Since 2019, many Loudoun County residents and advocates like myself have been petitioning for expanded inclusivity and accessibility to our county’s programs in hopes of better supporting our immigrant community. 2020 was a challenging year for homeowners and tenants across Virginia. Many families continue to struggle to maintain affordable housing and access rental assistance amid the health crisis, a situation that we saw especially exacerbate issues for undocumented community members. Though there are still many foreseeable obstacles ahead for 2021, there is a promising new opportunity for immigrants to access affordable housing in Loudoun County.
The Affordable Dwelling Unit Program (ADU) of Loudoun County no longer holds credit and legal presence requirements thanks to an amendment drafted by program staff and approved by the county administrator. The ADU program has provided eligible Loudoun County residents a chance to rent or buy newly constructed, affordable rental and for-sale homes below market rate since its establishment. However, the “legal presence” requirement forced every member of every applicant household to provide their immigration status, preventing thousands of Loudoun’s mixed status families from applying. The credit requirement further cut out working class and immigrant communities. Fortunately, the new amendment only requires for the loan applicant to provide their immigration status and removes the credit requirement entirely.
While we thank the county for listening to our concerns, we are especially grateful for the residents and members who participated in collecting thousands of signatures, attended meetings with Supervisors, and spoke about the challenges faced while accessing affordable housing in Loudoun County.
In 2018, we conducted a community listening project Latinx, immigrant and working class people in Loudoun. One of the most pressing concerns we heard from the community was the high cost of living in an area where the elevated Area Median Income (AMI) influences the rising cost of rent. However, these numbers don’t account for community members making minimum wage or less— a reality for many immigrants in northern Virginia including myself.
Moving to another state like South Carolina where rent is much more affordable has crossed my mind, but that would mean losing the workplace connections and community ties I have already established here. Additionally, even if immigrants have the funds to apply for housing, their legal status often impedes the possibility of qualifying due to legal presence requirements like the one ADU used to enforce.
Now, the amendment to the ADU program opens doors for many immigrant families to find affordable, stable housing in Loudoun County and continue to thrive in their established communities.
Unfortunately, this good news comes at a time when Virginians across the commonwealth are facing evictions as the public health crisis extends into the new year. This situation has left many state and locally funded housing and rent assistance programs with high volumes of applications and inquiries to review, and here is currently a waitlist of applicants seeking ADU support in Loudoun County. Additionally, information sessions are not being held out of an abundance of caution to keep staff and residents safe from COVID. However, residents with questions are encouraged to call the program’s office listed on their website so they may seek help if needed, but people may not even be aware of the new changes.
Although there is still work to be done to reduce the number of residents on waitlists, we are pleased to see the reduction of restrictions as a welcoming symbol to include Loudoun County’s immigrant population. I will continue to uplift the voices of our immigrant and working class communities by engaging my community around Loudoun’s budget, the zoning ordinance rewrite and the County’s Unmet Housing Needs Strategic Plan in hopes of increasing access to affordable housing for Loudoun’s working class and immigrant populations.
Amrry Gonzalez is a volunteer with the nonprofit New Virginia Majority, which advocates for the immigrant community. More information on the Affordable Dwelling Unit rental and purchase programs is available at loudoun.gov/1813/Affordable-Dwelling-Unit-Program.