As well as Loudoun County is doing economically – high household incomes, low unemployment rate – it can’t escape the shortfall of housing or the scrutiny for not dedicating funding toward affordable workforce housing.
The affordable housing challenge was the main point of discussion during the Loudoun Chamber’s PolicyMaker Series event on May 28. The discussion featured keynote speaker, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D), who described investment into workforce housing as an important community builder.
“I think it’s a really important issue for local communities to tackle, and I don’t know of a single local government in Virginia that isn’t grappling with this issue,” Kaine said.
Arlington County, which contributes 1.84 percent of its county budget to workforce housing, has one of the highest funding contribution percentages, more than the City of Alexandria and Fairfax and Loudoun counties, according to data presented by guest panelist and Good Works LLC President Kim Hart.
Loudoun County, with a $3 billion budget, does not have a line item for workforce housing.
“This board has been the best board in 20 years working with affordable housing,” Hart said. “They’ve come a long way, but they need to go a little further and match the other jurisdictions in the region by putting up somewhere between a half percent and 1 percent of their annual budget.”
Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing President and CEO Nina Janopaul added, “I do think it’s wonderful you accumulated this trust fund that has built up over the years, but I think an ongoing annual commitment to fund a housing trust fund at a robust level that can sustain the goals you’ve identified in your housing needs analysis is a really important part of being successful in affordable housing.”
Hart said in the past four years the board has made several changes toward increasing workforce housing including fixing the ADA ordinance, investing into the housing trust fund, growing staff for housing-related issues and offering incentives for developers to build more affordable units.
Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large), who attended Tuesday's event, said she hopes to address investing funds to workforce housing later this year when fiscal 2021 budget discussions begin.
“There has been resistance on the current board for having a line item for the housing trust fund, and the truth is if we’re going to have attainable housing in Loudoun County, the county is going to have some skin in the game and put some money towards it,” Randall said.
Affordable workforce housing, which is designed to keep employees in the respective locality, has been an ongoing topic among residents and leaders in Loudoun.
In May, the board unanimously announced its intention to prioritize the housing effort by directing staff to develop a strategic plan on housing consistent with the adopted draft 2019 Comprehensive Plan. Additionally, the board wants to include in the plan down payment assistance programs, utilization of housing trust funds and home-purchase programs.
Local housing inventory has been especially tight this year. The number of active home listings in January was the fewest active listings of any month over the past 10 years, according to a report from the George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis. George Mason also included in its analysis that inventory is unlikely to grow after the number of new listings declined 18.6 percent from 586 in January 2018 to 477 in January 2019.
Loudoun County's full housing market demand, which is based on population and employment projections, is forecast to be 60,120 additional units through 2040, according to county staff. The Planning Commission’s recommended plan calls for 56,370 units through 2040, which is just under 94 percent of the full market demand. That is approximately 26,900 housing units above the current Revised General Plan forecast through 2040.
Many local residents are spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, something Kaine, a former fair housing lawyer, said will inevitably cause financial stress.
“When housing costs outpace wages and incomes, then people feel stressed, especially modest and low-income people," Kaine said. “Low vacancy rates and persistent limited inventory of available homes, all these are things that create huge challenges.”
In April, Kaine introduced a bipartisan bill called the Fair and Equal Housing Act of 2019 to protect members of the LGBTQ community from housing discrimination. He said he hopes to create a task force to address affordable housing and bolster the effective housing resources. The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program, sponsored by the federal government and administered by the Virginia Housing Development Authority, is designed to encourage development of affordable rental housing by providing owners a federal income tax credit and offering incentives for private investors to participate in construction and rehabilitation of housing for low-income families.
“Before we think of what new thing to do at the federal level, I would say take a program that has been a successful program that produces thousands of units a year across the country and make it bigger and better, and encourage the states to use discretion implementing the program the right way,” Kaine said.