Letter – Housing study is misleading

Published 5:06 pm Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Editor, The Smithfield Times:

In response to the article “Study: Change IW zoning, tax laws could spur affordable housing” (Dec. 28): Affordable housing is a complex issue every growing community across the country is facing as the cost of housing continues to rise.

I prefer to call it “workforce housing” to refer to local teachers, police, fire and rescue personnel, and others who work and provide services in the community. There is a need to attract young professional public servants and service providers to our community, and workforce housing is one factor. However, we are a predominantly rural county, not a core city like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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Thomas Hall, professor at Christopher Newport University who prepared the study, offers the typical statistics and numbers to identify the disparity in housing costs based on income. However, Mr. Hall apparently is not familiar with Virginia’s structure of government. Virginia is a “Dillion Rule” state. This means localities are subservient to the commonwealth and can only do those things expressly permitted by the General Assembly. This includes how we can tax land and buildings, and the broad scope of health, safety and environmental regulations mandated by the state.

In fact, many of the requirements administered by localities today for land development are mandated by the state. All of these mandates have important public health, safety and environmental objectives. So these mandates are directly or indirectly incorporated into a community’s development regulations, including the zoning ordinance. More important, these and related “standards” are common across Virginia’s rural and developing communities.

Zoning is one of the few tools where communities can establish their own priorities and standards for new development.

But the fact that the funding for this study came from the Peninsula Homebuilders Association is a little bit like asking the fox to watch the chicken coop. There is little profit for homebuilders in building $125,000 homes when they can make substantially more building $400,000 homes on the same size lot.

PHA has tooted the zoning and tax horn for decades, but few homebuilders have ever provided “affordable housing.” In my opinion, its objectives with this study are somewhat disingenuous. As one developer once told me, “I’m not into sport building.”


Jonathan Hartley