By Stephen Smoot
“We have an interest in West Virginia. We have got to build houses in West Virginia, people. That is all there is to it. So I am going to try some way to create something called Build West Virginia, some level of tax credit, a tax credit for builders to incentivize them to try to go out and build homes.”
Governor Jim Justice shared these ideas in his 2022 State of the State Address. His reasoning lay in the fact that over 2.5 million people visited the Ascend WV website and 10,000 had filed applications for the program designed to encourage remote workers to relocate to West Virginia.
Pendleton County had earlier qualified for the Ascend WV program. Now a zone centered on Franklin, but covering most of the county, has been cleared to be a part of BUILD WV.
“It’s a big deal,” says Laura Brown, executive director of the Seneca Rocks Regional Development Authority. “It’s the state government’s way to address a shortage of housing.”
Additionally, she explained that the application “had to be signed by three Cabinet secretaries” including Chelsea Ruby, secretary of tourism, Mitch Carmichael, secretary of economic development, and James Bailey, secretary of commerce.
The program, which when spelled out is officially called Better United In Long-Term Development West Virginia, offers developers three types of tax credits to spur construction. According to a March release from Governor Justice’s office, these could include “a sales tax exemption on building materials, a 10-year property value adjustment refundable tax credit, and a potential municipal B&O [business and occupation] exemption.”
Projects that qualify for the program must come from either an investment of $3 million or more, or include at least six houses or residential units. Other requirements for participation include creating both significant and positive economic impact, improve the chance for the region to attract new business, and provide added opportunities for employment.
While the state has worked to address low income housing, many areas have started to see shortages of middle to higher end residential units, which are key to attracting new residents.
In a Region Eight Planning and Development Council meeting last April, Luke McKenzie, Mineral County administrator, said that the housing shortage has hurt economic development and that his county, among others, required more middle to high end housing. He explained that high salary employees at Northrop Grumman and other area businesses struggled to find residences meeting their expectations.
As David Reitz, CEO of Stella Construction in Marion County, shared with West Virginia Public Broadcasting, “All those costs, municipal fees, B&O tax, all contribute to what the buyer is paying on the back end. Those costs just get passed on. The beauty of this bill is that it’s able to slate some of those expenses and make it more affordable and make it more appealing to do houses in that median price point.”
Letters of support for the area came from the Pendleton County Commission, Pendleton County Schools, the Pendleton County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Workforce for Teachers, and others.