Public Investment in Affordable Housing Needed

A contributed perspectives piece by Hadley H. Jenner

Nesi, a single mom, could not afford the rent plus utilities in her cramped poorly insulated Harrisonburg apartment yet she works locally and has ambition to continue living and working here. Nevertheless, she moved to Augusta County where she found a much better, more affordable home. But this move took her further away from her family, friends and the support of her congregation. This spring, Nesi will graduate with a social work degree and hopes to work with newly arrived refugee families in Harrisonburg.  

There are many more like Nesi locally. What this description underscores is the need for safe, healthy homes for all. Not just inadequate shelter but homes because working people need to be able to afford housing with enough money left over for basics like food and child care. When we work toward making homes more affordable we create opportunities for stronger communities.

But we have a big problem locally — there’s not enough affordable housing for those in our community most vulnerable.  Consider this:

* Only eleven housing units for rent under $1000/mo. were 

available as of January 2020,

* In Rockingham County 54% of older adults pay more than 30% 

of their income on housing,

* 60% of City and 40% of County residents don’t have an 

essential household budget (i.e. spending 30% or less of 

household income monthly for housing).

That’s why Faith in Action advocates for an Affordable Housing Trust Fund administered jointly by the City and County. Such a fund is a proven solution for addressing affordable housing as evidenced by over 800 local jurisdictions using this approach across the country. This fund, once established, can be augmented by federal and state funds such as HOME, CDBG and Opportunity Zones as well as private grants and in turn provide: loans and grants to increase affordable housing supply, rental assistance and tailored programs to assist with utility costs.

I hope that one day in the future people like Nesi have the opportunity to work in our community and will have an affordable place to call home. 

Jenner is a retired nurse and volunteer with OCP, Faith in Action and the Suitcase Clinic, and enjoys biking and upping his birding game among other adventures.

Editors note: Jenner is the father of Publisher Andrew Jenner.

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