Christine Stutz lives with her poodle, Wellington, in a trailer in Leesburg. She is 80 years old and, with an annual income below $11,350, eligible for housing assistance from the federal government.
But she cannot collect the assistance because she cannot afford to anchor her trailer to the ground, a government requirement designed to protect residents from hurricanes and tornadoes. She is concerned about crime, feels vulnerable in the trailer and would like to move somewhere where there are people around she could talk with.
Officials in the Loudoun County housing office have told Stutz there is hope that a elderly housing project may be in the works for Sterling, a hope that has sparked Stutz's interest. Her children live in Sterling and the project, if built, would bring elderly residents together in a county where lack of transportation severly limits social opportunities.
It would also mean Stutz could collect her housing assistance.
"We need it," said Stutz. "Here I'm stuck without a car and I never see anyone. Although I hate to be shut up in an apartment, I think by the time it is built I could change my mind. I don't think I can stay in this trailer much longer."
But despite years of groundwork on the Sterling project, called Eastgate, it appears now that Stutz may have many more years to prepare herself for apartment living. Changes in federal housing programs and resistance from local Sterling residents who do not want a housing project in their midst has stymied the project. And the latest scheme--which would find Loudoun County competing for a federal Housing and Urban Development loan under the Section 202 program--will pit the county against all the other Washington metropolitan jurisdictions, because there is enough money in the Northern Virginia region for only one loan.
Despite the fact that she may have to wait years for an apartment she can afford, Stutz is one of Loudoun's luckier senior citizens. She has a roof over her head and she is not living in crowded or substandard conditions. Another point in her favor is that she was on the Loudoun County housing office waiting list when the Board of Supervisors approved closing the list last week.
Although the county can re-open the waiting list at any time, it is unlikely they will do so in the near future because it is already overloaded with applicants for only a few spaces. The county has nearly 6,000 residents over the age of 62, many of whom are eligible for federal housing assistance, but there is only one project with low-income rental housing for the elderly in Loudoun.
That project, the 100-unit Madison House in Leesburg, has a waiting list of 86 people and the county housing office has an additional 51 people on their list, all over 62 and eligible for housing assistance. The only other rental apartments in the county are conventional units with an availablity rate of 2.5 percent.
"It's a landlord's market," said Sandra C. Shope, housing coordinator for Loudoun County. "Apartments are expensive and most of our older residents cannot afford them."
But the waiting list tells only part of the story. In an assessment of elderly housing needs done last month, Loudoun housing staff found there were 450 elderly residents living in substandard housing, which by definition means they are living either without indoor plumbing or hot and cold running water.
"Living in substandard housing is difficult for anybody, but it becomes especially difficult for elderly people," said Shope. "It's a very real problem in the rural part of the county, particularly from a health standpoint."
While the number of elderly in the county rose by almost 50 percent during the last decade, funding for housing projects to shelter them has fallen behind, most alarmingly in the last few years.
The Loudoun housing office lost nearly 75 percent of its federal funding and two staff positions this year when the state changed the way in which Community Development Block Grants to rehabilitate substandard housing were allocated.. Although federal money is still available, Loudoun County must now compete with 286 other counties and small towns in Virginia for the funds. The county was not successful in its 1983 bid.
"It is difficult for jurisdictions in Northern Virginia to compete with Southern Virginia because the needs down there, their poverty and unemployment levels, are more serious," said Shope. "But we also lost out because housing rehabilitation was not a priority for the state last year."
The county has won, along with four small Northern Virginia towns, a $25,000 grant to help the five jurisdictions write grant proposals for this year's round of Community Development Block Grants. Loudoun will use its share of the grant to determine where housing rehabilitation is needed most in the county. Shope said the county will then attempt to continue the program to rehabilitate substandard housing that they operated in the past, possibly by applying for $250,000 or more in state CDBG funds.
There is little evidence, though, that Loudoun county will fare very well with either its block grant proposal or with the housing loan for the Eastgate project.
"I seriously doubt whether we have a chance for the Eastgate loan ," said Andrew R. Bird III (R-Sterling) of the Loudoun County Supervisors. "It's not exactly kosher to compare a need in Loudoun County with other Washington jurisdictions, such as the District of Columbia, which has one hell of a housing problem. Besides, I question whether it would really benefit the senior citizens of Sterling or even Loudoun County, since we would not be able to restrict the program to county residents."
Efforts to solve Loudoun's elderly housing problem through private sector initiatives--either through development of conventional apartments or through programs run by volunteers--have met with limited success. Shope said she is talking with a few developers who are considering building rental units in eastern Loudoun, but she characterized the discussions as only preliminary. Moreoever, there is no guarantee the units they might build would be affordable to most of the elderly people who need them.
The county has a Operation Match program--in which volunteer workers link people with rooms to let with potential boarders--but it has produced only three matches in its first year. Shope said housing staff also plans to look at revising zoning ordinances to allow for so-called "granny flats," which are rental units with separate kitchens and baths attached to single-family homes.
"We know there are many elderly people living out there in big, old homes who would be happy to take in roomers," said Shope. "The problem is finding them and finding staff-time to do the work."
Steve Colvin, coordinator for the Loudoun County Area Agency on Aging, believes there are advantages to providing elderly people with group housing, such as that proposed for Eastgate.
"There is a support network at Madison House," said Colvin. "They know what their emotional needs are and they watch out for each other. Even if there were other rentals available, they wouldn't have the close-knit environment in a building where people of all ages lived."