23 Rehabilitation and accessibility

This chapter covers seven programs that help current homeowners and renters improve the quality, efficiency, and accessibility of their homes.


Major takeaways in this chapter include:

  • Rehabilitation and accessibility programs are generally effective thanks to their range and compatibility.
  • However, these efforts nearly always require providers to leverage other private funds, such as philanthropic gifts and individual donations, to come close to meeting their community’s needs.
  • Other obstacles include the high cost of necessary improvements, a shortage of qualified contractors, and lack of centralized administration of programs that must be deployed in tandem.
  • Expansion of the Neighborhood Assistance Program, increasing program resources, streamlining administration, and addressing downstream issues like workforce and contractor capacity can help guarantee safe and accessible housing for all Virginians.

23.1 Findings

These findings are based on data provided by Virginia Housing, DHCD, and other sources on the scale of these programs, demographic information on their beneficiaries, and other trends.

Finding 1

The Weatherization Assistance Program consistently reaches over a thousand households every year.

FIGURE 23.1: Homes served by Weatherization Assistance Program

Between 2016 and 2019, WAP served more than 1,000 households across the state each year. That number unfortunately dropped to fewer than 400 in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Program administrators stated that the successful program was on track for a productive 2020 if not for the economic shutdowns and quarantine protocols that disrupted WAP providers.

Finding 2

The scale of the Indoor Plumbing Rehabilitation program is small compared to the need.

FIGURE 23.2: Homes served by Indoor Plumbing Rehabilitation program

Homes without indoor plumbing are rare in Virginia—currently around 10,000—and represent a small percentage of the state’s total housing stock. The count may also include many homes that are not lived in year-round. However, the main program aimed at bringing indoor plumbing to full-time residences still only serves a limited number of clients each year. Since 2016, the annual number of households served has not exceeded 50.

FIGURE 23.3: Housing units lacking plumbing facilities in Virginia

23.2 Program successes

These successes are based on feedback collected from the statewide provider survey, focus groups, and conversations with experienced users of these programs.

Success 1

There are a wide range of programs in this cluster that address a spectrum of needs.

These varied programs (including several new energy efficiency programs currently being implemented at DHCD) are available to assist homeowners as well as the owners of rental properties.

Success 2

Service providers often use more than one of these programs in conjunction with each other.

Providers often pair WAP with EHARP as it is common for the weatherization crew to encounter emergency repair needs when they begin work on a house. Coordination is critical to meeting the client’s needs because the funds have narrowly defined eligible uses.

Success 3

Program users do not report significant challenges associated with the funding cycles and schedules for these programs.

According to users, application timelines and funding cycles for these programs generally match up. This alignment helps providers coordinate when applying for funds.

Success 4

Most of these programs are compatible with manufactured homes—including homes that are located in a park setting where the occupant owns the home but rents the lot.

Older manufactured homes—especially single-wide homes built prior to 1976 when HUD established construction standards—are some of the worst quality and least energy efficient homes in the state. These programs sometimes enable housing providers to replace severely deteriorated homes and repair and weatherize those that are still livable.

Success 5

Nonprofit providers have been successful in leveraging these programs with local funding from cities and counties, philanthropy, local companies, and individual donors.

The aggregated funding from these programs is not adequate to meet needs. Providers have to seek matching funds from a wide range of sources. The availability of these programs establishes a foundation so local funders are confident that their contributions will achieve more by leveraging state dollars.

23.3 Program challenges

These challenges are based on feedback collected from the statewide provider survey, focus groups, and conversations with experienced users of these programs.

Challenge 1

Several of these programs are funded at very low levels and do not provide administrative support.

The small level of funding in programs such as EHARP and IPR limit their impact compared to the outsized needs. The limited funding also discourages organizations from participating if they are not assured of sufficient funding to support a sustainable line of business.

Challenge 2

Low or no administrative fees make it more challenging to serve clients who are more remote.

