Virginia’s housing policy may be determined in Richmond, but it turns out Blacksburg plays a key role as well.
Created in 1997 by the General Assembly, the Virginia Center for Housing Research, located in Blacksburg and Alexandria was chartered by the General Assembly. It is responsible for much of its policy.
Although the Center does not have any official privileges that make it privy to relatively sensitive data from realtors and others, “it does open a lot of doors, as far as working with other universities and agencies,” said Marilyn Cavell, the center’s assistant director.
The center does research on a variety of areas, and much of it has influenced state policy over the years. For example, several years ago the center developed a method to scope the extent of homeless populations in rural areas, then reported on the results to the state legislature’s Housing Studies Commission.
One of its current projects, called the “Metrics Project,” is based on work from Ted Koebel, the center’s senior associate and professor in the department of urban studies and planning. He developed a new “housing affordability index” that generates a number to represent the percentage of income a person spends on housing in a given area.
“It’s a number you or I could identify with,” Cavell said. “That means something to people.”
It’s for every independent city and county, but Blacksburg itself is excluded — although the Blacksburg metropolitan area is not. “Anyone can get on and pull up their locality, and find out what their affordability index is at a couple different levels,” Cavell said.
Cavell plans to use this index and other data to create a Web site that will use information related to housing costs to provide customized housing information to online visitors.
This information includes owner and renter indices, median household incomes and sales prices. It will be tracked and updated each quarter.
The information should be available on HousingVirginia.com by the end of March.
“Believe me, people have been begging for this for a long, long time. It is a really useful feature, because it’s just not really been available,” Cavell
Another current project involves working with Fairfax County to create a mandatory report to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Anyone receiving funding from the department must report on how the funds are being used. “It’s pretty huge,” Cavell
Both projects are works in progress. These ventures are one of the ways the center supplements its state funding — which, mirroring Virginia Tech, is declining in the aftermath of the economic recession — with government and third-party contracts.
For years, the center was one of four contractors in the country that had an “indefinite quantity contract” with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which ended in 2008.
In the future, the center will continue working with others, such as Housing Virginia and Fairfax County, in addition to receiving smaller grants to supplement its state
“We’re busy,” Cavell said.