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A look at the 2015 GA Session, a great year for housing!

The 2015 General Assembly Session wrapped up at the end of February. This year marked a sharp departure from the sometimes tense, partisan gridlock of 2014 that extended the last session in various forms through most of the year. The 2015 session ended on time with a budget that looks likely to be finalized without major issue in April after the veto session.

As with any session, housing advocates are left with much work to do on long term fair housing issues and securing adequate resources to meet specific housing needs in the state. However, this has been one of the greatest sessions for housing in years. Not only were we able to pass a study resolution looking at a sustainable revenue source for the HTF, with our advocacy and education efforts, we helped secure an $8 million appropriation to the Housing Trust Fund, matching its initial funding level in 2013!

We offer huge thanks and gratitude to the Coalition’s lobbyists for the session, Lauren Schmitt and Ralston King. Their work was instrumental in getting the HTF study resolution passed and they were a great help to the work of our Legislative Committee throughout session. We also thank Jeffrey Palmore for his pro-bono work that helped secure the passage of  SB1204 which eases the onerous reporting requirements of donations of valuable building materials when they are donated to non-profits like Habitat for Humanity.

Click below to see our 2015 session wrap up that details how our major bills and efforts fared in the GA this year:

2015 general assembly infographic(1)

VHC and VCEH Launch Merger Discussion

VHC + VCEH logo

The Virginia Housing Coalition (VHC)  and the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness (VCEH)  have begun a dialogue to explore the possibility of joining forces and becoming one organization. Last month, a joint merger study committee was created and will develop recommendations for a combined work session of the Boards of both organizations later this spring. The goal is for the Boards to reach a final decision on whether and how a merger might be accomplished by late spring or summer.

Both organizations trace their roots back over 30 years and share the common mission of expanding affordable housing opportunity and ending homelessness in the Commonwealth.  In recent years, the organizations have begun to work more closely on education and advocacy.  Integration of VHC and VCEH could lead to higher visibility, increased efficiency and greater impact.

Since this exploration is just getting underway, the Boards of both organizations are interested in hearing the views of members, stakeholders and supporters regarding the potential integration.  Both organizations will be sending out a survey within the next week to seek input and advice on this matter. We encourage your participation in the survey and welcome your feedback.

2015 Housing Day sets the stage for a great General Assembly session

SONY DSCOn January 15th, the 2nd day of the 2015 General Assembly session, around 100 advocates gathered at Centenary United Methodist Church in Richmond to receive training on housing issues and legislation before heading to the General Assembly to meet with their state legislators. The new space this year may not have had the view of the 24th floor at the Suntrust building used in previous years, but it offered an intimate atmosphere perfect for grassroots training and organizing.

The training session featured a lineup of veteran advocates paying special attention to those coming to Housing Day for their first time. Breakout groups were held for the Housing Trust Fund, Homelessness, Special Needs Housing, and Fair Housing. The training wrapped up just in time for a group of advocates to get to the Capitol to be recognized by Delegate Chris Peace from the floor of the House. Folks then broke into small groups and spread out through the General Assembly Building to make visits with legislators.

Housing Day WalkingIn the afternoon, we reconvened on the 7th floor of the General Assembly Building to hear Delegate Chris Peace address the group on the state budget. Delegate Alfonso Lopez and Senator Barbara Favola also spoke at the reception that followed, thanking advocates for their work in bringing our affordable housing issues to the GA. Then in our debrief, many attendees shared their meeting experiences, talked about next steps and made new connections with others in the room. Attendees felt encouraged and heartened to join with others from across the state to engage the General Assembly on the issues they are passionate about. At 100 attendees, we had the best turnout in years, and hope to continue building support for the HTF and other initiatives in the next year.

You can find all the materials from Housing Day here

You can find all of the bills we are tracking in the 2015 session here

Click here for more pictures from Housing Day

Lopez Press Conference 1.15.15We were also very pleased to support Delegate Lopez in his press conference on the Housing Trust Fund and housing need in Virginia that was held the same morning! This is hopefully the first step in a greater media campaign on the HTF throughout 2015!

