This article was updated Feb. 24 at 7:52 p.m. to correct an error.
Calls from speakers from all walks of life for the county government to provide funding to tackle the county’s housing cost problem dominated the first two public hearings on County Administrator Tim Himstreet’s proposed Fiscal Year 2022 budget Tuesday.
Voices ranging from nonprofit leadership, to the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce, to people struggling to make ends meet called on county supervisors to create a dedicated stream of revenue to try to make housing available to more people.
Many people, often speaking through a New Virginia Majority community organizer and interpreter, asked that supervisors send money each year to the county’s Housing Trust Fund.
“When we talk about and think of the housing crisis in Loudoun County and elsewhere, we tend to visualize graphs or Excel sheets, but often we forget that those who are most cost-burdened, who are also predominantly Black, Hispanic and immigrant communities, are the ones that maintain the foundation of what makes our county what it is,” said Zeina Hutchison. “They are the school bus drivers who welcome our children every morning and bid them farewell after school. They are the restaurant workers and custodians who serve wholeheartedly and with a smile. They are the teachers who help grow the bedrock of our society, and those who literally maintain the most basic infrastructure of our communities.”
Former Leesburg Town Councilman Ron Campbell said the problem is bigger than real estate prices.
“It is not an affordable housing problem. I think the study that this board commissioned in 2017 and the results reflect that we have a poverty issue in Loudoun County, where a pathway to homeownership is just not possible, based on wages, based on the available jobs, and based on the median price income of a house today,” Campbell said. He called on supervisors to go beyond the Housing Trust Fund, which helps finance affordable housing projects, and make direct investments in housing.
Juvenile probation officer and Loudoun Chair of SEIU Virginia 512 Julius Reynolds urged supervisors to include funding in their budget to allow county employees to organize for collective bargaining.
“When essential workers like my co-workers and me have a seat at the table, we can better ensure that everyone is safe on the job and in the community. So, it’s no wonder that 68% of Virginians support collective bargaining rights,” Reynolds said. “Public employees in 47 other states have used collective bargaining to keep their communities strong. It’s time for Loudoun County to join them.”
Others also applauded an increase in funding for nonprofits proposed for the county budget. Human services nonprofits have seen demand for their services surge during the COVID-19 pandemic, at the same time that fundraising has become even more difficult.
“We’ve responded in our community with kindness, with respect and dignity to many who have never needed human services before,” said Loudoun Hunger Relief President and CEO and Loudoun Human Services Network Chair Jennifer Montgomery. “We’ve pivoted with extraordinary effectiveness, efficiency and courage, frankly.”
But, she said, even with the increase, there is still a gap to fill.
“We know that additional funds beyond this increase are still needed to adequately support the nonprofit grant program and to ensure that our core service providers have sufficient funding to meet increased demand,” she said.
The last budget public hearing is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 27 at 9 a.m. Supervisors will begin their annual work on the county’s $3.3 billion budget March 1.