7 Provider survey

The purpose of this document is to provide readers with a summary of the housing provider survey that HousingForward Virginia designed in consultation with the steering committee. The results showcase the opinions of more than 400 practitioners and advocates across the Commonwealth.

7.1 Methods

HousingForward, with support from Virginia Housing and the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), surveyed a diverse and representative range of stakeholders. The survey collected input from users of state housing programs to address four core topics:

  1. Community housing needs,
  2. Efficacy of current state efforts to promote affordable housing,
  3. Racial disparities in housing, and
  4. Impact of COVID-19 on these providers and their clients.

An online form was used to collect survey responses from November 11, 2020 to January 25, 2021. This timeframe overlapped with the COVID-19 pandemic and the increased national attention on systemic racism and social injustice.

The survey period also coincided with federal, state, local, and private economic interventions including the federal CARES Act, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, and the CDC Eviction Moratorium. Survey results reflect respondents’ pressing concerns related to pandemic consequences and underlying, exacerbated societal inequities laid bare.

7.2 Profile of respondents

Respondents could select multiple options to describe their locality, organization, and housing area of focus; therefore the data represents the number of “touches” a single respondent has with a geographic area, organization type, or housing location. A total of 408 respondents submitted completed responses.

FIGURE 7.1: Geographic representation of respondents

Respondents represented all geographic regions of Virginia, and their numbers were commensurate with regional population distribution, including the Large Metro Housing Markets of the urban crescent.

The survey results initially may seem to underrepresent the urban crescent—which accounts for 73 percent of Virginia’s population—because 54 percent of respondents reported serving at least one locality within it. However, the survey’s geographic menu included the possible selections of “other” and “statewide,” the latter accounting for more than a fifth of all touches, so it is reasonable to infer that the survey fairly reflects the Commonwealth’s regions and residents.

FIGURE 7.2: Regional representation of survey responses and population

Overall, nonprofit housing developers, operators, and/or service providers are the most represented category of respondent, a majority of whom operate in Large Markets within the urban crescent (57 of 408). Local governments, homeless service providers, for-profit housing builders/developers, and real estate professionals round out the top five organization types from Large Markets.

FIGURE 7.3: Organizational representation of respondents

Nonprofits were also the most represented of all market groups in regions beyond the Large Metro Housing Markets, except in the category of “statewide” where financial institutions were the most touched industry group. Some of the least touched industries and regions are the “Other” market category, financial institutions (especially in rural areas), and public housing authorities in Small Metro and Rural Housing Markets.

Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents work in rental housing, and more than half (58 percent) work in homeownership. Homelessness was the least represented housing area at just 37 percent of respondents.

FIGURE 7.4: Housing area served by respondent

7.3 Community housing needs

The survey asked respondents to rate the challenges they face in their particular service area. Respondents rated challenges such as “cost of materials” and “price of homes” on a four-point scale from one being “not a problem” to four being a “major problem.”

FIGURE 7.5: Housing issues identified by respondents

Major takeaways

  • A majority of respondents found all listed issues except for “building codes and inspections” to be either a moderate or major problem. Across nearly all housing areas and regions, respondents identified the “Amount, location, and type of housing” and the costs associated with that housing as a “major problem.”
  • Respondents identified “funding availability” and “site/land availability” as significant factors for homelessness, supportive housing, and rental housing. The “quality/age of existing inventory” for rental housing stood out as an issue, particularly in Rural Housing Markets.
  • Survey results indicate that “renters” and “unhoused/vulnerable” populations were notably affected by and preoccupied with the pandemic’s consequences.
  • While half of respondents did indicate “moderate” to “extreme” concern over homeownership opportunities over the next year, over 90 percent expressed the same concern over “homelessness” issues, 75 percent for “supportive housing,” and 65 percent for “rental housing” opportunities.
  • “Homelessness” was the most significant issue across all industry sectors and geographic markets.
  • Real estate professionals and housing counseling providers are the only industry groups reporting more concern for “senior and age-restricted housing” opportunities than for “homeownership” opportunities.
  • Respondents from most industry categories identified “racial disparities in housing” as the most influential factor affecting “homeownership” access and “homelessness.”
  • Of all respondents, local governments indicated the least concern for “homelessness.”
  • Public housing authorities (PHAs) indicated more concern for “rental housing” opportunities; real estate professionals and “others” showed a higher level of concern for “supportive housing.”
  • Across geographic regions, respondents from Small Markets appear the least concerned about “homelessness” and observe significant racial disparities in both “homeownership” and “rental housing” opportunities.

7.4 Assessment of current housing programs and policies

To open a section on state-level housing programs, respondents first identified the state-level programs with which they have direct experience. Each program fell within seven broad program categories. If a respondent selected at least one program within one of these broad program categories, they then responded to open-ended questions on that program’s broad category.

