Affordable housing crisis on the horizon in Blacksburg, town leaders want to take action

Developers could be incentivized to build higher density projects

By Shayne Dwyer - Reporter

BLACKSBURG, Va. - There's a situation brewing in Blacksburg and depending on which way it goes, could shape the town's future. More and more people want to live in the town, but affordable housing is getting hard to come by. Of the people employed in the town, three out of every five commute into the town for work, and town leaders see that as a problem.

Blacksburg loves its vibrancy and people love Blacksburg, that fact is becoming truer and truer every day.

"We know that Virginia Tech is growing and that means our community is growing, we also know that we have lots of challenges, the housing is becoming less and less affordable in our community and we're hearing that from our citizens," Blacksburg Sustainability manager Carol Davis said.

Citizen surveys put affordable housing at the top of the concern list, coming in ahead of traffic. Town leaders are now meeting with the community to get out in front of it.

"We're looking for do's and don'ts from other communities so people have had these density bonus ordinances for a long time all over the country and we want to see what they've done right and what they've done wrong and really employ those here," Virginia Center for Housing Research Associate Director Mel Jones said.

Density bonuses allow developers presenting attractive plans to build more units, maximizing how much money they can make. That in turn drives down overall unit price which is something the town wants to see. Bonuses would be tied to eco-friendly projects and sustainable thinkers, solving another problem for the town of a sustainable future.

"This idea that the market takes care of itself, the market is living in a box that we create for it and so we have to shape that box in order to get the things out that we want," Jones said.

Together they hope to solve two problems at the same time. They can't force developers to abide by the plans, but they hope these voluntary incentives do the job.

"Those people are getting squeezed, and in some ways, squeezed out of our community so we love being a college town, we love our students, but we don't want it to be a community that just caters to students," Davis said.

Community leaders will gather two more times, once in February and once in July before submitting the plan.

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