Editor: There have been a number of opinions expressed about Loudoun County’s need for affordable housing. Much of the discussion has centered around the traditional approach of estimating a “need” and augmenting existing or proposed development projects to include units that are considered “affordable.” I would like to suggest the supervisors consider an alternative approach to this issue.
A previous letter to the editor characterized affordable housing “needs” as housing for individuals or families that intend to live and work in Loudoun, perhaps in community service such as law enforcement, healthcare, education or other community services. This characterization is important because it frames the affordable housing need in a way that would be most valuable for Loudoun County. The traditional approach to affordable housing focuses on new home development and often results in a rental situation in a new neighborhood generally situated in a growth area of the county. The “need” is more distributed and diverse. Location, commuting distance, neighborhood, schools, lot and home size, and of course price are all factors people consider when buying or renting.
So perhaps the county should consider existing homes. In my neighborhood of Lovettsville, there are several small detached residences that are vacant, have recently been renovated, listed, or sold after the former resident has moved into a different living situation or passed. For developers, these existing homes represent an opportunity to replace a small structure with a much larger upscale version which often is not consistent with the rest of the neighborhood but offers a substantial incentive from a pricing standpoint. In contrast, everyone’s interests may be better served if the county were to identify, acquire, and renovate the existing home as a source of affordable housing targeted for those working in Loudoun County community services. The housing could be used as part of an overall compensation package as a way of attracting families from outside the area to make a home in Loudoun for the long term. Such an approach does not require changes in density to any policy area defined by the current comprehensive plan. It does not overtax the existing infrastructure. The housing would be located throughout the county as opposed to the most densely populated areas. Neighborhoods would view this type of affordable housing as community revitalization and an investment in maintaining Loudoun County’s lifestyle.
For such an approach to work, the supervisors need to recognize that it is not their job to solve the affordable housing issue in Loudoun County. It is their job to provide some level of affordable housing targeted for the needs of Loudoun County.
Paul Swanson, Lovettsville