Loudoun supervisors on Tuesday night got their first look at a long-awaited strategic plan to tackle the high cost of housing in the county.
The Unmet Housing Needs Strategic Plan was called for in the 2019 General Plan, the first rewrite of the county’s comprehensive plan in almost 20 years. The general plan acknowledges and calls for a fix to Loudoun’s housing cost problem. But despite the years spent on that plan, it yielded no detailed steps to tackle that problem, instead setting in motion work on the separate unmet housing needs plan. That work started in September 2019.
The draft plan first highlights the need to provide housing for a range of incomes in Loudoun. Those include factors ranging from the importance of good housing to the health and well-being of children and families and its importance to the economic stability of workers and families, to the relief locally available housing can provide for traffic and long commutes.
It also highlights the growth and changes of the county. According to the draft plan, from 2000 to 2015, Loudoun added more than 67,000 new jobs, nearly 77% growth, and young working families are forecasted to be a key component of Loudoun’s growth over the next 25 years, following jobs and high-quality schools and amenities.
And a significant number of Loudoun residents work in lower-paying sectors, while at the same time Loudoun County homes tend to be larger—48.3% of all housing units have four or more bedrooms.
As of 2019, according to the plan, 35,000 households in Loudoun are cost-burdened, paying more than 30% of their income on housing. And most of those are low-income households, who feel that pain most keenly—they may then have to choose between housing and other necessities.
The general plan and unmet housing needs plan both call for most of the county’s future growth to happen in the new Urban Policy Area, which is centered around the future Metrorail stops. But that area is also already largely developed, it notes. And the plan acknowledges that even small units in that area, without rent controls or government investment, will be too expensive for many people.
Given the size of the problem, the plan suggests a wide variety of objectives to tackle the issue.
One is for the county government to take a leadership role in coordinating and collaborating among organizations like non-profits, human services agencies, the private sector, and affordable housing developers.
Another could see the county working to find land to build affordable housing, including using public land for housing, purchasing and holding land in a land bank to use, and establishing or partnering with a community land trust, which would hold land and lease it to homebuyers making up to the Area Median Income.
The county would also need to look into sources of funding for that work. Some new sources have already been found—such as the 1992 Belmont Ridge Affordable Housing Trust, which was established to help income-eligible homebuyers with a soft second mortgage, a loan to cover down payments, for homes bought in the Belmont Ridge development at a certain price point. Those property values have now climbed so much that that nobody who can buy a home there meets the income requirements, leaving $750,000 essentially unusable, locked up in the fund.
The county could also look to other state and federal sources of funding.
Another objective would see the county setting up incentives to build affordable housing, and increase access to that housing. And the county could change its policies, such as committing to no net loss of affordable units.
Supervisors are expected to next bring the draft plan to a public hearing.