The Potential for Affordability

The other day a genteel old six-bedroom house at the end of my street went up for auction. It sold for $90,000. In good condition this house might have gone for as much as three times that, but it needs a new roof, and according to one observer I talked to, the back part of the house is sinking into the mud.

In its better days, this house was the cornerstone of the “best” block in town. The houses near this corner are noticeably bigger and have much more extensive decorative features than other homes in the area. This is where the lawyers and doctors and such lived and still live. The houses are a century or more old, and with the posible exception of this one property, they have aged very well.

This particular house caught my attention when the “For Sale” sign first went up a couple years ago. I'd wondered if it could be a good place for two affordable rental units for families.
Quality rentals for families are in short supply around here, much as they are everywhere. Maybe it could even be used as a boardinghouse, though that would be less likely to win the neighbors' favor.

I like to think that these uses would fit well in our neighborhood, which is a mix of owner-occupied and rental units. While the houses at that end of the street are grand, the ones at our end are a bit more modest, and the ones in the middle of the block are small and plain. Some homes date back 100 years, while others are products of the last couple of decades. It's a delightful variety, which you don't tend to find in more modern neighborhoods that have restrictions on what you can build or do with your land. The mix of people of different incomes seems to work well.

In fact, I would guess that the income range on our street is pretty dramatic. I know many people in the county could not afford the homes at the ends. However, in the middle of the block is a building that used to be a school for African Americans before integration. It is now made up of several rental units, and there are a couple more in an adjacent house. My guess is these units are some of the more affordable in town, the problem being that there's just a handful of them.

After the house was sold, I overheard the auctioneer saying that the new owners of the house would probably renovate it for use as a single-family home. I'm not sure who has the money to pour into the place without counting on future rental income to pay for the repairs. And while I will be thankful if the house isn't torn down, I wish someone could see this as an opportunity to create more affordability on the block.

(Photo by Sarah Gilbert CC BY-NC-SA)

David Holtzman is a planner for Louisa County, Virginia, a freelance writer, and a former Shelterforce editor.


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