HUD Administrator Highlights Affordable Housing Challenge in Loudoun Visit (2024)

Department of Housing and Urban DevelopmentRegional Administrator Matthew Heckles made a visit to Loudoun on Thursday, meeting first with business leaders at an event hosted by the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce and then with county officials at an affordable senior living center in Sterling.

Heckles told the audience gathered as part of the chamber’s Policy Makers Series that the lack of affordable housing is one of the greatest challenges currently, not just in Loudoun but in the region and the entire country.

“The challenges are great, and they vary widely from one place to another,” he said. “… but at the core of it, it just comes down to whether or not people have the ability to support themselves.”

He said there is a right and a wrong way to address the need for affordable housing.

“For years we've been trying to transition from a system that focused on housing people going in a shelter. Giving people a roof and a bed to sleep in for a night or two was good enough,” he said. “But we learned that that doesn't really fix the problem. And so, the whole system has changed. We're now focused on making sure that we are keeping people out of our homelessness system. The best way to keep people out of homelessness is to keep them housed.”

Two major avenues of addressing the problem are preventing evictions altogether and rapid rehousing, Heckles said. But oftentimes, the challenge can boil down to a locality’s zoning regulations.

“We have not built enough of the right kind of housing in the right places,” he said, adding that it was important to have diverse types of affordable housing units.

Addressing those kinds of problems have been on County Chair Phyllis J. Randall’s (D-At Large) list of priorities for some time. Following the chamber event, Randall met with Heckles as well as other members of his department, Supervisor Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn), board member staffers, county Housing and Community Development Director John Hall and members of his team, and Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing CEO Carmen Romero.

Randall said in Loudoun affordable housing looks different than in other areas of the region because the county’s area median income is over twice the United States’ AMI, at $167,000 per year.

“Our attainable housing, affordable housing, workforce housing really is for the people who serve the county,” she said.

HUD Administrator Highlights Affordable Housing Challenge in Loudoun Visit (1)

HUD Administrator Highlights Affordable Housing Challenge in Loudoun Visit (2)

Romero said her organization also feels the effects of a higher-than-average AMI. APAH is a nonprofit that provides affordable apartments in the DC Metro area.

“A one bedroom 60% AMI unit in this market is $1,700,” she said. “How is that affordable?”

Romero said the average income of her residents is $39,000 a year.

Turner said he felt like local, state and federal governments are “throwing money at programs just to staunch the bleeding,” but that because of the frequent changes in administrations, funding for housing is unpredictable.

Heckles said there is a change in “the face of homelessness” as inflation results in a higher cost of living affecting the older generations.

“We've seen a lot more people who are going into homelessness for the first time that are senior citizens on fixed income,” he said.

This is a new phenomenon, Heckles said.

But the problem is also a supply and demand issue, Virginia Housing Alliance Executive Director Brian Koziol said during the chamber event.

“We're building about 40,000 units, which is not near enough to get us to where we need to be statewide where we're about 300,000 affordable units short,” he said.

Hall agreed, saying the state of housing is reaching “near crisis levels.”

“Twenty-two million nationally spent more than 30% of their income for rent and utilities combined. This is an increase of two million households over the last few years. Now 12.1 million had housing costs that consume more than half of their income, an all all-time high for severe cost burdens.”

The increasing cost of homes is outpacing income increases, Hall said.

HUD Administrator Highlights Affordable Housing Challenge in Loudoun Visit (3)

HUD Administrator Highlights Affordable Housing Challenge in Loudoun Visit (4)

“In 1985, for example, the median household income in the country was $22,400,” he said. “During that same time, the median sales price of a home was $78,000. Fast forward to current day where the median household income is $74,000 and the median sales price of a home is $433,000.”

Koziol is confident that the problem can be solved during his lifetime.

“We can end unsheltered chronic homelessness in our lifetime—hopefully,” he said.

Some of the efforts by HUD to achieve that include providing Federal Housing Administration loans to avoid foreclosures, rental subsidies and housing vouchers.

“We’re working to protect and expand fair housing rights, as well. Housing has to be affordable, but it also has to fair and it has to be healthy,” Heckles said.

HUD Administrator Highlights Affordable Housing Challenge in Loudoun Visit (2024)
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