Editor: As a small business owner who relies on a number of other small businesses and services in the town of Leesburg, I watched with great interest last week’s Leesburg Town Council public hearing on the proposed Virginia Village redevelopment. I was shocked to hear that no apartment building has been built inside the Route 7/15 bypass since 1988.
Most of our town’s rental housing stock dates to the 1960s and, as the rate of construction of apartments has slowed in Leesburg over the past decade, rents have risen appreciably.
Leesburg clearly has a housing affordability problem, and access to affordable housing is the single largest challenge facing our town’s future prosperity. Local businesses, like mine, need to be able to attract dedicated employees. But businesses will not relocate to, nor will they expand in, the town if we do not invest in broader housing opportunities for our workforce.
We must provide more residential options to help attract the type of talent that is vital to our local businesses, and ensure the long-term stability of the town’s economy. The town simply cannot thrive in an equitable and inclusive manner if our workforce—especially younger workers, service workers, teachers, municipal employees, police officers, and firefighters—have no place to reside.
This demographic often cannot afford the median regional monthly rent and mortgage payments, which forces them to commute from outside of town. This not only drives up their out-of-pocket costs but exacerbates traffic for us all.
We must get serious about redressing these deficiencies. Leesburg needs a full continuum of housing choices, and Virginia Village presents the first substantial opportunity to start chipping away at this problem.
In a town where some 70 percent of our apartments are two- and three-bedroom units, I was heartened to see that the vast majority of Virginia Village’s apartments will be studios and one-bedroom units. And of critical importance, the project commits to 33 new Affordable Dwelling Units—the largest number of rent-controlled units yet delivered in the town.
Housing is economic development, and if Leesburg starts focusing on providing smaller units (like what is being proposed at Virginia Village), we can help ensure the sustainability and growth of the Town’s economy. It will also add to the attraction of this section of town as Loudoun County’s only HUBZone, which is a Small Business Administration program that requires 35 percent of employees to physically reside within the HUBZone.
Of course, Virginia Village alone will not solve our affordability problem, which is regional in scope. But the project will fill a critical market need and create a healthier balance of units in town. And, it is equally certain that if projects like Virginia Village are not approved, we never begin making a difference.
Housing is the missing ingredient to our community’s prosperity, and I urge the Town Council to approve the proposed redevelopment, and position Leesburg as a regional leader in how to redevelop older, underperforming strip malls into something that can benefit everyone.
Kirsten Langhorne, Leesburg