strengthens families in so many ways,” she said.

High rents and static incomes are driving national conversation and research examining housing availability and equity.

Two end units will be fully-ADA accessible, and the five interior units will have a number of accessible features as well according to the Blacksburg announcement. Parking will be provided in a common parking lot at the rear of the units with a request for two on-street handicap spaces.

The number of US families paying more than half their income in rent has doubled in the last decade, according to a recent Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies report and Virginia has a shortage of affordable housing according to a recent multi-university report.

One in three Virginia households spends 30 percent of its income on rent, possibly having to choose between paying rent and other needs, like food, transportation, health care, one in 10 spend 50 percent guaranteeing that choice.

“One million household in Virginia are cost-burdened,” Mel Jones research scientist at the Virginia Center for Housing Research at Virginia Tech who took part in the Virginia study. The moment that level falls below 30 percent, the more household income goes to child education and enrichment,” said Jones.

Balzer & Associates, a Blacksburg engineering firm, are helping write and research the development and architect is Ray Gaines is contributing architectural work pro bono.

There are currently eight low -income housing apartment complexes, which contain 394 affordable apartments for rent in Blacksburg.

The rezoning would increase the density per acre for that area, the application proposes that the two end units will be fully-ADA accessible, and that five interior units will have a number of accessible features as well.

“By gifting the land to Habitat, we can ensure housing for seven lower income families for many years to come,” Taylor said.

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