It is so rare that the head of an Inside the Beltway group notices what is happening in Loudoun County.
Which is why I read, with sincere interest, the May 23 column by Stewart Schwartz, of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, regarding Loudoun’s efforts to update our land use and transportation plans.
Mr. Schwartz used this valuable opportunity to reach your readers to lament the Loudoun Board of Supervisors’ review of a Comprehensive Plan proposal that – among many other things – attempts to address Loudoun’s crushing housing affordability crisis.
His chief complaint: providing reasonably priced housing for our workforce – including public safety personnel, health care workers, educators, retail and hospitality staffs – would create “traffic.”
I found his concerns for Loudoun’s traffic congestion a bit specious.
As a chamber of commerce professional in northern Virginia for the past 20 years, I have worked with hundreds of business and community leaders to secure the funds needed to build the roads, rail lines, bus routes and other transportation modes our growing region demands.
Too often, Mr. Schwartz and his coalition were out working to defeat these desperately needed transportation improvements.
For example: When I worked for the Fairfax County Chamber, I organized a debate where Mr. Schwartz urged a roomful of business leaders to reject a sales tax increase to invest in transportation infrastructure.
Ultimately, the public had enough and convinced elected leaders in Richmond and northern Virginia to approve new transportation funding. That is why new interchanges have been built along Route 7, safety improvements have been made in western Loudoun, missing road links in Ashburn and Dulles have been built and why Metrorail service is coming to Loudoun.
The Coalition for Smarter Growth couldn’t prevent these improvements from happening, but they did delay their completion for a decade or more.
Now they are trying to do for Loudoun’s housing affordability crisis what they tried to do to northern Virginia’s transportation crisis: make it worse.
They want to ignore the fact that Loudoun’s own expert and independent analysis shows that by 2040, job growth will require 20,000 additional housing units then what is now planned.
Lack of affordable housing options has left one in three Loudoun households “cost burdened,” spending more than 30 percent of their pre-tax income on housing, leaving too little for food, medicine, utilities, transportation and clothing. Nearly 80 percent of all families earning less than $70,320 are cost-burdened.
This housing affordability crisis is fed by scare tactics, such as the declaration that Loudoun has 45,000 houses “approved but not yet built.” That hyper-inflated figure never considers that most of the land where homes are allowed “by right” has never been scrutinized to see if it meets local or state environmental or building standards.
It also assumes every single Loudoun farmer will sell their farmland for by-right housing, something we know is never going to happen.
Where should the demand for Loudoun’s housing needs be met? The places around our future Metro stations are perfectly suited for that. Other areas of suburban Loudoun are also ideal for new, denser and more walkable living environments, including infill developments.
So are areas within central Loudoun, known to planners as the Transition Policy Area, or TPA. Supervisors are now contemplating modest changes to the TPA to create more diverse housing options, while protecting significant acreage by requiring compact neighborhoods with substantial open space.
County leaders helped make a difference on Loudoun’s transportation crisis. They must now reject the outside voices who say they can’t do the same for our housing availability crisis.
Howard is the CEO of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce.