Today, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin took a surprising YIMBY-inflected ("yes in my backyard") swipe at restrictive development regulations that he says are making the state increasingly unwelcoming for renters and homebuyers.
"The cost to rent or buy a home is too expensive," said the governor in a wide-ranging speech before the Virginia Senate's Joint Money Committee today. "We must tackle root causes behind this supply and demand mismatch; unnecessary regulations, overburdensome and inefficient local governments, restrictive zoning policies, and an ideology of fighting tooth and nail against any new development."
The state of Virginia is short roughly 105,000 homes, according to a recent study from the housing advocacy group Up For Growth. Another report commissioned by the state government found that while the state's population had expanded by over 10 percent since 2008, housing supply had only expanded by 8.7 percent.
For fast-expanding regions like the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., that's meant skyrocketing rents and home prices. The median home price in Arlington County, Virginia, is $836,806 according to the Zillow Home Value Index. That's up from $667,000 in 2017.
"The really big danger in northern Virginia is … this unwritten rule or expectation that if you don't have a college degree or you don't make $100,000 per earner in your household, you should just live somewhere else," says Luca Gattoni-Celli, founder of YIMBYs of Northern Virginia, a chapter of national housing advocacy group YIMBY Action. "And that would be a real shame."
Gattoni-Celli blames the northern Virginia region's pressing housing affordability problems on low-density zoning rules that often allow just one house per property.
Reform is in the air, however. Arlington County is currently in the process of developing a "Missing Middle" zoning reform that would allow as many as eight units of housing on formerly single-family zoned lots.
Nationwide, three states and even more municipalities have legalized "missing middle" two-, three-, and four-unit homes on all residential land in an effort to bring housing prices and rents down. These zoning fights have typically occurred in deep-blue areas between pro-growth liberals and progressive NIMBYs.
Youngkin's comments today are evidence that both the problem of housing affordability and the solution of deregulating housing construction are bipartisan issues.
"The last election reminded everyone outside of the places that voted for Gov. Youngkin that Virginia is still a very purple state," says Gattoni-Celli. "Having leaders of both political parties identifying the same solution to such a serious problem is really great."
But, he adds, "if [Youngkin] is serious about this, it will have to translate into legislative action."
A state bill that would have legalized duplexes on residential land statewide was proposed in 2019 but went nowhere in the Legislature.
The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development has also been weighing a change to state building codes that would allow apartment buildings to be constructed with just one staircase. That seemingly small technical change could potentially goose apartment construction by enabling them to fit on smaller lots.
Time will tell if the governor's promising comments translate into more than just talk.