By Brandon Martin
The findings of a comprehensive housing study unveiled at Tuesday’s Martinsville City Council meeting show a demand for new units.
City Manager Leon Towarnicki said “the conclusions were that there is a substantial demand in the market for newly-constructed units.”
He added that the area median income can add up to hundreds of new units.
Approximately 32.3 percent of total households in Martinsville-Henry County are renter-occupied, according to Towarnicki.
He said a majority of those surveyed indicated that rental housing is needed more than owner-occupied. The findings showed affordable housing options have substantial waiting lists. Additionally, there is a demand for one, two, and three-bedroom options, at average prices of $465, $577 and $711 a month, respectively.
Towarnicki said he found one statistic particularly interesting.
“The average vacancy rate was 1.3 percent,” he said. “If you have 300 apartments, that’s four vacancies. That’s an incredible number.”
In the city, 22.5 percent of owner-occupied and 44.4 percent of renter-occupied houses pay greater than 30 percent of their income on housing costs, the study found.
“As of January 2020, the median single-family home listing price was $99,000 in the city and $109,000 in the county,” Towarnicki said. There were 142 single family homes listed for sale in county and 52 homes in the city as of June, he added.
Towarnicki said the area also has a sizable workforce that commutes from other cities like Danville, Greensboro and Winston-Salem, N.C., which hints that “there is a housing need in this area.”
The process to begin the study began in 2019. A $40,000 grant was awarded by Virginia Housing to assess local needs. The grant covered the completion of the study and the marketing of materials following its conclusion. Novogradac & Company LLP was tapped to conduct the study and Towarnicki said the city is working with Momenta to market the findings. Momenta also will be in charge of distributing the study findings to developers, according to Towarnicki.
He described the study as “very extensive,” and covering investigation of the multi-family rental market, interviews with public agencies/stakeholders, analyzing economic conditions, and a variety of other factors.
The study area covered a 50-mile radius around the city and county. It found that employment in the area was concentrated in manufacturing, healthcare, social assistance, and retail/trade industries–all of which comprise about 44.8 percent of local unemployment.
Towarnicki said the area’s peak unemployment occurred in 2010, with the city reaching 19.3 percent jobless and 14.7 percent out of work in Henry County.
Before the study, Towarnicki noted historic lows in unemployment were experienced.
“Basically, everybody in this community that wanted a job had one,” he said.
Now that the study has been completed, Towarnicki said that the information will be used by project developers to determine if their investments will be offset by revenue.
“With concrete information like this showing what the market is–what the demand is–and what can be achieved, I think this will give developers a higher comfort level when looking at projects in this area,” he said.
City Attorney Eric Monday said that the city is listed as one of the Top 10 Least Expensive Cities.
“Our housing stock, even with all of this that we’ve heard tonight, is priced about 26 percent below the national average,” Monday said.
Philip Wenkstern, executive director of the United Way of Henry County and Martinsville, discussed how the organization is helping residents join the housing market through the Individual Development Accounts (VIDA) program.
VIDA is “a home-ownership” program that provides down payment assistance and financial education training to qualifying residents looking to buy a house.
“It’s able to match your savings at a rate of $8 for every $1 that you saved,” Wenkstern said, adding there is a maximum of $4,000.
“It’s really an incredible opportunity,” Wenkstern said. “Everyone is aware of just how impactful owning a home can be to your financial stability, as well as improving your overall net worth. It’s really an incredible vehicle available to the community.”
Along with the saving account, participants receive 14 hours of training, which Wenkstern said is now primarily Zoom-based.
Wenkstern said that the program requires earned income to participate and participants who are ready to buy a house in 6 to 24 months.
Since starting the program in August, approximately 15 people signed up, he said.
“We are really hoping to see an uptick in enrollments,” Wenkstern said. “The way this program works is the state has a set number of slots at the state-level that are available. As those slots are utilized, there are no more slots available. We did not receive a specific allotment so the quicker we get people enrolled, the more slots we can have available.”
Those interested in the program may contact the United Way of Henry County and Martinsville by calling (276) 403-5965 or email email@example.com.
In other matters, the council:
*Appointed Rives Coleman and Marty Gardner to the Blue Ridge Regional Library Governing Board.
*Adopted an ordinance to increase courthouse security fees from $10 to $20.