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Leesburg Councilman Cummings proposes affordable housing plan

Leesburg Town Councilman Zach Cummings has announced a comprehensive proposal to incentivize affordable housing and encourage future developers to increase the supply of housing for lower-income residents.

He sent the proposal to town council and staff last week, ahead of the Nov. 14 work session.

“When our teachers, nurses, police officers, and many others cannot afford to live in the community they serve, we know we have an affordability problem,” Cummings said in a press release. “I could no longer sit back and wait. It’s time to fight to provide housing for our residents and those that want to live in Leesburg.”

Cummings’s proposal comes as affordable housing has been a perennial issue for both the town and the county.

The county approved an Unmet Housing Needs Strategic Plan last year, and in Leesburg residents of Leesburg Mobile Home Park called on the town government for help after a prospective purchaser threatened to build high-priced townhomes over the low-income community.

Cummings’s proposal covers several kinds of incentives. First, the town would need to create a Target Area Median Income — Cummings recommends 30 to 60% of the county’s average median income, or an annual salary of between roughly $30,000 and $60,000 for a single person or between $43,000 and $85,000 for a family of four.

For applicants developing a project where 80 percent or more of the units are affordable, Cummings proposes, Leesburg could consider waiving town fees, as well as sewer and water fees. The town could also lessen regulatory barriers for by-right applications by fast-tracking those with significant affordable housing and by reducing parking requirements.

The town could also explore further density bonuses, or incentives for developers who want to increase the maximum zoned density on a property, for those who offer significant affordable housing.

“I don’t think that we are going to solve the housing crisis without engaging the private market,” Cummings told the Times-Mirror.

Some of the costs incurred by these incentives could be covered by a housing in-lieu fund, Cummings proposes, where applicants who can’t meet the affordable dwelling unit (ADU) requirement would pay into a fund that could cover future affordable housing developments. For the rest, Cummings told the Times-Mirror, the town would need to search for offsets in the upcoming budget.

Finally, Cummings’s proposal includes ways for the town to collaborate with the county and state. He suggests that the town partner with the county on potential affordable developments, ask the county to let them increase the mandated percentage of ADU’s, and encourage the county to extend the ADU covenant for longer than 20 years. He would also like the town to ask the state for the ability to abate taxes for landowners with affordable housing developments.

Cummings told the Times-Mirror that he sees the proposal as a conversation starter, knowing that aspects of the plan may not appeal to everyone on council or in the community.

“I’m not looking for 100 percent acceptance on this plan,” Cummings said. “I just want to get something in place for folks who want to invest in the town of Leesburg.”

Sofia Saiyed of New Virginia Majority, who worked with Leesburg Mobile Park on their grassroots campaign to stop their potential eviction, said that an affordable housing plan is definitely needed.

“Any affordable housing plan for Leesburg would need to include new construction as well as preservation of existing affordable housing, especially as older properties begin to age out of their affordability restrictions,” she said.

Cummings said that he hopes to get enough agreement from council on the Nov. 14 work session to move part or all of the proposal to a future council discussion.

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