Single-family rehab and repair are administratively costly to carry out. This is compounded when working in a rural area where client homes may be separated by significant distances.

Challenge 3

Accessibility improvements exceed the costs of making basic changes to the home, especially in multifamily structures.

Several providers noted that the maximum grant per home was not sufficient to cover rehab costs necessary for many accessibility projects because making the home fully usable by a person with a disability requires more than one measure.

Virginia Housing recently increased the maximum awards for their Granting Freedom and Rental Unit Accessibility Modification programs by 33 percent (from $6,000 to $8,000), which should help considerably.

Challenge 4

Greater administrative flexibility of programs would enhance success since providers often use them in combination. More uniform requirements would further enhance the ability to fully meet the needs of clients.

Program requirements such as income eligibility, property eligibility, permitted use of funds, grant and loan documentation, property inspection, work descriptions, and a host of other program procedures can and do vary from one source of funding to another. This complicates the already difficult process of addressing critical home repair and rehab needs for the provider.

Challenge 5

Waiting lists for services can be extraordinarily long. Many clients live in dangerous and unhealthy conditions while waiting to move up the list.

Long waiting lists are an indication of the mismatch between resources allocated to this program area and the scale of needs in communities across Virginia. Poor housing quality is widespread in the Commonwealth from the largest urban centers to the most remote rural regions. One organization noted that Indoor Plumbing Rehabilitation wait times can range from anywhere from six months to several years—a long time to be without proper running water.

Challenge 6

Qualified contractors are difficult to find, especially in less populated areas. Smaller jobs exacerbate this obstacle.

The construction industry has a labor shortage.40 This is true across the board from large new construction projects to small-scale single family rehabilitation. Small, remote jobs are difficult to accomplish when demand for contractors is exceptionally high. The extreme shortage also increases the likelihood of participation of less qualified contractors and/or those performing lower quality work.

Challenge 7

Repair, rehab, weatherization, and accessibility are often scattered across different providers making comprehensive service delivery difficult and confusing for clients.

Different agencies and nonprofit organizations often administer these otherwise interconnected programs. For example, DHCD has a select group of qualified WAP providers, but many of them may not engage in large scale single-family home rehab. This administrative compartmentalization compounds the difficulty of matching resources with varying program requirements.

Challenge 8

Most clients are homeowners. Assisting renters, especially in scattered locations, is much more challenging.

Rental households also cope with housing that is often in much worse condition than that of homeowners, yet most rehab and repair resources focus on homeowners. Small, widely scattered projects and “mom and pop” ownership complicate and impede improvements to rental properties.

Owner-landlords frequently do not wish to participate or are unwilling to guarantee affordability for a lengthy period of time. There are no easy solutions to overcoming these obstacles, but administrators could begin by working with localities to incentivize good code enforcement that may encourage greater participation by small landlords.

23.4 Recommendations

These recommendations synthesize the findings, successes, and challenges identified for this cluster of programs. They offer a roadmap to a future where these state initiatives are efficient, impactful, and best serve Virginians who need greater housing opportunities.

Recommendation 1

Expand the Neighborhood Assistance Program (NAP) with an emphasis on donations to support low-income rehab and repair. Increased access to grant funds and the greater flexibility of private funding would support program administrators and advance their work.

Why this is needed:

  • It is difficult to estimate the number of substandard and severely deteriorated homes in the state. The U.S. Census Bureau stopped characterizing housing as “substandard” decades ago, limiting the data sets that can serve as substitutes (such as age of structure). Program administrators, local planners, and code officials provide the best available anecdotal information. These reports do indicate that dilapidated housing is ubiquitous in the state and predictably affects primarily low-income households.
  • Experienced providers report that the flexibility of private funds makes them the most useful resource for administering rehab and repair programs. They can fill gaps in public programs, including covering the cost of program operations.
  • The NAP program increases incentives for private individuals and corporations to make donations to these types of activities.

