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Tenants Seek County Action on Rent Buy-Downs

Loudoun County residents and members of New Virginia Majority hold signs asking for help with rent at Loudoun County Department of Housing and Community Development on Dec. 16. 

Residents from several Loudoun County communities gathered at the Loudoun County Department of Housing and Community Development on Dec. 16 to press for financial support as they watch their rent prices go up in tough economic times.

The residents, organized by New Virginia Majority, met outside the office with signs reading “We need rent relief now,” and “Live, work, learn and play/not when rent is half our pay.” 

The group was there to drop off a report they’ve been working on, hoping to speak with department Director John Hall to tell him about the struggles they face working and living in Loudoun County.

Sofia Saiyed turns in the report that New Virginia Majority put together while working with Loudoun County Department of Housing and Community Development. NVM is asking the county to incorporate a rent buy down program with $12 million of ARPA funding. Alexis Gustin

New Virginia Majority Campaign Coordinator Sofia Saiyed said, to date, the director has not met with tenants to give him their perspective of how difficult it is to live and work in the county.

“We feel it’s really important that he hear directly form the tenants,” she said. 

In April, the Board of Supervisors voted to use $12 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for preservation of affordable housing and displacement services. That included work to “develop and preserve affordable housing through new construction and acquisition loans, partnering with property owners to reduce rents, capital improvement funding for existing attainable rental housing and manufactured home communities, and the provision of temporary financial counseling services to support renter households.”

Loudoun County Public Information Officer Glen Barbour said staff from the Department of Housing and Community Development met with several organizations and ad hoc groups to better understand the communities’ concerns about rent increases and the cost of rent in general.

New Virginia Majority was one of those groups. Saiyed said the group’s leadership has been meeting regularly, virtually with Hall and his staff and together they developed a proposal for a rent buy-down program that would bring relief to tenants in apartments paying more than 30% of their income to rent.

Saiyed said, so far, the money hasn’t been distributed, and is sitting while residents are hurting and need help now. 

The county’s work to use the ARPA funding to help with housing was complicated when, in the middle of public outreach work, the state ran out of funding for rent relief through the Virginia Rent Relief Program as of Oct. 14, Barbour said. He said a new factor impacting the county’s plans for the money is how best to meet the eviction and rent assistance needs of the community. A rent buy-down program, which would also preserve the time for which rents must remain low at participating affordable communities, is one option.

However, according to Saiyed, things have stalled. They’ve been told by Hall’s staff that the Board of Supervisors, which has authority over how the county spends that money, will vote on how to use the ARPA money in January.

“We don’t understand why it’s going back to the Board of Supervisors. They already approved the $12 million in April of this year, and they thought it was done and they were addressing the problem. But the funds haven’t moved yet,” she said.

Juan Miranda, a Leesburg resident and NVM member, said the high cost of rent was a concern before the pandemic, but now it’s much worse. He said some people work two or three jobs and pay anywhere from 50% to more of their income to rent in Loudoun County. 

“We are part of the community, and we should feel part of it,” he said. 

Kellen Orellana, a Sterling resident and NVM member, said they’ve been working with the Department of Housing for six months to get a plan in place for the ARPA funds, and she feels it’s time to act.

“After the pandemic our community was highly impacted, and believe me, it hasn’t been easy to raise ourselves once again. Many of our incomes went down, and the quality of life went down, and now with the situation with inflation and higher rent we feel tied to our jobs,” she said. She said the residents work long hours to keep a roof over their heads, and “we can’t continue like this.” Orellana added that many in the working class like living in Loudoun County because they feel safe and their children are getting a good education, and they want to stay here.  

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