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.