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Most nights, the Judeo-Christian Outreach Center’s various shelter programs are full.

The organization has beds at Virginia Beach’s Housing Resource Center on Witchduck Road and several rooms at its campus near the Oceanfront. Staff can also help people access other programs, outside of the city, if needed.

But that’s why the JCOC’s $14 million effort to rebuild its campus with 38 single occupancy affordable apartments is so important, said Executive Director Todd Walker. 

“A lack of affordable housing and rising rents and other rapidly inflating costs continue to have a negative impact on so many households in our community,” he said at a ceremony celebrating the nonprofit raising most of the money for the project.

“That’s why today is so exciting, we have an opportunity to be part of the solution in a much bigger way.”

The JCOC launched in 1986 when Beach faith groups got together to provide meal services to people experiencing homelessness at the Oceanfront. Since then, it’s expanded to offer housing and other support services, like laundry, help with resumes and bureaucratic processes like tracking down military records to help veterans receive benefits. 

Walker, who started at the JCOC a decade ago, said it was clear even then the facilities needed attention. 

“The first time I walked on the JCOC campus in April of 2012,  I immediately noticed the tattered buildings and their condition. If I'm being transparent, I must admit during the interview I was thinking, ‘I need to continue my job search,’” he said.

Walker said his faith convinced him to take the job anyway.

During his tenure, pressure grew for the JCOC to relocate, especially as Virginia Beach considered building an arena across the street from the nonprofit.

Walker said he suspects the condition of the building was one of the reasons past city officials wanted the JCOC to move. It’s also part of the motivation for rebuilding.

“The goal was really to upgrade the campus and have a better look … so that way, when we do have tourists come in, that is something pleasing and nice to look at versus the way we're structured now,” he said in an interview with WHRO.

Architectural renderings show the rebuilt JCOC campus will have several modern style buildings with the nonprofit’s recognizable blue-colored accents. 

New buildings will have several stories to make room for the affordable apartments, provide new offices and a new dining hall for the JCOC’s daily meal services.

Photo by Mechelle Hankerson 

The Judeo-Christian Outreach Center has been planning a campus rebuild for years to respond to pressure from former city leaders and make more room for services.

Thirty-eight apartments for a nonprofit that doesn’t deal in housing development is an accomplishment, but it’s only a small number of the affordable homes Virginia Beach needs to match residents’ needs.

Virginia Tech researchers estimated in 2017 there needed to be about 20,000 affordable homes in Virginia Beach to ensure no residents spends more than 30% of their total income on housing.

According to city budget documents, developers and property owners created or preserved 120 affordable homes in the city in the last three years.

Virginia Beach regularly supports affordable housing development projects by funneling federal money from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to proposed developments that include affordable units.

The city can also purchase homes through the Virginia Beach Community Development Corporation, which rents them out to low-and-moderate-income residents.

Beyond those options, city leaders aren’t sure what other tools might be at their disposal.

“We've got to have land or money, and I suspect the city has to do both,” said city council member John Moss. “And I don't know what the council as a whole is willing to give up. I don't think we're going to raise taxes to build affordable housing.”

Some cities, especially on the West Coast, have started issuing bond referendums to help localities pay for affordable housing. But Virginia Beach, Moss said, is approaching its bond limit and is considering issuing more to pay for school reconstruction.

“There's no easy answer. I think it's going to take incremental pieces, 38 here, 40 here, 50 here,” Moss said. “And also, if you want to make things more affordable, wages have to rise faster than rents.”

The U.S. Census Bureau estimated the median rent for a house in Virginia Beach in 2021 was $1,380. Meanwhile, the average person in the city earned $39,788 in the year – about $3,300 monthly.

Virginia Tech’s 2017 study addressed the issue of stagnant and low wages in the city, noting many workers are in low-paying fields like hospitality and retail.

Mayor Bobby Dyer was a council member when those findings came out. He said the city is still exploring some of the solutions researchers suggested - like creating a city land trust- and looking at other “best practices” from other cities.

“We realize that it is an essential need in this city,” he said. “Believe it or not, this is high on the radar.”