CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) – Hampton Roads has a problem. The rent is too high and there are too few places for working families to live.

Tonya Stokley and her nine children have been homeless since her husband died more than three years ago.

“I’m not looking for a handout, (but) I don’t mind asking for help,” Stokley told WAVY.

Nearly a year ago, she called the Regional Housing Crisis Hotline, which is operated by ForKids Inc.

“Sometimes our hotline team has to just say, depending on your circumstances, there’s nothing currently available, and those are the hardest conversations we have,” ForKids CEO Thaler McCormick said.

McCormick told WAVY the hotline has experienced record call volume in five out of the last six months.

“Long term, we as a community we have to address our housing crisis,” McCormick said, “and it is truly, now officially, a housing crisis. We can’t overstate this enough.”

Calls came in by the tens of thousands last year from people you may not expect – police officers, teachers, health care workers and other public servants with good paying jobs who simply cannot afford their skyrocketing rent.

Old Dominion University Economics Department Chairman Bob McNab co-wrote a chapter on the housing crisis in Hampton Roads in ODU’s 2022 State of The Region Report. That report indicated that 1 in 3 households spend more than 30% of their income on housing, and 1 in 7 households spend more than half of their income on housing.

“That is very troubling … because you have no means to absorb any type of shock – unemployment, medical or otherwise,” McNab said.

It’s a simple problem of supply and demand. Hampton Roads has seen the demolition of a huge number of public housing units, such as Tidewater Gardens in Norfolk and, McNab said, developers aren’t building starter homes any more because they can make more money
renovating old buildings and turning them into high-end condos.

“ForKids is a great place to be,” Stokley said, “It’s the best place that I’ve ever been outside of being in a home, but no, I don’t want to be here forever.”

So what’s the answer?

McNab said rezoning single-family neighborhoods to allow for multi-family units could help.

Another idea he cited would be to create high-speed commuter access the way they do in Northern Virginia. For instance, Hampton Roads might connect to an area such as Emporia.

Earlier this month, Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner announced millions in federal funding to address the issue.

“There’s dozens of tools, and what we have to do is roll our sleeves up in Hampton Roads and make a regional housing plan,” McCormick said. We can’t say all affordable housing has to go in Norfolk or Portsmouth, every community needs to develop a fair share of housing that’s affordable to the broad workforce.”

A safe place to call home that won’t break the bank. That’s really all most families want.

While this housing crisis may not affect you today, McNab said it may tomorrow because it is impacting our region’s ability to attract new business.

He said companies do not want to come to Hampton Roads because there is no place for their workers to live, and that could affect our economy in the future.

“I’ve been a mom for 28 years and I’m not giving up,” Stokley said, “but – I’m just going to keep going.”