Public Employee Pay, Affordable Housing Supported in Budget Public Hearings

Residents and public servants of Loudoun came out to three public hearings on the county’s next annual budget to voice support for affordable housing and Loudoun’s public employees.

Members of the Loudoun County chapter of the Service Employees International Union 512, Loudoun’s local public employees union, pushed county supervisors to help them keep serving.

“We are the hardworking county employees dedicated to serving our community, who make Loudoun County the wonderful place that it is,” said SEIU 512 Vice President Julius Reynolds. “We are nurses, Child Protective Services workers, librarians, maintenance staff, mental health professionals, juvenile probation officers and more.”

The Board of Supervisors is approaching the final phase of a years-long project to update the county’s salaries and job descriptions, including raises for many government employees to bring their paychecks in line with comparable positions in other Northern Virginia localities. That also has involved boosting departments that have been understaffed compared to other jurisdictions, as Loudoun’s government did not grow as fast as its population. Union members came to ask supervisors to see that project through.

“My coworkers and I help the most vulnerable members of Loudoun County,” said Brenda DeHaas, a social worker with Child Protective Services.

“I love what I do. I work hard to ensure that all children feel safe and secure in Loudoun County,” said Sherri Williams, another social worker with Child Protective Services. “And that goes for my kids, too. I’m a single grandma, raising three beautiful children.”

But, many said, their long hours and lower pay mean they cannot afford to live in Loudoun, and their own bills and families go neglected.

Supervisors also heard support for getting serious about affordable housing by funneling county money into affordable housing programs. Currently, the county’s Housing Trust Fund, which is being used to make loans to support affordable housing projects, gets no funding from the county’s operating budget. Instead, it gets funding when the price controls on existing Affordable Dwelling Units expire and they are purchased, or when developers pay a fee rather than build Affordable Dwelling Units—”which is really just replacing ADUs that are bought out, or developers  don’t want to build, so that’s no growth,” said Kim Hart, Loudoun’s most prominent and only locally based affordable housing developer. He said Heronview, the most recent project by Windy Hill Foundation at Kincora in Sterling, has 96 apartments, 96 percent employment, and a waiting list that is 130 households long.

“If we agree that we are at least 6,000 affordable units short in Loudoun County, and divide that by 20 years, that means we should be building about 300 a year,” Hart said. He said at the current rate Loudoun subsidizes those projects, that adds up to about $15 million a year. Loudoun’s Housing Trust Fund current has just over $15 million not already committed to a project.

“That means it’s good for three good projects, or about a year and a half, and then it’s gone,” Hart said.

Leadership at the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce also urged supervisors to take action in the budget on housing.

“We’re one of the most attractive destinations for talent in the world, but it’s not enough,” said Loudoun Chamber Vice President Grafton DeButts. “In the end, we’re finding the housing barriers too much for even our national ranking to overcome. What I ask from you today is your leadership, but I promise you will not have to do it alone. The business community is ready to hire. Jobs across all sectors and all levels are going unfilled at wages that are higher than what you would expect.”

Supervisors held their first work session on the Fiscal Year 2021 budget, which covers the fiscal year beginning July 1, on Monday, March 2.

rgreene@loudounnow.com

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