In 2020, the City of Harrisonburg contracted with Mullin & Lonergan Associates and its team of Fourth Economy and EPR to conduct work on its Comprehensive Housing Assessment and Market Study. This work arose from City Council’s 2019 vision statements, which included affordable housing as a central component for its twenty-year vision.
The Comprehensive Housing Assessment and Market Study begins to address Council’s “Available Housing for All” priority but with a much more expansive approach to understanding housing needs in Harrisonburg. The study analyzes elements described in the City’s priorities, from economic impact to access to parks related to housing and much more. The study also views housing need through the lens of public health.
The process involved four market types, determined by population trends, poverty, jobs and wages, housing affordability, housing mismatch, and more. The team used this data to analyze the degree to which Harrisonburg’s market currently meets city residents’ demand. Focusing on numerous Census block groups with comparable characteristics was a useful way to compare smaller sub-markets across Harrisonburg to identify resources explicitly targeted to areas based on housing need.
The City initiated this study in July 2020, less than four months after Virginia Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency over COVID-19 and issued a stay-at-home order for the state. With thousands of non-essential businesses closed, hundreds of thousands of Virginians were without jobs seemingly overnight. Without paychecks to make rent payments, there was a moratorium on evictions, but the long-term effects of COVID-19 on homelessness and housing are still unknown.
During the planning process, EPR led various project components. Our office developed an engagement plan that addressed the challenges of COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders, including an online open house, stakeholder calls, and online surveys. EPR conducted a zoning audit that identified regulatory barriers to affordable housing. Our team assisted with data analysis, creating custom maps and graphics that communicated complex information to local decision-makers. EPR also worked with the consultant team and City staff to develop an inventory of sites for future housing development or redevelopment.
The aerial photograph used in this article is courtesy of the City of Harrisonburg.