December 18, 2018

Closing the Housing Affordability Gap in Northern Virginia

In the shadow of the nation’s capital, Loudoun County has a growing, diverse and affluent population. For years, it’s been America’s richest county, achieving a median annual household income of $134,000 in 2016. Yet too many people who work there – including many number of law enforcement officers, fire and rescue squad members, teachers, nurses and other professionals – can’t afford to live there because of high housing costs.

Against that backdrop, Phyllis Randall, chair at-large of Loudoun’s Board of Supervisors, brought forward an item to the board to take a holistic look at the county’s housing challenges. VHDA was one of the organizations invited to participate.

Dale Wittie, VHDA’s Director of Rental Housing, covered a range of topics at the Board of Supervisors meeting. He explained how VHDA finances housing properties, both newly constructed and renovated, through loans that require owners to rent a portion of their units to households of limited means. He also described how the authority administers the federal Housing Credit program (formerly the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program), which encourages the private development of affordable rental properties.

As a summary, he emphasized that VHDA’s financing options offer developers and localities not one approach, but many. “What works well in one situation may be ineffective in another,” he said. “Our funding sources and lending terms allow developers to do what they do best – that is, to structure economically viable deals that create self-supporting commercial real estate.”

According to Randall, VHDA’s presentation was helpful on several fronts. “We knew they had a wealth of information, and they didn’t disappoint,” she said. “Of particular value were the comments on zoning. They reinforced what we already knew – that zoning needs to be a malleable entity, and not a brick wall.”

Since then, Loudoun has convened a housing summit which included private, nonprofit and public sector entities to discuss actionable steps to increase its stock of affordable housing. It has explored ways to increase the assets in its Affordable Dwelling Unit Program, which helps low- and moderate-income households rent or buy housing. It also has designated parts of eastern Loudoun as revitalization areas. This designation assists developers and localities in their efforts to create and sustain housing for low- and moderate-income residents.

In addition, the county has inventoried its public lands and is studying whether some may be suitable as development sites. The county also is looking at new guidelines for housing loans, and has begun to streamline its zoning process.

Chair Randall believes Loudoun is building a better housing environment, but that the job is far from over. And it remains one of her highest priorities. “Loudoun is a remarkable place, and we want everyone who works here to be able to live here.”

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