Housing Affects Recruitment

Housing Affects Recruitment

EDC nails work force housing issue.

As a single parent of two, Jonathan Schwartz said he could benefit from work force housing, a program that his peers on the Economic Development Commission (EDC) want the Board of Supervisors to consider.

"There are challenges to living here, especially if I wanted to be a homeowner," said the Sugarland Run resident and general manager of Marriott's Fairfield Inn in Dulles. "That is why the EDC is looking into remedies to address work force housing."

At the request of the Board of Supervisors, the EDC spent two years reviewing work force housing issues in the county. The EDC worked with the Department of Housing Services (DHS) to review the county's policies and programs.

"This is something right now that is affecting our work force in the county. If it can affect someone like me, it can affect a lot of people. I am not the only single parent out there," Schwartz said.

TWO YEARS AGO, an EDC committee interviewed and surveyed Loudoun CEOs to identify corporate and business issues and concerns, finding out that work force housing was frequently mentioned. The CEOs told the committee that housing costs affect the recruiting and retaining of employees and forced employees to locate further away from their jobs.

"CEOs are reporting to the EDC that the increase in housing costs is making recruitment of employees from outside the area more difficult," as stated in the "Work force Housing: Affordable Housing to Strengthen Loudoun's Business Community," a report issued this month by the EDC. The Board of Supervisors requested the EDC to study the issue of work force housing.

For the past year, the EDC investigated the supply and demand of housing in the county, analyzed relevant housing, income and work force demographic data and agreed to work with the business community to monitor work force housing concerns, along with studying best practices in other communities.

"The need is great because we have a very high demand and low supply of affordable housing," said Cindy Mester, director of Housing Services.

The EDC found that employees in critical occupations, such as ambulance drivers, firefighters, construction laborers, cashiers and retail salespersons, do not earn wages that are high enough to purchase the average townhouse in the county. The average townhouse in Loudoun County costs about $250,000, requiring a household income of at least $99,000 with a house priced at 2.5 times income. The county's work force housing guidelines sets a maximum home value of $140,000 for households with incomes 30 to 70 percent of the median income, which is $91,500, as outlined by the Affordable Dwelling Unit program and the Revised Comprehensive Plan.

"The problem is you can't find a home for that price," said EDC member Steve Robin.

In 2002, 650 of the 9,146 homes sold in the county for less than $149,000, as stated in the report. More than 4,280 homes sold for $300,000 or more. The median household income increased 11 percent from 1999 to 2002, compared to a 22 percent increase in the median unit housing sales price during the same time period.

"The economy in this region will not provide affordable housing," said Supervisor Charles Harris (D-Broad Run) in reference to the EDC’s recommendations. "Being in a capitalist society, it will never provide from a for-profit perspective the kind of things you're discussing."

THE EDC VOTED to forward the list of eight recommendations to the Board of Supervisors for approval at the June or July meetings.

"All of these recommendations are consistent with the county’s Comprehensive Plan," Mester said.

The recommendations are:

* Establish a Housing Advisory Board to evaluate housing supply and demand issues, to make recommendations for program development and to work with other jurisdictions on regional housing issues.

* Establish employer-assisted housing programs targeted at reducing housing costs to retain and recruit work force.

* Re-energize the Linked Deposits Affordable Housing Program to increase the participation of financial institutions and the support of the business community. The program requires financial institutions to provide affordable housing loan and financing programs in exchange for certain general fund deposits.

* Attract for-profit and non-profit housing development partnerships. The EDC added the words "for-profit" to the recommendation.

"It's unlikely this will produce the scale of Work Force housing needed," said Planning Commissioner Alfred Van Huyck (Blue Ridge), a candidate for board chairman, adding that the commission should consider how the private sector can respond.

* Partner with the Industrial Development Authority (IDA), which "can serve as the financing arm to stimulate affordable housing construction through non-profit and for-profit developers," as stated in the report. Since the county does not have a housing authority, the ADU can implement certain housing authority functions and assist with bond and gap financing.

"The recommendations from the EDC and the resolutions from the IDA have a strong potential for influencing processes to actually create and address the supply, i.e. create houses that are more affordable," Mester said.

The IDA adopted three resolutions to support the EDC's fifth recommendation, including offering matching funds to provide the county staff needed to support the recommendations; serving as a conduit for charitable funds and government funding; and investigating the feasibility of bond financing for affordable housing.

* Expand the revitalization tax program, which provides residents and non-profit affordable housing developers with assessment relief if they rehabilitate housing units in targeted areas. The relief keeps the assessment at a base rate for a set period of time.

* Amend the Affordable Dwelling Unit Program (ADU) to return ADU requirements to 12.5 percent and to seek changes in state law to apply to additional developments. The ADU Ordinance requires certain land development applications to include a percentage of affordable units in exchange for a density increase.

* Establish a Loudoun Housing Trust to establish a funding source for affordable housing initiatives.

"We found out so many neat ideas and best practices that can be implemented here. There are so many things that can be done ... that make a difference for the individual, get them better housing close to Loudoun," said Cindy Richmond, deputy director of the Department of Economic Development.