Opinion/Letter: Affordable housing saves families

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The affordable housing crisis in Charlottesville, Va. is negatively impacting the well-being of children. About 25% of children who enter foster care through the city are removed from their families due to inadequate housing. Many times, their family is experiencing homelessness and being without a suitable place to stay. Not only is this housing crisis leading to unsafe circumstances for children, but it is also lengthening their stay in foster care because their caregiver(s) is/are unable to secure stable housing. One source found that families who were provided affordable housing through subsidies experienced improved mental health and fewer family separations than families who were simply referred to homeless services. Yet people in Charlottesville can be on the public housing waiting list for years without being eligible for housing.

The affordable housing issue also disproportionately affects families of color. Between 2000 and 2018 rent in the Charlottesville area rose by 88 percent to an average of $1,325 per month. During that same time period, White households increased their income by 103 percent while the median household income for Black residents increased by only 17 percent. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made matters worse due to higher unemployment rates.

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Safe and stable housing is a critical part of promoting healthy child development and thriving families and I believe that there are things we can do to make a change. Research has shown that providing affordable housing increased economic development while preserving the culture of the community. To move toward a better future where affordable housing is widely available and distributed equitably, the Charlottesville will need to deepen its commitments to increasing affordable housing. At a local level, implementing policies that address zoning restrictions and community land trusts may have the potential to preserve affordable homes. While housing circumstances may get worse before they improve because COVID-19 relief funds end, small steps toward changing policies will ensure more families will have access to the safe and stable homes they deserve. 

Jesse Williams