Saturday, August 25, 2007

Homes for Our Teachers

Loudoun County is wealthy. Because of this, living in Loudoun County is expensive. Many of our teachers, police officers and fire fighters cannot afford to live in the county where they work. The county does some things to help. It's clear the affordability of housing for our county employees is a real and growing concern.

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In the meantime, forclosures in Loudoun County are increasing. (Our neighboring counties are also affected.) As of this morning, there were 465 properties listed in forclosure in Loudoun County. Many of these properties go to auction, where the lender is hopeful to at least get back the balance of the principal on the mortgage. Generally, the cost of this principal is far less than the house would list for if being sold through a realtor.

Why don't we give our teachers, firemen and police officers first dibs on foreclosed properties offered at auction? These properties are inherently more affordable than most otherwise available. And if there is a legal concern about a limited initial auction, why doesn't the county take some of its affordable housing funds and hire an employee whose sole job is to help teachers, police officers and firemen find and acquire foreclosed homes at auction? (And if you're worried about where that money should come from, I propose taking the money in the community development grants that is going for stop signs and street lights. We should be paying for those directly, not subsidizing them with money meant to help people find and keep affordable housing.)

An added benefit is that many of the homes foreclosed upon create a hole in the neighborhood while they're unoccupied. These homes become eyesores, and the location of minor criminality. All of these factors add to neighborhood decline and blight. With teachers, cops and firefighters moving into these houses, the neighborhoods benefit from residents with strong connections to the community in which they live, with the attendant benefits in safety and neighboring home values.

This is a win-win-win for everyone. Our county service employees get to live where they work, increasing their connection to the community, and reducing the pollution from their commutes. The banks get their distressed mortgages paid off, and Loudoun County provides another incentive to recruit the best possible firefighters, police officers and teachers.

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