County Land Use Regulations:
A key to housing affordability is density. When I started my career 47 years ago, every county in metro Richmond had zoning ordinances that allowed single family detached houses to be built on small lots such that 4 to 5 houses could be built per acre.
Around 2000, most of the counties around Richmond eliminated those small lot zoning categories. Their rationale was:
- We want big houses that pay more real estate taxes;
- Small houses do not pay enough real estate taxes to pay for public school for one child.
This misconception grew out of a book written in the 1950’s by a professor of planning that lived in California. It is misinformation because:
- Real estate taxes are only one tax paid by a household;
- Not every house sends a child to school every year;
- Sales taxes, utility taxes, public utility systems are all significant revenues for a county.
Nevertheless, this quote from that book has become the mantra of planners and county officials. Increasing the allowable density per acre for single family detached homes is a requisite to increasing the supply of first homes in the market.
A wise county will recognize the importance of high-tech Generation Y as a part of their employee base. Encouraging starter houses is critical to bring Generation Y into the county. A crucial step is to increase the allowable density of new residential communities.