Like many counties across America, Loudoun County, Virginia, is known for its thriving business environment and exceptional quality of life. Yet it faces a housing challenge that could dramatically change the future—and face—of this area.
Over the past several years, Loudoun County’s high-priced real estate market has rapidly exceeded the budgets of the county’s workforce—teachers, law enforcement officers, and retail workers. The average home price climbed from $280,696 in 2000 to $514,787 by the end of 2006.
Faced with this housing crisis and projected strong job growth for the regional economy, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors appointed a twelve-member Housing Advisory Board (HAB) to study this issue. The group’s task was to recommend housing policies and programs to address the county’s needs.
The leadership of the Dulles Area Association of Realtors®, located in Loudoun County, knew they had to get involved.
The association, in concert with the local chamber of commerce, is working to highlight several ways the county can help address unmet housing needs in the area. In a forum held last spring, several business leaders, public officials, Realtors®, as well as the county’s HAB, expressed strong concern that the high cost of housing had pushed the majority of workers to live outside the very county they helped to flourish.
The forum also revealed the perception that employee retention and recruitment efforts would continue to be a challenge unless changes to the market and county policies addressed unmet housing needs.
An HAB-commissioned study found a 14,000-unit affordable housing shortage—a number projected to increase to 30,000 units by 2030. Not surprisingly, the study also found that a disproportionate number of county workers in four major area industries, including retail, public service, warehouse/transportation (including airports), and construction, commute to Loudoun County from other counties.
As Loudoun County’s population grows, additional workers are needed in local government (teachers, police, firefighters), retail, warehouse and transportation, in order to maintain a healthy economy and comfortable quality of life. The question remains, where will they all live?
In light of the HAB study and business leaders’ concerns, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors set about drafting a plan to broaden and update countywide housing policies to increase affordable housing. During a county planning commission hearing on the proposals last spring, I delivered testimony on behalf of the association, based on a review of the proposal by the NAR Land Use Initiative. The testimony urged the county to develop and maintain an inventory of publicly owned land for the future development of affordable housing. I also explained that revising the county’s zoning map to make more land available for residential development or increasing base densities within existing residential zones would encourage a variety of housing options that may help ease the affordable housing shortage.
“The analysis of the county’s housing policies provided by the NAR Land Use Initiative was instrumental in developing our association’s response to proposals designed to increase housing affordability,” says Jeanette Newton, rce, association CEO.
As the county’s process to revise its housing policies moves forward, the association will continue to educate public officials on ways to increase the county’s affordable housing stock.
Congress debates the Housing America’s Workforce
Pending in Congress is the Housing America’s Workforce Act, which addresses the lack of affordable housing opportunities for private-sector workers by promoting employer-assisted housing (EAH) programs. The bill would provide tax relief to working individuals by allowing them to exclude funds from EAH programs from their taxable income; current law requires employees to include any housing assistance they receive from an employer as taxable income. The legislation also would encourage businesses to offer EAH programs to their workers by creating an employer tax credit for qualified programs. Finally, the bill would establish a grant program available to nonprofit housing organizations to provide technical assistance, program administration, and education to support employers undertaking EAH programs.
5 steps to becoming a workforce housing
NAR provides a host of ways to help state and local associations get involved in the workforce housing movement. From grant money to analysis of proposed regulations, to experts who will come out to address your group, there’s no shortage of support for your grassroots effort. Here are five steps to involvement.
Step 1: Sponsor and promote an NAR Home from Work™ program, which encourages Realtors® to become advocates for expanding housing opportunities. Specifically, the program teaches Realtors® how to effectively promote workforce housing initiatives at the grassroots level and to work with public and private-sector employers to establish an employer assisted housing benefit. For more, visit REALTOR.org and search “home from work.”
Step 2: Search NAR’s database of successful housing solutions to find
a model that may work in your area. Use this database (coming soon to REALTOR.org) to learn how other Realtor® associations are addressing housing issues in their communities, find ideas to help get your own programs under way, and share your successful programs.
Step 3: Apply for funding to support a new or existing housing program. Local and state Realtor® associations can request financial support for programs and activities that create housing opportunities for area residents. Since its creation in 2002, the Housing Opportunity Program has awarded more than $200,000 to state and local Realtor® associations. Realtor® associations can apply online for funding through the Ambassadors for Cities program, the Smart Growth Action Grant program, or the State and Local Initiatives Fund at REALTOR.org, search “Housing Opportunity.”
Step 4: Partner with other housing organizations in your area to develop a united front for workforce housing. NAR encourages Realtor® associations to partner with local members of these national organizations: the Campaign for Affordable Housing, National Association of Counties, National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials, and National Housing Conference. More organizations are listed at REALTOR.org.
Step 5: Speak out on proposed housing regulation and legislation. Not sure if a housing solution put forth by your local or state government is the best solution? NAR’s Land Use Initiative will help you analyze proposals to determine whether you should support it or recommend alternatives. NAR has a wealth of information on policies that local governments can adopt that help produce more affordable housing, such as inclusionary zoning and community land trusts.
Christine Corrado Windle is the public policy director for the Dulles Area Association of Realtors®, Va. She can be reached at email@example.com, (703) 727-2144.