Supervisors see economic development, affordable housing as going hand in hand
Last week, several county supervisors and affordable housing advocates stressed the need for the county to look at affordable housing as a necessity for Loudoun’s economic success.
The discussion took place as the Board of Supervisors consider the county administrator’s proposed $2.5 billion budget for fiscal 2018.
Kim Hart, executive director of a local affordable housing nonprofit, the Windy Hill Foundation, said while the current Board of Supervisors has done a better job than previous boards on the issue, this push needs to continue.
“There has been very recently a very big change,” Hart said during the board’s second public hearing on the budget on Thursday. “For the first time, workforce housing is being seen as connected and important to economic development. That’s new.”
Hart urged supervisors to approve $216,237 in the critical needs area of its budget to move the land development and regulatory functions of the housing division from the Department of Family Services to another operating department. The move would likely create the need for additional positions, including one full-time assistant director and housing specialist, according to Hart. He said that type of position was needed because it would allow someone to advocate for affordable housing from within the county, as well as focus on writing policies around the issue and be able to run the $24 million housing trust fund.
During the board’s discussion on its strategic plan update, Supervisor Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian) asked Department of Economic Development Executive Director Buddy Rizer to find a way for the department to focus not just on bringing more businesses to the county, but also helping the county with creating more affordable housing.
“A house is where a job goes home to sleep at night,” Volpe said. “I think that we need to marry this truly in the Department of Economic Development … No one wants to move their business to a county if the county says, 'we love your business to be here, but we don’t want you to live here.'”
The county’s newly adopted strategic plans calls for an “increase” in the use of partnerships “to provide affordable housing as a means to support a vibrant economy.”
Rizer said he and his department have been engaged in the conversation around affordable housing, but have never really been an “active partner” on the issue.
County Administrator Tim Hemstreet pointed out that in order for staff to follow through on any affordable housing plans, the Board of Supervisors would need to establish a clear set of policy guidelines for county staff to follow.
Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) said she agreed with Volpe’s interest in the issue, but asked her to wait until supervisors have a set date for its housing summit, which is slated for late summer or early fall.
“It’s a little different for me, because I’ve been struggling with this for a long time,” Volpe said. “I’ve seen it ever since I’ve lived in Loudoun County, where you literally have 50 families standing there, and they’re basically pulling eight names out of a hat to decide who can buy one of the eight townhouses that’s going to be built. And the other 42 families walk away crying, thinking they’ll never be able to buy a home.”
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