On stewardship weekend in congregations all over Virginia, many of us have heard preaching about how our household budget needs to reflect our values and priorities. This means we give out of our personal finances to causes that are important to us. We prioritize care for people we love, and share what resources we can with our community and neighbors in need.
Virginia’s budget is also a moral document. It reflects the priorities of the commonwealth, whether we acknowledge it or not. Through the budget, we can see whether our lawmakers think it’s important to fund schools, salaries, and sustainability. We can also see how those in the General Assembly think we should be treating those in need. This year, Virginia has the largest surplus it has ever experienced, because of American Rescue Plan funds and extremely cautious spending through the pandemic (some of which left essential services underfunded). As a commonwealth, we’re not short on money, but we are short on a unified vision for how to spend that money. Should we provide social services that have been long neglected? Should we hoard for another rainy day? Should we give directed tax cuts, or tax cuts across the board? The debates are varied, but everyone wants what is right for Virginia families.
Shelter is one of the necessities of life, but throughout our commonwealth, families struggle to afford their housing. There is a shortage of 300,000 affordable units around Virginia. Families who have applied for Section 8, a rental assistance voucher from the federal government, often have to sit on a wait list for years… years when paying rent remains a stretch for their family finances. Faith communities and nonprofits help build new units, and assist with rent for their members, but these deficits won’t be fixed without outside help.
The General Assembly is currently debating the budget for July 2022-June 2024, and they have an opportunity to address these two major holes in Virginia’s system. We have a state-wide affordable housing trust fund, and the Senate version of the budget proposes putting $300 million into that fund over the next two years. We can also put language into the budget directing the Department of Housing and Community Development to create a rental assistance program to assist families on the federal wait list. These two priorities can benefit thousands of people around Virginia. We need to make sure people without housing are recognized in Virginia’s budget. If we advocate together, we can make a difference and stand up for those in need. Together, we are a stronger community, and our budget can reflect our values.
If you are a faith leader interested in advocating affordable housing, please sign our clergy letter to lawmakers HERE.
If you would like to sign our petition for all Virginians, please add your name HERE.
Want more details about the housing budget amendments? Check out our Affordable Housing Fact Sheet