Workers in nine of the top 10 occupations, or 19% of the workforce, in Loudoun County cannot afford the overall median rent as single earners, according to the Virginia Center for Housing Research at Virginia Tech.
As a result — and with the population steadily increasing — Loudoun County officials are seeking to address the ongoing need for more affordable housing with an average market rent of $1,674.
On April 6, county administration launched the next step in that effort, releasing a draft version of the Unmet Housing Needs Strategic Plan before it’s adopted by the Board of Supervisors on May 12.
As one of the top implementation priorities of the Loudoun County 2019 Comprehensive Plan, the Board of Supervisors directed staff to develop an Unmet Housing Needs Strategic Plan (UHNSP).
Employment in the county has increased by 77% from 2000 to 2015, according to an April 1 county staff report. The housing supply, however, has not kept pace with the increasing population. With the diversity in population and age demographics, this has curtailed the number of options available for those seeking housing.
A significant number of residents are employed in sectors that provide lower wages, which means they cannot afford housing in Loudoun due to the lack of affordable housing opportunities, the report states.
As a result, workers either pay more than they can afford, live with a roommate, or commute long distances.
20% of rentable housing units in Loudoun are two bedrooms or less. However, 45% of all households are single or two person households, creating a dearth of suitably sized housing units to fit the average households’ needs the report states.
Schools and amenities are some of the key drivers for people relocating to the area.
Valmarie Turner, assistant county administrator, said the county has “extremely” long waiting lists for the affordable dwelling unit (ADU) program and housing tax credit properties.
On April 6, Turner and county staff answered several questions and concerns from the board about the strategic plan. One of which was an idea to consider county land for developing affordable housing.
Turner said the team is suggesting the creation of a process wherein, if there is available land, then county staff would do an analysis to determine if development is a suitable site for additional affordable housing.
“We would like to be in the driver’s seat in terms of the land that we have available instead of the other way around, where we have developers actually coming to us,” Turner said. “We’d like to create a process where we can establish that process and make it available that way.”
Staff also recommended the board consider plans for encouraging developers to build more affordable dwelling units. Compared with previously-approved, larger rezoning projects, those are not currently planned.
The recommendation came after an idea circulated about urging developers to set aside 20% of every project for ADUs to solve the housing shortage.
“We’ve learned that we’re not going to grow our way out of this situation, but we have to apply some creativity,” said Charles Yudd, deputy county administrator. “But to just rely on the applications that are coming forward, and the number of units that they can provide, whether they’re at AU, or unmet housing, need units, etc., that is not going to meet that goal.”
Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) recommended staff provide a clear understanding of what land opportunities in the county are there to develop housing.
“As individual land use projects are proposed and come to us, they run into issues,” Letourneau said. “They run into community opposition, they run into concerns about the environment, various things, and we’ve seen that play out recently. So that’s always a challenge.”
Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) and Supervisor Mike Turner (D-Ashburn) said they hope in addressing the matter that 48% of affordable housing is occupied by people with over 100% Average Median Income (AMI).
“48% of affordable units are occupied by people that don’t need affordable units,” Turner said. “We got to fix that if we don’t do anything else.”
Turner said he would also like to expand on the county’s long-term plan, actual steps, and include adding walkable, sharable use paths to the strategic plan.
Staff confirmed that projections determined the county will need to develop approximately 41,000 additional homes by 2040 to meet the demand. Of those, 26,760 homes have been approved, permitted, but not yet built yet.
Staff did not have a recommendation for many of the remaining units needed to be affordable units.
With concerns about overcrowding schools and roads, Randall said it’s important to let people know that the proper infrastructure needs to be in place before approving any new homes.
“It’s going to take political courage to get to where we need to go to in order to have affordable homes in this county, which is a hard thing to say but very true,” Randall said.
Loudoun officials are seeking public input on the strategic plan.
The public comment period runs through April 25. Comments can be submitted through an online survey by visiting loudoun.gov/housingneeds, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and at the board’s May 12 public hearing.
The UNHSP has five objectives with specific strategies and key actions that will help the county address housing needs:
- Establish a coordinated, collaborative and integrated housing network.
- Secure land resources needed to address unmet housing needs.
- Obtain viable funding sources.
- Provide incentives, establish priorities and increase access to affordable housing.
- Implement policy changes to support affordable housing production and preservation.