FIGURE 7.6: Programs used by respondents

Questions addressed program effectiveness, ease or difficulty of use, COVID-19 impact, and programmatic responsiveness to racial inequities in housing.

FIGURE 7.7: Program area effectiveness and need for improvement

Major takeaways

  • A majority of the respondents had experience with broad-based housing and community development assistance and rental assistance/eviction and foreclosure prevention programs. Respondents generally felt that all program areas were “moderately effective” in both meeting current housing needs and furthering their organizational missions.
  • However, respondents also generally indicated a need for “some improvement” to “significant improvement” to better serve housing needs. Only those respondents familiar with housing counseling and education programs suggested that those programs needed a “little improvement” to “some improvement”; this includes 69 percent of housing counseling providers suggesting “some improvement.”
  • A high number of respondents indicated a need for “significant improvement” or a “complete redesign” for homelessness prevention, special needs housing, and broad-based housing and community development assistance programs.
  • The most frequently cited internal challenge among program areas was “limited staff capacity to implement program,” with two exceptions:
    • “Program guidelines and fund uses are overly restrictive” is the greatest internal challenge for home purchase assistance, homelessness prevention, and special needs housing programs.
    • “Administrative burden” is the highest-ranked internal challenge for affordable rental housing development programs.
  • “Difficulty marketing to potential clients” was the most frequently cited external challenge, especially for programs that involved direct assistance to clients.
  • “Citizen opposition (e.g. NIMBY-ism)” ranked high as an external challenge for the two housing production programs (affordable rental housing development and broad-based housing and community development assistance programs).
  • “Limited support from elected officials” ranked as the greatest external challenge for homelessness prevention and special needs housing programs.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic had the greatest negative impacts on homelessness prevention, special needs housing, and rental assistance/eviction and foreclosure prevention programs.
  • Respondents did not identify any broad program addressing racial inequities in housing.
  • When prompted for additional detail on needed improvements, respondents did not provide sufficient detail, but many cited similar priorities:
    • Greater flexibility in eligibility requirements,
    • More information and awareness of existing programs,
    • Support in increasing local organizational capacity to assist local communities (e.g., funding and/or technical assistance), and
    • Increased funding for existing programs.

FIGURE 7.8: Program challenges faced by users

7.5 Racial equity

Although HB854 does not explicitly address racial equity, an honest and useful examination of affordable housing programs cannot exclude it. Centuries of racism, segregation, disenfranchisement, and redlining and other discriminatory practices have shaped Virginia’s communities, and their legacy of inequity constrains the potential of Black households today.

The murder of George Floyd in May 2020 sparked an international call for racial justice heard resoundingly in the Commonwealth. The SAG and steering committee recognized that this study would achieve its intended goals only if it brought racial disparities in housing into the conversation.

For the purposes of this survey, “racial disparities” refers to any disproportionate challenges, opportunities, and outcomes that disadvantage households of color attempting to access and secure high-quality housing.

FIGURE 7.9: Perceived significance of racial disparities in housing

Major takeaways

  • Of the aggregated housing areas, respondents found the greatest significance of racial disparities for “homeownership” and “homelessness.”
  • When comparing the individual geographic market groups, only Small Metro Housing Markets indicated more significant disparities in “homeownership” than “homelessness.” Large Metro Housing Markets, Rural Housing Markets, statewide, and “other” areas perceived “homelessness” as having significant disparities.
  • Notably, homeless services providers indicated “homeownership” had more significant disparities than “homelessness.” Real estate professionals and financial institutions found more disparity in “homelessness” than “homeownership.”
  • Most respondents believed “senior and age- restricted housing” to have the least significant racial disparities, except for local governments, who perceived “homelessness” as having the least significant racial disparities.
  • Respondents deemed three programs most effective at addressing racial inequities: home purchase assistance, housing counseling and education, and rental assistance/evictions and foreclosure prevention programs.
  • Large Markets, however, singled out home purchase and rehabilitation programs as more effective, while Small and Rural Markets regard rental assistance and broad based community and development programs as most effective. Statewide, rental assistance/eviction and foreclosure prevention programs topped the list.

Because this study overlapped with the first eight months of the pandemic, it is not possible to know if respondents would have assessed these programs differently in the absence of a global public health crisis.

More than half of respondents (216 out of 404) indicated that their organization has not developed and implemented any specific program or effort to address racial inequities in their service area. Only 15 percent of respondents (60 respondents) indicated that they did have a specific program, while 32 percent were “unsure.”

When prompted to provide more detail on their racial equity programs, forty-eight respondents provided a written response to this question. Responses included policies on diversity and inclusion, training, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) committees.

