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Citing lack of affordable land, Hampton Roads Habitat for Humanity groups suspend new home applications

AmeriCorps volunteers work on one of the homes under construction by the Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg. (Photo courtesy of Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg)
AmeriCorps volunteers work on one of the homes under construction by the Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg. (Photo courtesy of Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg)

This week, Habitat for Humanity of South Hampton Roads announced it would be postponing its annual applications window for low-income families seeking homes through the group.

The reason: It can’t find affordable land to build those homes on.

This follows a similar announcement six weeks ago by the Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

Janet Green, who runs the Peninsula Habitat chapter, says the group saw a record 280 applications for its new homebuyer program in 2023. But for the first time in its 39-year history, the group won't open the doors to applicants this spring.

“And that is all due to lack of available and affordable land,” Green said.

She called it a “perfect storm” of a housing crisis. For Habitat to maintain the price point their applicants can manage, Green said the group can spend around $30,000 per parcel of land. 

In the areas around Williamsburg where affordable housing is most needed, Green said “those lots are now going for triple and quadruple those amounts” and the cost hike would make mortgages unaffordable for the families the group serves.

Green said she heard the same thing from her counterpart at Richmond Habitat for Humanity, which has also suspended new applications.

“This is going on all over Virginia … and I suspect it's happening in other parts of the country as well,” Green said.

Stephen Abbitt serves on the board of the Peninsula Habitat chapter and runs Abbitt Realty Company, which is based in Newport News. 

"Finding shovel-ready land is difficult and that's causing problems for developers and for Habitat," Abbitt said. He said when housing prices spiked during the pandemic "land was no exception" and that's just one variable among many in development that has gotten more expensive.

Home prices across Virginia have increased by about 40%since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, according to data from the Federal Reserve. 

Trade group Realtors Land Institute’s 2023 Land Market Survey shows the southern region, including Virginia, is among the hottest marketsnationally for the sale of undeveloped property.

For builders, the pandemic wreaked havoc with construction schedules and material costs. Habitat for Humanity International cited the cost and delay in building materials as a major issue facing the nonprofit in 2021, though Green said those prices are coming down now and her group was able to weather that by working with suppliers to keep costs under control.

Peninsula Habitat has 14 houses under construction right now for applicants from the last two years.

“These are people who are teaching our children in schools, they're taking care of our parents in hospitals and senior centers, they're feeding me in restaurants,” Green said. “They are great members of our neighborhoods, they're our neighbors, and we really think we should be supporting them with more affordable housing.”

Since the February announcement, Green said her group’s gotten some leads on properties in the Williamsburg area, but nothing concrete has materialized. 

If the Peninsula chapter can get its hands on some land, it would reopen applications, Green said. She’s crossing their fingers that’ll happen late this summer.

Ryan is WHRO’s business and growth reporter. He joined the newsroom in 2021 after eight years at local newspapers, the Daily Press and Virginian-Pilot. Ryan is a Chesapeake native and still tries to hold his breath every time he drives through the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.

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