TAKE ANY OR all of the recent studies on housing around the metropolitan area, boil them down and the central theme is the same: finding, buying or renting a place to live in Greater Washington has become an exasperating and expensive business. Though people in the market like to talk about "affordable" housing, the definition is subject to wrenching stretches these days. And when it comes to seeking subsidies for new housing projects, Northern Virginia has been experiencing one difficulty that neither suburban Maryland nor the District encounters: trying for a sensitive ear in Richmond.
To begin with, localities in Virginia have to ask the state for permission to do almost anything. Also, the distance between Northern Virginia and Richmond is more than a matter of miles; in the General Assembly there is something less than total understanding or sympathy for the high costs of living in this area -- and the effects on housing subsidies or other relief from the state can be rough. Bills to assist tenants, for example, have had a way of dying in Richmond; as one tenant-relief advocate reported the other day, "we found that some aides to key legislators don't even know what a condominium is."
It will take a combination of time, new alliances and elections to turn some of this around, but understanding on the part of the governor can make a difference, too. An important example is the Virginia Housing Development Authority, an agency that finances housing projects statewide. Its housing subsidy ceilings are too low for Northern Virginia's market. It also just happens that its membership has never included representatives from Northern Virginia. Though the addition of Northern Virginians wouldn't necessarily deliver immediate financial relief to the region, it just might broaden the state's perspective. June, as it happens, is when Gov. John N. Dalton fills vacancies on the authority. That's as good a time as any for Mr. Dalton to recognize in at least one way the particular housing concerns of a large section of the state.