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Dr. Ibraheem Samirah for State Senate
Affordable housing is a critical issue that is often ignored by politicians. The economic consensus is clear that where you live, down to the exact neighborhood and block, often determines your social and economic outcomes. Housing not only decides your health and stability, but also your physical access to good jobs, quality schools, healthy food options, public transit, and other crucial services. That’s why racial and economic segregation presents generational disadvantages to communities across Virginia.
In Virginia and across the country, there is a growing shortage of affordable, available homes. Northern Virginia is hit particularly hard by this shortage. Continued economic and job growth is not being met with new affordable housing construction, especially in the desirable neighborhoods that need it the most. A key culprit of this lack of new, affordable housing is exclusionary zoning that acts as a ban on higher-density housing types. Exclusionary zoning practices, particularly single-family zoning, make it extremely hard to create new multi-family “Missing Middle” homes, which are proven to be less expensive, better for the environment, and more accessible to marginalized communities. Instead, new housing development is relegated to the far suburbs, pushing low-income people farther away from job centers, increasing car and highway dependency, and damaging Virginia’s natural environment. Plus, the scarcity of housing units in those job-centers translates to ever-rising rents for existing residents.
I was the first politician in Virginia’s history to propose state-wide zoning reform. In the 2020 legislative session, I introduced HB151 and HB152, which would have legalized the development of two-family housing types, like duplexes, townhouses, and Accessory Dwelling Units across the Commonwealth. This would allow the housing market to create more of this Missing Middle housing because zoning rules wouldn't stand as an undue barrier. It would also make local governments think twice before zoning out new sprawling suburban development, and instead lean on the benefits of density. Not only does density promote affordability by increasing the supply of housing units, but it’s also better for the environment, combats the legacy of neighborhood segregation, facilitates better public transit, and makes for a more connected local and regional economy.
Outside of zoning reform, there are other approaches we can take to make affordable housing a reality for all. I also support proposals including:
Allowing local governments to build and rent out social housing units that are mandated to be low-rent and high-quality.
Instituting anti-gouging or rent cap rules that ensure landlords can’t continue to price-out their own tenants with drastic rent increases.
Increasing funding for Virginia’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which assists affordable housing projects across the Commonwealth.