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County Weighing Affordable Housing

By Lila de Tantillo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 20, 2005; Page LZ03

Loudoun County officials were urged last week to make more affordable housing available, at a time when real estate prices are soaring but one in six local families doesn't earn enough to buy or rent a home.

The Board of Supervisors will decide soon how to allocate the $940,000 that the county received this year in federal community development block grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. One goal of the grants is to help local governments provide housing and expand economic opportunities for low- and moderate-income residents.

The county's Department of Social Services board held a public hearing Tuesday night to solicit views on how to distribute the funds.

"Housing is very expensive, and it just seems to be going up," said Jan Boothby, manager of Loudoun's community development block grant program. "Without more affordable housing, residents might even be threatened with homelessness."

Cindy Mester, assistant director of social services, said the county has already seen increased demand for beds in homeless shelters and for programs that help residents find housing. Mester said a shortage of affordable housing can affect the quality of life in other ways, such as increasing congestion on major thoroughfares, especially Route 7, as commuters move even farther west.

County officials say that a family must earn $44,650 -- half the median income -- to afford to buy or rent a home in Loudoun. One in six county residents earns less than that, according to the economic development office. The average single-family detached home in Loudoun cost $466,951 in September, the most recent period for which figures were available. The average price of a condominium was $258,206.

Activist Albert Bland told the board that the lack of affordable housing means that many young people can't afford to live in the communities in which they grew up, especially in the largely African American communities of St. Louis, Willisville and Howardsville in western Loudoun.

Kim Hart, executive director of the Windy Hill Foundation, a private, nonprofit housing assistance program, said that when distributing the community development block grants, Loudoun should give preference to organizations that help people with the lowest incomes, as it did last year, the first year it received the money. Loudoun was not eligible for the grants until its population topped 200,000 in 2003.

Last year the Windy Hill Foundation received $80,000 from the community development block grant program for its affordable rental housing in Middleburg for elderly people who earn less than $18,000 a year.

Clarice Dieter of The ARC of Loudoun County (LARC), an advocacy group that works on behalf of individuals with mental retardation and related developmental disabilities and their families, urged the county to help provide affordable housing for those who need wheelchair access or medical assistance because of disabilities.

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