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The business of housing Loudoun’s workforce

Rachel Palmer sits in the affordable dwelling unit she moved into May 2013 at One Loudoun. - Times-Mirror/Ben Hancock
Rachel Palmer began looking for a home to buy in Loudoun County in December 2012.

As she began to look around, a family member told her about the Affordable Dwelling Unit program.

Palmer checked on the LoudounCounty.gov website and found a brochure which included some of the eligibility requirements.

A prospective applicant must not currently own property, but must make between 30-70 percent of the area median income. In addition, the applicant's credit score must exceed program minimums.

After filing paperwork, pre-qualifying with her bank, choosing her home and completing other obligations, she closed on a house May 3, 2013.

The process allowed her to move into an affordable home in the One Loudoun neighborhood within the span of six months.

The stories of other prospective home-buyers with modest incomes hoping to buy homes in Loudoun County sometimes go differently than that.

Frequently workers choose to move out to Clarke County, Manassas or West Virginia, where a bigger yard and more square footage can be bought for the same price.

The commutes are sometimes 40 minutes or more to work.

The county's lack of ability to effectively house the workforce puts a strain on some businesses and critical infrastructure like roads, not to mention employees' quality of life.

Affordable housing cuts across every sector of the population in Loudoun County – from the disabled and elderly to blue collar workers and young members of the workforce.

If there are service industries that need to be staffed, how do we house them if they can't afford it?

“Affordable workforce housing needs to be switched from a charity issue to an economic development issue,” said Kimball Hart, the executive director of the Windy Hill Foundation, a not-for-profit company in Middleburg that rents affordable workforce housing.

"The thought is that affordable housing gets put over in the social services category," Hart went on to say.

Tony Howard, the CEO and President of the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce, agrees.

“It’s a business issue here in the county,” said Howard. “We need to be able to recruit and retain quality employees and let them lay down roots in the community.”

It's an issue Greg Miller, the owner of PM Hospitality, knows all too well.

Many workers in the hospitality industry live in Manassas and other areas of Northern Virginia, are trained in Loudoun, but leave as soon as a job comes up where they live.

In a recent survey conducted by the department of economic development, the most cited weaknesses for the county in recruiting talent were housing prices and traffic.

Howard says it would be a struggle for a young professional with a starting salary of $30,000 to $40,000 to find affordable housing in Loudoun County.

“[Owning a home] is often beyond the means of somebody starting early in their career,” said Howard.

Hart and Billow acknowledge that the county has made large strides to put the issue in the forefront, and that workforce housing has been a top priority for the CEO cabinet and the Economic Development Advisory Council.

Supervisor Suzanne Volpe has also worked with the housing stakeholders group to come up with suggestions and work on the issue. That body meets frequently.

So what can the county do to start making changes?

“We need to talk about [the ADU program] and spread the word,” said Dawn Billow, a Realtor who helped Palmer get into her house in One Loudoun.

The waiting list for the program is currently a fraction of the projected need for the county.

Howard thinks the ADU program is great, but understands the limitations of the program and believes making a business case for more affordable workforce housing would be best.

"We need to let the market forces lead the way," said Howard.

"Allowing for higher density near the rail will help. A project in the right location should allow for higher density."

Hart believes that other jurisdictions have done a better job of understanding the place workforce housing has in the role of economic development.

His thought is that, “in order to understand what you need to do, it is important to understand current housing shortfalls.”

Hart would like to see Loudoun put together a study that defines the county's workforce housing needs, as the Fairfax Revitalization and Housing Authority have already done with their housing blueprint.

“You can’t have commercial development in a vacuum,” said Hart. "Workers need to live somewhere, and they can’t all live in Clarke County or West Virginia and commute."


@Tom Traubert

I know many teachers who own houses here in Loudoun. Many in the school system make $70 - $100k a year. There are many houses that are affordable to someone making that kind of money.

No problem, SWSWSW! I wasn’t trying to make you feel like you don’t do your part, because you do! You help us out a lot! Don’t get down on yourself for what you don’t do, because you do help out with my pay and benefits.  We all help out the community the way we can. 

Be careful with your words, though, because you don’t actually “subsidize” my housing or provide me with premium health care.  But in no way am I trying to give short shrift to the good you do.  You’re still doing awesome work helping out and doing your part!  I greatly appreciate it. 

FredSanford, I just want to encourage you in your dream of ditch-digging.  It took me a long time to find a place where I loved to work, but it happened right here in Loudoun County.  I have to believe that you can make it work and be happy in your ditch-digging the way I am happy teaching.  Just remember, you’re doing it for the love of the ditch, not for the $500,000 house.  Look at me: I live in a very modest house that was sold to me for the cost of its construction, but I am as happy as any man in this county.  Be patient, and don’t get discouraged!

Tom Traubert, thanks for letting me know that not only do I pay your salary, premium Cigna medical benefits, and your 403(b) via my taxes, but I also subsidize your home.  Awesome! 

I don’t see how living near the school helps my children, rather it just makes your commute less.  You’re welcome!

