Loudoun’s affordable housing problem is no secret. But the problem is partly self-inflicted.
Loudoun’s Affordable Dwelling Unit (ADU) program sets price restrictions on 12.5 percent of units in certain rezoning requests for new developments, but the rules don’t line up with what is required for grants from the Virginia Housing Development Authority or U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
This means that the money for the housing programs only goes so far—and as anyone who has tried to rent or buy in Loudoun on a moderate income can tell you it doesn’t go far enough. Other jurisdictions can double their money or better by leveraging grant funds. In the past 10 years, the VHDA has sent $358 million to Northern Virginia, but only five percent of that, under $18 million, has gone to Loudoun. All of that was to projects led by the non-profit Windy Hill Foundation outside the county’s ADU program.
But an initiative introduced by Supervisor Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian) directs the county staff to make quick-fix technical amendments to the county’s ADU ordinance to allow for state and federal grant money.
“It will help give developers who would like to offer more housing choices an opportunity to do so, because there are developers who want to do that,” Volpe said. “They understand that there’s that nurse at Loudoun hospital, or assistant manager at McDonald’s, the young schoolteacher, the sheriff’s deputy, those kind of folks, and they want to be able to help them have an affordable place to live.”
Those fixes will include adjustments to things like income requirements and sunset provisions. In the meantime, a sunset provision in Loudoun’s ADU ordinance means those units are leaving the program and going back up to market rates after 15 years for rentals or 20 years for purchases. In addition, if a unit stays on the market for more than 90 days, it rolls out of the program unless the county purchases the unit to keep it in.
That, combined with new legislation restricting proffer agreements and a rule that exempts development above a certain density and height, means that despite Loudoun’s growth in population and diversity, it is not building much affordable housing.
“To my knowledge, I only have some ADU rentals in my area right now, because most of my area is very old,” Volpe said. Although some new ADU townhouses will be coming soon, she said, most of the ADUs in her district have long since passed the sunset date.
The county staff will revise the county’s ADU rules to match equivalent VHDA and HUD rules and bring those revisions back to the board for approval before November.