A group of elected Virginia officials, housing experts and builders proposed new measures yesterday to ease the low-cost housing crunch that is sending lower-paid individuals as far away as West Virginia to find affordable homes.

Growing awareness of the problem was underscored by NVHomes L.P. , one of the region's largest builders, which offered to cut profits if local governments provide incentives to build housing for families who earn less than $35,000 a year.

Other proposals included a real estate transfer tax to subsidize some housing and a new zoning requirement that would force developers to provide some lower-priced housing in new projects.

"There is a real shortage of workers that is going to {weaken} this economy," said April L. Young, vice president of NVRyan, a parent to NVHomes. Young, speaking at a breakfast housing forum sponsored by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce and United Way, said her company would build town houses for $50,000 if the county donated land, increased the amount of construction permitted on land parcels or subsidized the projects.

In 1985, the average selling price of a Fairfax town house was $86,900; a single-family home cost an average of $150,300. Fairfax renters paid an average monthly rent last year of $615.

There is a widespread belief among builders and developers that they may have to help ease the shortage of affordable housing, Young said after the forum. "Most people understand something has to be done," she said.

State Del. Alan A. Diamonstein (D-Newport News), chairman of the Virginia Housing Study Commission, said that before the General Assembly convenes in January his commission will forward the following recommendations to Gov. Gerald L. Baliles:The creation of a public-private fund that would provide low- or no-interest loans to those who build less expensive housing. One possible source of public money, Diamonstein said, would be the state lottery that was approved by voters Nov. 3.

A check-off box on the state income tax forms enabling taxpayers to donate $1 or $2 of their refunds for housing projects.

An examination of building regulations to see if changes in the design of roads, water systems and sewers could be altered to lower building costs.

The use of state surplus land for low-cost housing.

Diamonstein said it is difficult to convince lawmakers from rural Virginia that employed teachers, firefighters and computer programmers -- people earning $15,000 to $35,000 a year -- cannot afford to live in Northern Virginia.

The forum's keynote speaker, Anthony Downs, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, called the solutions offered by government officials and builders "too weak" and said zoning laws requiring lower-cost housing and a real estate transfer tax to subsidize housing costs were needed.

The zoning changes he suggested would require builders of 25 or more housing units to reserve 10 to 15 percent of the units for low- and moderate-income households. In return, the developers would be allowed to build more units on a given lot. The transfer tax, possibly 0.5 percent of the sales price of the residence, would apply to all real estate sales. Both measures would have to be approved by the General Assembly.

"It's not the best or the fairest {solution}," said Downs, "but excluding the poor from Fairfax isn't fair either."

James H. Edmondson, partner in the building firm of Edmondson & Gallagher, said he is working with building officials to draft a zoning proposal for the General Assembly. State Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan Jr. (D-Fairfax) said that unless the building industry supports inclusionary zoning changes, there is little chance they would be approved in Richmond.

No government official spoke in support of a real estate transfer tax.

Downs said that getting neighbors to accept low-cost housing was more difficult than finding ways to build it. "It's not that the devices aren't available, it's the will," he said. However unpopular, Downs said, residents will have "to share some of their turf with those less fortunate."