Thanks once again to all of our partners and sponsors, we could not do this event without you:

the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness, Housing Opportunities Made Equal, Habitat Virginia, the Virginia Association of Housing and Community Development Officials, Virginia Community Development Corporation, the Partnership for Housing Affordability and Virginia Local Initiatives Support Corporation

Governor McAuliffe presents budget amendments at the GA, includes $1 million for Rapid Re-housing

Mcauliffe budget announcement

Last Wednesday, Governor Terry McAuliffe presented his proposed amendments to Virginia’s 2014-2016 biennial budget to the joint money committees in a packed room at the General assembly. The Governor’s amendments were heavily focused on economic development initiatives and offered a balanced approach to meeting a $322 million budget shortfall. The budget proposal again included an expansion of Medicaid and cited the savings to the State that would come from expansion while not counting on those savings to meet the budget shortfall.

When it came to housing, The Governor’s budget did not include restoring funds to the state Housing Trust Fund as was expected by the Coalition. Instead, housing and homelessness were mentioned in the Governor’s comments on Veterans:

“Each night we have more than 600 veterans go to bed without a roof over their heads. This is intolerable.   I am including three local Housing Resource Specialist positions to provide assistance to veterans with housing needs in three regions of the state. This action will help me make good on my promise that not a single veteran will be homeless by the end of 2015.

A million dollars for rapid re-housing is also included in my budget so that no Virginians must go without a stable roof over their heads.”

This fall our partners the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness (VCEH) has been gathering bipartisan support in the General Assembly for a $4.5 million budget amendment for outreach and support services for helping to house veterans which would aid in ending veteran homelessness in the state by 2016. A sign on letter urging the Governor to include this amendment had also been submitted to his office by Del. McClellan prior to Wednesday’s announcement that confirmed the amendment would not be included in the Governor’s budget.

The Coalition applauds the inclusion of $1 million for rapid re-housing in FY16 which restores half of the $2 million for RRH that was previously cut from the state budget. Restoring this funding along with $8 million for the HTF were the goals of our Restore $10M for Housing Campaign this fall.

Gov. McAuliffe’s budget only made small changes to the Department of Housing and Community Development’s (DHCD) funding for FY16. These changes can be viewed here.

Click here for a full transcript of the Governor’s presentation to the joint money committees.

VHC will lend strong support to the $4.5 million budget amendment for veteran homelessness at our 2015 Housing Day at the General Assembly next month. Please click here to register!

What the Governor Said in Norfolk, and Why We Should be Encouraged

Gov McAuliffe GHC 2014Governor McAuliffe gave a lively, energetic speech to 700+ enthusiastic housers last Thursday during his first visit to the Virginia Governor’s Housing Conference.  Just returned from a trade mission to Asia the evening before, McAuliffe frequently made the connection between housing and his pursuit of jobs and economic development for the Commonwealth.  Here are some highlights from the speech:

The GHC
He began his remarks on housing by pledging to be the first Virginia Governor ever to attend the Housing Conference in every year of his term.

Housing and Economic Development
McAuliffe talked about a host of issues on his plate, including economic development and transportation, but noted that “none of  these other issues matter if we don’t have a strong housing market… housing is of critical importance”.  He noted that in Virginia, the housing industry contributes $71 billion to the state’s economy – 16% of the state GDP.

“Companies looking to locate in Virginia need to know that good affordable is available for their employees”.

He also talked about how important housing is to individual development and success – “a stable roof over your head helps you to advance”.

Homelessness
“There are 8,400 homeless Virginians – 10% of them are veterans.  On any given night, 617 vets do not have a roof over their head.  These are men and women who have served us.  The least we can do is provide housing for them.”

The Governor committed that “by the end of 2015 – not one single veteran is homeless in Virginia”.  He asked the help of those in the audience to make this a reality.

Who Needs Good Housing

He cited a number of groups in the Commonwealth with significant housing needs, including seniors and persons with disabilities.  He noted that  “1/3 of young people return home to live with parents” due to a shortage of housing that they can afford.

He noted “correcting these issues will make life better for all of us”.

The Virginia Housing Trust Fund
The Governor described his actions to keep the funding for the Housing Trust Fund in the budget and he criticized the General assembly for removing it.  He described the success from the first round of HTF funding. “I am going to keep fighting for this money because it is so important”.

The Next Three Years

McAuliffe concluded his remarks by signing Executive Order 32. He noted that the EO reflected “a focused state housing policy agenda and a renewed commitment to meeting housing goals… I intend to make significant progress on this issue during my time in office … patience is not a virtue of mine.”

He finished by noting “You have an ally in the Governor’s office on housing policy … my door is open to great new ideas”.

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