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An Examination of Vacant & At-Risk Housing in the Middle Peninsula

The Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission (MPPDC), one of Virginia’s 21 planning district commissions tasked with addressing region wide issues, recently conducted a study on vacant housing in the Middle Peninsula. The Berkley Group, in collaboration with the William & Mary Law School and the MPPDC, created a report that addressed the issue of vacant housing in the Middle Peninsula region along with possible solutions. The report contains the results of a survey that was distributed by The Berkley Group in association with the MPPDC to collect a census from the population in the Middle Peninsula on how many people own vacant homes, why their homes became vacant, and the effect that vacant housing has had on the region, specifically to the housing market and local economy. The report also contains extensive research on the demographics of the Middle Peninsula region that allows for a more comprehensive understanding of the issue of vacant and at-risk housing that the Middle Peninsula faces.

Comprised of the 6 counties of Essex, Gloucester, King and Queen, King William, Mathews, and Middlesex and the 3 towns of Tappahannock, Urbanna, and West Point, the Middle Peninsula had a total population of 91,039 in 2017. The following table however, displays the number of vacant houses for each county in the Middle Peninsula and as one can see, there are a significant number of vacant houses in the region.

A William & Mary Law School article sought to further a comprehensive strategy for revitalizing the Middle Peninsula by performing two specific tasks: discovering more precisely how to identify vacant houses within the Middle Peninsula and recommending how the MPPDC can address the issue. Accordingly, the paper accomplishes the following tasks: (1) proposes a definition of “vacant housing” to encourage uniformity in an area where uniformity is much needed, (2) identifies issues with the marketability of such property, (3) summarizes the current legal framework within which the MPPDC can function, (4) evaluates helpful case studies from other localities facing a similar problem, and (5) suggests specific policy changes.

After reviewing the demographic figures related to vacant housing and taking into account the findings of the William & Mary Law School report, the study offered choices to help change the socio-economic trajectory of the Middle Peninsula. Three policy options were presented for the consideration of the MPPDC. The emerging issues cited below represent a more coordinated and comprehensive approach to addressing complex rural coastal housing issues found in and across the Middle Peninsula. The following three options brought forth were as follows:

After consultation with the Commission at the May 22, 2019 Commission Meeting, Option 1 was recognized as having minimal value to solve the complex problems facing the region. Option 3, establishing a Regional Redevelopment Housing Authority, was not generally supported due to the need to hold six local public referendums to establish an Authority. This requirement, at this time would face significant local political challenges. Therefore, only option 2 remains. It is the recommendation of the report that the MPPDC direct staff to explore and exercise all reasonable options, including legislative solutions that will allow for Commission staff to develop solutions and programs necessary to address housing issues across the region. The Commission would continue to work towards building capacity to provide housing related solutions at the regional and local scale as approved by the Commission and or requested by member localities.

If you need assistance addressing vacant housing in your community or with any other planning needs, contact The Berkley Group’s Director of Planning, Todd Gordon, at

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