Homeownership is part of the American Dream, yet many Virginia families struggle to find—or keep—affordable housing. While we are emerging from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, Virginia homeowners have lost billions of dollars of equity in their homes. Rental costs are rising faster than incomes. Foreclosures have devastated families and communities. Homelessness is on the rise for the first time in a decade. Many of Richmond’s teachers, nurses, police officers, and firefighters cannot afford to live in the communities they serve. Richmond also has become an economically segregated city, yet neighborhoods with low, moderate and high income housing integrated together lead to the strongest communities.
Jennifer understands that stable housing is a significant step to self-sufficiency, and is committed to maintaining affordable housing for all income levels.
For her efforts in the Housing arena, Jennifer was selected by the Virginia Housing Coalition as recipient of the 2009 Housing Leadership Award.
Establishing and Guaranteeing Funding for the Virginia Housing Trust Fund
Jennifer co-sponsored legislation to create the Virginia Housing Trust Fund with a dedicated source of revenue to help address affordable housing needs and reduce homelessness. This fund makes housing more affordable and reduces homelessness by
- Providing flexible financing for low-interest loans for down payment and closing cost assistance for homebuyers, loans to reduce the cost of homeownership and rental housing, and new construction, rehabilitation, repair, or acquisition of housing that includes affordable rental housing; and
- Issuing grants for targeted efforts to reduce homelessness including temporary rental assistance, housing stabilization services for homeless individuals and families, mortgage foreclosure counseling in targeted localities, and pre-development assistance for permanent supportive housing and other long-term housing options for the homeless.
Protecting Homeowners from Foreclosure
In recent years, Virginia’s foreclosure rates have increased, forcing more hard-working Virginians out of their homes. Many of these foreclosures, particularly in minority communities, have resulted from subprime mortgages. Jennifer has worked to protect homeowners from foreclosure by
- Sponsoring the "Trust in Lending" Act to restore a layer of necessary accountability to the mortgage lending process by requiring mortgage brokers to use reasonable skill, care, and diligence in exercising a newly created duty to make reasonable efforts to secure a mortgage loan that is in the best interests of the applicant, considering the applicant’s circumstances and loan characteristics; and
- Supporting legislation requiring high-risk mortgage lenders or servicers to provide advanced notice before accelerating a loan balance to and provide borrowers time to avoid foreclosure.
Maintaining Affordable Rental Housing
Before the Great Recession, Virginia was one of the least affordable states in the nation for renters. Now, as the economic and housing crisis forced more families to turn to renting, rental prices are rising faster than incomes, affordable rental units are more and more concentrated in high-poverty areas, and discrimination against those using rental assistance has kept them from making the best housing choices for their families.
As a Delegate, Jennifer has worked to address these problems by
- Sponsoring legislation to prohibit discriminatory application of land use ordinances and guidelines that disproportionately affect affordable housing
- Sponsoring legislation to expand private-market housing options for Housing Choice Voucher holders in areas of economic growth and opportunity by providing a tax credit for property owners.
- Sponsoring legislation encouraging developers to build affordable housing units by permitting localities to include in their affordable dwelling unit ordinances that the prices for resales and rerentals be controlled by the authority or locality for a period “not less than 15 years nor more than 50,” as opposed to the current period of 50 years.
- Co-sponsoring legislation to help preserve affordable rent for the elderly and disabled when apartments are turned into condominiums;
- Co-sponsoring legislation creating a three-year, $2.5-million pilot project to provide temporary rental assistance for working families, covering the difference between one third of family income and fair market rent during a limited period of time while the family transitions from homelessness to financial independence;
- Supporting legislation to increase grants to local employees such as teachers, police and firefighters, commonwealth attorneys, and sheriffs to purchase homes in the locality.
Reducing Tax Burdens on Homeowners
Virginia’s tax system was created for an 18th century agrarian economy. Most localities can only depend on property taxes to raise revenue. Consequently, homeowners bear too much of the tax burden, forcing many out of their homes as tax rates climb. As a Delegate, Jennifer has worked for policies that reduce tax burdens on homeowners by
- Sponsoring legislation to reduce tax burdens on senior and disabled homeowners by increasing eligibility for tax exemptions; and
- Supporting a homestead exemption constitutional amendment permitting localities to exempt up to 20 percent of the value of owner-occupied homes from taxation.