Who is responsible:

  • Virginia Department of Social Services
  • Department of Housing and Community Development
  • Appropriate secretariat
  • General Assembly

How to accomplish:

Any expansion of the NAP should incorporate the following features:

  1. Additional, permanent funds dedicated to and earmarked for housing,
  2. Inclusion of a geographic component in the funding distribution methodology to attract both nonprofits and donors in underserved areas, and
  3. A distinction between regular and housing credits in recipient applications and documentation of credits to ensure their use for housing purposes.

Recommendation 2

Expand and promote workforce training programs—in partnership with education and economic development organizations—to increase the number of qualified contractors and workers able to participate in these residential rehab programs.

Why this is needed:

  • The housing industry has a severe shortage of skilled construction workers, which slows progress and raises costs. Recent efforts to identify and deport undocumented workers has made the problem worse.41
  • Workforce training programs are limited (especially those reaching minorities and other disadvantaged individuals). This inadequacy exists across many of the relevant trades including carpenters, roofers, plumbers, electricians, and HVAC workers.
  • Construction jobs are in high demand and offer the opportunity for good wages and benefits, including health insurance.

Who is responsible:

  • Virginia Housing
  • Department of Housing and Community Development
  • Workforce training programs
  • State and local home builder organizations
  • Construction trade unions

How to accomplish:

Industry stakeholders and workforce development programs must partner to create and expand training programs for new residential construction initiatives at the local level. Incentives to large nonprofit and for-profit housing developers and housing program administrators would then motivate them to hire graduates of these programs.

Recommendation 3

Determine how programs with relatively low funding or complex administrative funding mechanisms can be reconfigured or augmented to help cover the necessary program management costs for the local providers.

Why this is needed:

  • Providers must have ways to cover their administrative costs or they will opt for programs that offer greater opportunities for higher fees rather than participate in repair and rehab programs.
  • Smaller scale rehab and repair programs are inherently inefficient; they require a high level of effort per dollar expended as compared to larger programs like multifamily development and rehab.
  • In the absence of fees that are sufficient to cover costs, providers will not operate rehab/repair programs at scale, instead investing minimal effort to limit their losses.

Who is responsible:

  • Virginia Housing
  • Department of Housing and Community Development
  • Large scale rehab and repair providers

How to accomplish:

Virginia Housing and DHCD should collaborate with high volume rehab/repair providers to analyze actual costs of program administration, adjust fees as needed, and track production changes in response to higher fees.

Recommendation 4

Regularly monitor the cost caps for accessibility improvements—especially for certain property types (like multifamily) and/or markets where costs can easily exceed current caps.

Why this is needed:

  • When a provider needs to leverage greater resources to complete a project, they will produce less as their effort outweighs the return, and the project becomes less sustainable.

Who is responsible:

  • Virginia Housing
  • Department of Housing and Community Development
  • Providers with the potential to scale to higher volume

How to accomplish:

Virginia Housing and DHCD should develop a cost database for providers that will track total improvement costs over time by type of structure, location, and detailed description of improvements and that will document completed improvements as well as those not completed because of lack of funding.

Recommendation 5

Determine whether smaller programs can be combined; a provider could easily access a range of separate funding sources with a single application cycle.

Why this is needed:

  • Many of the programs in this cluster share similar objectives; in any area of policy, programs tend to multiply as new initiatives join existing programs. New initiatives typically target a gap in an existing program or group of programs. This can lead to a confusing and unwieldy collection of individual programs covering the entire spectrum of needs.
  • The goals of small programs (e.g., the Livable Home Tax Credit) often align with those of others in the same cluster; there are opportunities to consolidate similar efforts when a program lacks substantial new funding to individually scale up.
  • Program consolidation will simplify access for providers and beneficiaries and will streamline program administration for the housing agency for greater efficiency and consistency.
  • Conformity of guidelines and funding cycles as a result of program consolidation will improve the experience of program users.
  • Program organization within a single agency staff division contributes to consistency and efficiency.
  • State-funded programs have more flexibility to allow for consolidation than federally mandated programs.

