During a public hearing in February, Zeina Hutchinson urged the board to consider creating a dedicated revenue stream for the county’s housing trust fund, describing a housing crisis for Loudoun’s working class, minority and immigrant communities.
Hutchinson, an immigrant and 13-year county resident, implored the board to continue investing in housing solutions and asked the officials to hear her testimony as parents, friends and neighbors during its recent budget discussions.
She said behind all of the data centers, mansions and decorated streets and mediums is where the most vulnerable remain trapped in economic and housing injustice.
“Every single person in our community matters and privilege in and of itself is not negative, becomes toxic when it’s silent privilege,” Hutchinson said.
A number of other residents echoed her plea as the board listened.
In December, the board will consider allocating $5 million in funding toward addressing affordable housing when it takes up issues pertaining to the general fund.
The board is scheduled to adopt the fiscal 2022 budget on April 6 — the same day the Unmet Housing Study will be presented.
“We had so many people come during our public hearings begging the county to put a stream of funding into our affordable housing and our Housing Trust Funds and the stories were shocking and heartbreaking all at the same time,” Supervisor Juli Briskman (D-Algonkian) said.
Loudoun has made efforts to address the lack of housing in recent years.
In the past year, Loudoun supervisors approved a $5.98 million loan at Tuscarora Crossing to support the construction of 90 affordable rental family apartments. The county also obtained $8 million in below-market interest rate mortgages to assist first-time home buyers with incomes up to 100 percent area median income—up to $126,000.
In May 2019, the previous board directed staff to develop a strategic plan to address the need for housing in its 2019 Comprehensive Plan. The plan includes, but is not limited to, down payment assistance programs, utilization of housing trust funds and home purchase programs.
Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large), who pushed forward the effort in May 2019, said to the Times-Mirror her motion did not have a dedicated source of revenue to go from the county government to the housing trust fund.
Randall said she hopes to start the discussion by considering using the tax on cigarettes to generate some revenue. She said, though, that while the prospect of using the tax would generate $2 and $3 million per year, it would not be enough to fully fund the effort.
Further options would need to be explored, she said.
“It’s a voluntary tax,” Randall said, “And it’s one way to not take it all out of the general fund.”
County Administrator Tim Hemstreet provided details of the county’s housing efforts during his budget presentation on Feb. 10 when he shared the proposed fiscal 2022 budget totaling $3.3 billion in appropriations for the county government and Loudoun County Public Schools.
On April 6, the board will vote on the proposed budget with a real property tax rate of $0.980 per $100 of assessed value. The current rate is $1.035.
The workforce community has spoken out on a number of budget requests, including supporting collective bargaining rights for county employees, additional funds for the nonprofit community, the library system and the environmental commission.
Creating a dedicated revenue stream was a top priority among speakers at the February hearing, one of three such hearings that month.
“I consider myself lucky to be able to afford a place to live,” said 14-year resident Juan Miranda. “I don’t know if tomorrow will be the same story.”
“Many families have to live together so they can afford housing and during this pandemic we have seen that the working class in immigrant communities are the most vulnerable,” he said.
Miranda said he’s considering relocating to save money and avoid spending more than half of his income on rent, much like others that spoke, including Leesburg resident Lourdes Zapata.
Zapata has been renting an apartment for over 13 years and said it’s difficult and uncomfortable to allow her children to play inside out of concern for their neighbors. One child has special needs and it’s hard to keep the baby from doing any activities, she said.
“We spend almost 70 percent of our paychecks on rent every month — on something that we will never own,” she said. “I wish that instead of pouring that money into rent, I could be investing it in the payment of my own home.”
Many speakers shared stories of their struggles to make ends meet due to the pandemic, including couples who are having to give up shifts at work to be home with their children during virtual learning.
One speaker said she’s afraid to rent out a room out of fear of housing a potentially dangerous individual in their home.
“We make a lot of sacrifices to limit our costs, but it’s been very, very hard for us,” Sterling resident Karla Marquez said.
“We don’t rent out a room to someone else like many others do because we have two young girls that I want to protect,” she said. “We need help.”
Syed Ashraf, co-chair of civic engagement at the ADAMS Center, said with home prices on the rise he urged the board to take immediate action to help those struggling to live in Loudoun.
“I think it’s time for us to take a pause and start thinking [about] how it impacts everyone else — teachers, entry level workers, our frontline nursing home workers, people working in the retail sector, taxi drivers, folks working in the restaurant, and small mom and pop shop owners and they can’t afford to live here — and what can we do about it,” Ashraf said.
“In my view, it’s important part of economic justice,” he said. “The workforce supporting the people living in Loudoun should be able to live here in Loudoun.”
Ron Campbell, first vice chairman of the NAACP Loudoun Branch and former council member for the Town of Leesburg, said the housing needs assessment of 2017, commissioned by the board, revealed there is a poverty issue in Loudoun County.
He urged the board to consider a second solution to support affordable housing by making an investment with county funds.
Campbell said the pathway to home ownership has changed compared to 20 years ago. He said while wages have changed, jobs have declined and the median income has increased.
“And as we look at Loudoun County there are severely haves and have nots,” Campbell said. “And so simply investing in a fund is not a solution. Investing, and maybe a county investment in housing is a solution.”