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Perceptions of and Barriers to Affordable Housing in Virginia

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By The Center for Public Policy at VCU’s Wilder School
July 28, 2019

More than three in four Virginians (78 percent) see housing affordability as a problem in America today, and almost half (47 percent) see it as a very serious problem, according to a new statewide poll by the Center for Public Policy at Virginia Commonwealth University’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.

The poll, conducted through landline and cellphone from June 9—19, is a random sample of 816 adults in Virginia with an overall margin of error of 3.43 percentage points.

The poll also found that a sizable minority (34 percent) of respondents said that they or someone they knew had been evicted, foreclosed upon, or lost their housing in the past five years. When asked about perceptions of future housing costs, the majority of respondents felt that the average rent in their area would increase (69 percent), as would the average home price in their area (67 percent). Thirty percent of respondents said that they have had to take on an additional job, or work more at their current job in order to make their housing payments in the past three years.

Though concerning, these findings are not necessarily surprising; in 2018, a New York Times article detailed high rates of evictions in multiple cities in Virginia. While this issue is being taken seriously by Virginia’s policymakers, government agencies and nonprofits, there is still work to be done. The following sections discuss a few aspects of affordable housing, and provide information regarding barriers to home ownership as well as the impact of housing costs on various groups. As policymakers work to address issues related to affordable housing, it may be beneficial to consider some of these topics.

Limited budget, poor credit score and lack of down payment are noted as primary obstacles to home ownership.

Sixty percent of respondents reported that they own their home, while 35 percent rent and six percent live with their parents or in some other arrangement. When those who rent or live with parents (41 percent of the total sample) were asked whether they aspire to own a home, 70 percent said yes, 22 percent said no and eight percent said that they did not know. This group also was asked about obstacles to buying a home; the primary barriers are as follows:

  • Limited housing options available within their budget (22 percent).
  • A poor credit history (18 percent).
  • A lack of a down payment (15 percent).
  • Existing debt (11 percent).

Minorities and those with lower levels of education are more likely to spend more than 30 percent of their monthly income on housing.

Respondents also were asked how much of their monthly income went to mortgage or rent. A commonly used measure of affordability is spending less than 30 percent of total income on housing. Using that measure, 35 percent of the respondents said they spend more than 30 percent of their total monthly income on rent or mortgage, 45 percent said they spent less than 30 percent and 16 percent said they did not know. 

Level of education and income also played a significant role in a respondent spending more than 30 percent on housing. A majority of those making under $50,000 (52 percent) said that they spend more than a third of their income on housing. Those with an income of $100,000 or more were likely to spend less than 30 percent on housing (71 percent). Likewise, more than half of college graduates (57 percent) spend less than 30 percent, while only 38 percent of those with a high school education or less said the same. Those with a high school education or less also were more likely to say they did not know (23 percent). Minorities were more likely to spend more than 30 percent on housing (46 percent) compared to only 29 percent of whites. Democrats were more likely to spend more than 30 percent on housing (44 percent), Republicans were more likely to spend less (55 percent) and independents were more evenly split (36 percent spend less than 30 percent and 31 percent spend more than 30 percent).

Moving forward

Fortunately, policymakers in Virginia are working to address these issues and to support the creation of affordable housing in the commonwealth. As Delegate Lamont Bagby stated, “Every Virginian deserves a safe place to call home…By supporting more affordable housing, we can address the devastating impacts of Virginia’s high eviction rates.”

More information about this and other polls may be found on the Wilder School Commonwealth Poll website.

Author: The Center for Public Policy aims to advance research and training that informs public policy and decision-making to improve our communities. We provide diverse public-facing services including leadership development and training, economic and policy impact analysis, survey insights and program evaluation to clients in state and local governments, nonprofit organizations, businesses and the public, across Virginia and beyond.

Twitter: @CPPatVCU


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