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Letter: Sofia Saiyed, Sterling

Editor:  This month, the Board of Supervisors became the first board in Loudoun’s history to dedicate funding to affordable housing as part of the county budget. The board also voted to allocate $12 million of the county’s remaining ARPA funds to Preservation of Affordable Housing and Displacement Services. Together, this adds up to an historic investment of over $18.2 million to address the county’s housing crisis.

New Virginia Majority members have given testimony, attended budget hearings, signed petitions, and met with county officials to raise awareness of the plight of working families spending more than 70% of their incomes on rent. We applaud the Board for taking this significant step forward. 

The investment couldn’t have come at a better time. Thanks to pandemic rental assistance and eviction protections, the county has thus far avoided a massive tsunami of eviction, but what we’re seeing now is the gradual tide of displacement. Landlords are raising rents by hundreds of dollars, forcing many essential workers to make a difficult choice of whether to pack up and leave.

Loudoun’s median rent is currently $2,600. In order to afford that rent, a household would need to earn $104,000/year. Only 20% of Loudoun County workers make at least that amount. Our county has become prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of people who work here, especially for workers in minimum-wage jobs. Our members are Loudoun’s essential workers in industries such as childcare, cleaning, restaurants, construction, landscaping, and retail, and they earn less than 40% of the Area Median Income. The fact of the matter is that there is nearly no housing in Loudoun that these essential workers can afford, and we are at risk of losing what little does exist.

We are hopeful that with more financial resources, the county can take steps to ensure that the county’s essential workforce can continue to live where they work. County rent subsidies that make up the difference between what landlords are charging and what working-class families can actually pay could quickly facilitate access to existing housing. This approach would enable current residents to continue living in their neighborhoods as rents rapidly rise, and keep children in their schools. 

The county should also adopt—and fully fund—a policy of no net loss of affordable units in the county. This could be done through the preservation of existing units through public financing, replacement of units on site as part of a larger redevelopment, and replacement of units through new development in transit-friendly locations.

The most important aspect of any intervention is that it must be designed for families earning below 40% AMI, or else they will also contribute to gentrification and displacement of existing communities that are home to Loudoun’s essential workforce.

We thank the Board of Supervisors for standing with our county’s essential workers and low-income residents by investing in housing and we hope that it is just the beginning of a long-term strategy for affordable housing.

Sofia Saiyed, Sterling

Lead Organizer, New Virginia Majority Loudoun

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