RICHARD BELL

Winchester is experiencing a serious housing shortage (for sale and rent) that is compounding an already challenged housing affordability in our community. Unlike the surrounding county, Winchester has limitations on its ability to grow. Our region has been experiencing strong market growth and demand on housing. We are certainly a desirable community that is attracting many potential contributing citizens.

The private housing market is working hard to catch up with projects having already been approved and with others in the process, but the impacts caused by the pandemic have slowed their ability to respond to the demand. This demand is the economic factor driving up prices, rents and tax assessments that I would not expect to abate any time soon. But even then, the private market response can only address so much of the need.

The city staff and council need to broaden our view on how to address the housing requirements of our diverse community. Our housing shortage is currently impacting our school division’s ability to secure contract commitments for our critical teacher shortage. These new teachers just cannot find available housing and are pursuing other locations. As a community we should hope that our teachers could live and work in the community they serve, as well as fire fighters, police and other front-line workers. A recent weather event displaced six local families that are not currently able to secure suitable housing. There is just no capacity to absorb this requirement. We are at a crisis condition for housing in Winchester.

Is our community prepared for these challenges? Individually we hold our housing as very personal. As a community though we need to view our housing inventory as a critical community resource. We should be asking, does our community support a sufficient range of housing types and prices? Does it provide necessary transition housing as we all move through life in the community we love? How can we best manage and ensure our housing inventory?

There is more than enough justification for a robust approach by our city management to get in front of and even ahead of this housing crisis. We have a number of under-utilized housing units (upper-level spaces and accessory structures) as well as un-utilized housing units that are abandoned and/or derelict. We also have a number of stagnant redevelopment opportunities that will require significant technical skills by the city staff to encourage their redevelopment. We need to gain a more in-depth understanding of our limiting conditions for housing to help guide the private market response as well as explore any potential public solution for that area where other alternatives are just not available. As a community we need to focus resources to address these limiting conditions and provide additional solutions for our housing needs. Failure to do so would be detrimental to our community’s strength and resiliency. I am currently serving on your city council and I am committed to continue in that effort with your support to address this crisis.

Richard Bell is a member of City Council who is seeking election as a Democrat in the First Ward on Nov. 2.

(8) comments

WINCBEST

I really do not see Mr. Bells logic. Winchester has grown immensely over the past few years. Time to make his pitch as if he is going to change anything to help Winchester.

So far everything he is for is to accommodate our Local Government. Keep talking about the affordable housing that has been built in Winchester and Frederick County that is not affordable to anyone that works around here, but is to draw the Washington area retirees to the area and our real estate taxes raise because of the homes that are being built for them to buy. Like all others running for a position they have to make it look like they are for the people but really for the Local Government

because they have never been in a low level living condition but come from money.

Catherine Giovannoni

Mr. Bell is exactly right. Winchester residents should vote for his leadership this Fall.

AdoptDontShop2

We also have a few property management companies and individuals who own many single family and multi-family rental properties in Winchester. Some might call them slumlords. Years ago Joe Bageant advocated for stricter rules for landlords to protect renters and ensure the homes in our town were well maintained. A combination of strict rules for landlords and higher taxes for landlords who own more than one rental home would help. Landlords might find it better to sell these homes, which would increase supply and slow the rising housing costs, so that renters could buy and fix them up.

libertyspirit

Stricter rules and higher taxes for landlords? Each new regulation will increase the cost of being a landlord, which will raise the rent paid by the tenant. Each dollar in higher taxes will be passed on, dollar for dollar, to the tenant. What you are suggesting amounts to higher rent payments for folks who probably can least afford it.

AdoptDontShop2

The idea is to make it too costly for landlords, especially those whose primary income is not from property management, so that they sell their properties (I mean detached houses and not apartments). Those sales will increase the supply of homes in Winchester, cool the inflating local market, and allow renters the opportunity to become home owners. Rents are already high in the area for people, as the recent articles about WATTS pointed out. There are only so many people who live, work and can afford to pay rents in Winchester. Why would someone who could pay more in rent for a run down home in Winchester if they did not need to live here? That is, there is a limit to how much of the cost landlords could pass on to tenants in our city.

hagansan

Richard Bell represents exactly the kind of leadership we need in our community.

Catherine Giovannoni

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TonyR

From the housing seeker point of view - Mr. Bell's comments are spot on. I have a nephew that has wanted to move to Winchester for close to a year now. He currently lives in a city where owning a car is not actually necessary. Finding any housing in town has not been fruitful. In his situation it seems buying a car is becoming necessary to begin looking for reasonable priced housing - and yer not a guarantee. The odds are not good.

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