Who is responsible:

  • Department of Housing and Community Development
  • Virginia Housing
  • Virginia Department of Social Services
  • Rehab and repair providers

How to accomplish:

Program administrators from responsible agencies should direct an assessment of grouped programs in conjunction with providers. This evaluation will identify irreconcilable conflicts and opportunities to combine initiatives where conflicts can be overcome. Each program requires periodic reviews with a “zero base” approach that considers how an agency would administer and implement a program if starting from scratch; incrementalism often shapes programs without deliberate analysis of needed fundamental adjustments.

DHCD’s current effort to combine its Housing and Community Development divisions into a single work group offers a promising opportunity to rethink the design and delivery of programs that it administers as well as those that it collaborates with Virginia Housing to operate.

Recommendation 6

Take advantage of incoming Housing Innovations in Energy Efficiency (HIEE) funds by reserving certain proceeds for a large pool of flexible, easily deployed dollars to support rehab and accessibility activities.

DHCD’s HIEE program makes energy efficiency upgrades to new and existing residential buildings to reduce energy bills for low-income Virginians. HIEE is funded through proceeds collected from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) auctions. DHCD will dedicate approximately 50 percent of those proceeds to HIEE.

Why this is needed:

  • Proceeds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) have begun to contribute significant new funds to the state that can be used for improving energy efficiency.
  • Virginia already has existing programs that are directed at this goal. RGGI funds can be used to expand activity in these existing programs, making it easier for providers to access these funds and allowing greater scale and efficiency in using them.

Who is responsible:

  • Department of Housing and Community Development

How to accomplish:

DHCD should continue with its current planning efforts for these dollars, which includes allocating these new dollars to expand existing efforts like WAP and ASNH that already work well.

Recommendation 7

Expand resources for IPR and broaden program eligibility to homes in very poor condition that threaten the health and safety of residents.

Why this is needed:

  • The overall funding for basic rehab of single family dwellings is too limited to meet needs.
  • Home rehab is one of the most fundamental housing needs in the Commonwealth. The state’s largest initiative, Indoor Plumbing and Rehabilitation, is very modest with an annual allocation of approximately $3 million.
  • IPR adjustments recently have permitted more rehab (IPR-Flex), but increases to program funding allocations have not kept pace with expansion of eligible uses.
  • The program still focuses on a narrow subset of deteriorated, unsafe housing—those homes with incomplete plumbing or a failing septic system.
  • Additional resources and an expanded, coordinated administrative structure are necessary to meet the nearly universal need in all jurisdictions.
  • As more local governments in Virginia begin to make resources available for housing (including American Rescue Plan funds over the next few years), the state must build stronger partnerships with entitlement communities to support the rehab and repair of homes. Such partnerships are currently much more developed with the construction and rehab of larger rental housing communities.

Who is responsible:

  • Virginia Housing
  • Department of Housing and Community Development
  • Localities
  • Other local funders, including corporate and philanthropic donors
  • General Assembly

How to accomplish:

Additional resources are necessary for the rehab and repair of homes occupied by low income and moderate income Virginians. This will take action by the General Assembly to increase funding for the Virginia Housing Trust Fund, with a subsequent allocation from the fund to this effort.

Other solutions that do not require additional state appropriation may include the combination of IPR and scattered-site Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) projects, as well as partnerships with CDBG entitlement communities for rehab initiatives using existing state and local financial resources.

As noted earlier, few accurate data sources exist to quantify this need. DHCD should work with local planning and building officials to develop estimates of needs that can help to justify additional funding.

Nearly all of the funds that support this activity are grant funds. Virginia Housing should explore the potential to supplement these grant funds with deferred debt that would be due on sale; if feasible, this could lead to a significant boost to activity.