While several respondents did identify specific racial equity programs, there were many respondents that referred to existing programs such as the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) or permanent supportive housing (PSH) programs that significantly help Black households due to disproportionate representation among target populations.

Seventeen respondents specifically mentioned a focus on homeownership to address racial inequities. These included programs focused on homebuyer education, grant programs, and rent-to-own programs.

FIGURE 7.10: Program ability to address racial inequities in housing

Half of respondents said these programs were “moderately effective,” five regarded them as “extremely effective,” and no respondents found them to be “not at all effective.”

198 respondents wrote a response to the prompt: “What state-level resources or support do you feel your organization needs to address racial gaps in housing within your service area?” Of these responses, 12 frequently mentioned themes emerged:

  1. Expansion of programs/funding,
  2. Creation of new programs,
  3. Response to barriers to housing,
  4. Marketing/outreach,
  5. Internal capacity training/support,
  6. Data/knowledge,
  7. Impact/goal tracking,
  8. Reform local land use,
  9. Homeownership,
  10. Workforce/economic development,
  11. Nothing additional, and
  12. Uncertain.

7.6 COVID-19 impact and response

The Virginia General Assembly passed HB854 in March 2020 just as the COVID-19 pandemic began to sweep across the United States. While many experts anticipated the pandemic’s impacts on affordable housing, the general public was largely unaware of how much COVID-19 would affect the national housing market and housing conditions in their own communities. The public health crisis has disproportionately devastated low- and moderate-income renters, the majority of which are Black and Brown households.

HB854 did not include—indeed could not have included—language addressing the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on Virginia’s affordable housing. Virginia Housing and DHCD subsequently determined that the HB854-mandated study should examine state-level housing programs within the context of this unprecedented and catastrophic economic and public health crisis.

FIGURE 7.11: Housing area concern due to COVID-19

The survey asked several questions about COVID-19’s impact on core housing services and state-level programs. Questions also probed the greatest concerns among respondents and the importance of specific resources to manage the long-term repercussions of COVID-19.

FIGURE 7.12: Service disruption due to COVID-19

Major takeaways

  • Homelessness was the top concern for the coming year with 75 percent of respondents describing themselves as “extremely concerned.” Supportive housing, rental housing opportunities, senior and age-restricted housing, and homeownership followed homelessness in order of significance. These results were consistent across geographic markets and categories (except for-profit housing developers, none of whom responded to the prompt).
  • Respondents also indicated significant pandemic impacts to homelessness prevention and special needs housing programs.
  • All organization types across all regions believed that core housing and housing related services suffered as a result of the pandemic; a large proportion of homeless service providers, housing counselor providers, and nonprofit housing developers, operators, and/or service providers all signaled that their services bore “significant” to “very significant” impact.
  • In all cases, respondents felt the worst of the pandemic’s effects occurred from March through May 2020 compared to the current period of November to December 2020. This may reflect the federal stimulus packages and emergency housing related policy enacted and extended between the onset of COVID-19 and the end of 2020.
  • A larger proportion of respondents (35 percent) rated the disruption as “somewhat” significant in later 2020 as compared to 26 percent in March 2020. This also suggests an adaptation to pandemic conditions over time. The pandemic continues to disrupt service delivery at least “somewhat” for an overwhelming majority of respondent organizations.
  • Respondents ranked CARES Act grants (and presumably other federal stimulus funds) as the most important source of financial relief needed for service provision since the pandemic began. Respondents rated local government funds (also bolstered by federal support) as “significant” to “very significant.” Similarly, respondents identified “new funding to support change/expanded programs” as the most important resource for continued service.

FIGURE 7.13: Concerns about COVID-19

FIGURE 7.14: Negative impact of COVID-19

Thirty-five respondents identified other sources of COVID-19 financial relief important to their organization’s operations:

  • Several respondents reiterated the CARES Act and local government funding through specific programs such as small business loan programs or economic development grants.
  • Four respondents specifically mentioned Virginia Housing’s COVID-19 Grants.
  • Other respondents noted local support from churches, other nonprofit organizations, and foundations.
  • One respondent referred to funding from the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) that provided flexibility when other sources of funding did not.

FIGURE 7.15: Importance of resources to overcome COVID-19

When asked to provide additional comments about COVID-19’s impact on housing, 100 respondents provided a written response. Eleven major themes frequently arose:

  1. Funding,
  2. Successful policy/program interventions,
  3. Deferred/delayed programs,
  4. Staff/volunteer reductions,
  5. Housing supply/development issues,
  6. Long-term needs/opportunities,
  7. Client needs/concerns,
  8. Economic concerns,
  9. Homelessness,
  10. Eviction moratorium, and
  11. No major impact/unsure.