If teaching doesn’t buy the lifestyle you want, where you want it, then maybe a new profession is in order?  I would like to have a $500k home in Ashburn and be a ditch digger. The trouble is, ditch digging doesn’t pay enough to afford my dreams. So who’s problem is that? The community whom’s incomes have made homes cost $500k? Or my choice in professions not being able to afford my dreams?

The solution is to choose a profession which can buy the dreams you desire. Only the lucky few end up with jobs they love that also command an income to afford their dreams.

I am a LCPS teacher.  My wife and I bought an ADU home in my school’s neighborhood.  I know the kids in my school.  I’ve watched them grow up, and when they are old enough to attend my school, I greet them in the hallways by name.  When I see kids acting out in public, I can call them out because they know me, and will accept correction from me. My wife and I pray for the safety of my school’s kids, knowing that if someone walks into my building intent on violence, I will place myself in harm’s way for these kids whom I have watched grow up, and whose families I know well.

I know many teachers who live in ADU houses in their school’s neighborhoods.  We all have a stake in our community, and we are well positioned to help in ways that others can’t. We are the proxy parents when Mom or Dad are working late hours or traveling.  We are the ones who see the troubled child before they snap. 

I will never be able to afford the houses of Loudoun County because of what I make as a teacher.  You, the taxpayers of Loudoun, made it possible for me to live here through the ADU program, and I am grateful.  If some of you still think I’m taking a handout, or that I feel entitled, I understand.  That doesn’t change the fact that I love Loudoun more because I live here, and I will try my hardest to make it a better place.

Here’s the deal, Troy McClure—I make enough money to buy my own house now.  But I sure didn’t when I was younger.  I have friends who live in New York City in their 40s who make six figures—and they STILL live in 2-bedroom garden apartments because that’s all they can afford.  Why?  Because it costs a fortune to live in New York City.  It’s what the market will bear.  If you want to live in a house in Loudoun County, then you have to be able to afford what the market will bear here.  And if not, get some roommates, rent, or move west.  That’s not a 1955-era viewpoint, it’s reality—something liberals just can’t seem to wrap their progressive brains around.  NO ONE has a right to own a house.  And NO ONE should expect anyone else to subsidize one for them.

Come on.  “Hospitality” workers can’t even afford the ADU program. 

Too bad real estate agents end up taking 5-6% on the transaction price of a house around here.  Get rid of that and you got a nice chunk towards a down payment on your average $400k home. 

And I don’t know why being a “single woman” has anything to do with it.  Based on your 1955-era comments on everything else on here, I’m not surprised you take that view.  Not everyone wants to be that Duggar mother when they grow up.  If this woman makes enough money on her own, good for her.  It is 2014, women in the workforce aren’t just typists anymore. 

The woman in the story might not be that young, just because that genius Tony Howard suggests someone with a “starting salary” can’t buy doesn’t mean this woman is 22. 

Personally I am thinking my best bet to live near my job in Arlington is a time machine so I can back to 1994 when housing prices were somewhat close to wages. 

If I’m a single woman who wants to live in Loudoun County, I would not expect to be able to purchase my own home.  You start out with roommates (I had three for years after college), then you rent, then you buy a condo or townhouse, and then you buy a house.  Until my husband and I got married and pooled our resources, there was no way I could have bought my own house—and I certainly didn’t expect the taxpayers of my community to subsidize one for me.

There is another option - RENTING….. 

“county’s lack of ability to effectively house the workforce” - what about addressing the county’s restrictive zoning which pushes the population west, yet we get all the benefits of traffic running through our county -

Funny how story doesn’t mention the minimum credit score, “must exceed program minimums”

The problem with the ADU program is that these young people can continue to pay half price for a house after they get married, get a live-in boyfriend, increase their salary through promotions, etc.

The ADU units in my neighborhood have nicer cars than the chumps like me who pay full price for their housing. If one can afford a brand new $30k car, then perhaps one does not need subsidized housing.

Also, a 40 minute commute to Loudoun from Clarke County, Manassas or West Virginia is not that bad.

Contrary to what Bill Clinton says, home ownership is not a right.

My wife and I lived in an apartment for 6 years(3.5 years was while I was in USAF) saving for a house. Unsure why anyone right out of college expects to afford a house?

“Frequently workers choose to move out to Clarke County, Manassas or West Virginia, where a bigger yard and more square footage can be bought for the same price.”

That is the smartest thing for anybody to do if they can’t afford Loudoun. Nobody is entitled to live anywhere. And I’m sure Clarke County, Manassas, and West Virginia are thankful because of the wealth these people bring into their communities. Loudoun was once a bedroom community of affordable homes with workers who commuted to DC.  Clarke County is a bedroom community with affordable housing and workers commute to Loudoun.

That is life folks.

Several years ago I bought my first place. I wasn’t earning much as I was starting out my career. Those were the good old days when people could make $30-40K year and qualify for $600K house with little to no documentation. I heard times have changed.

I did not need a handout. However, some feel need they are entitled to such amenities…

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