Offering a hand up to affordable housing in Loudoun County, Virginia
Imran Ali, a Pakistani immigrant, diligently worked two jobs to support his family of five in Loudoun County, Virginia. In this county, one of the most expensive in the nation, the Ali-Afridi family’s dream of homeownership seemed out of reach.
Ayana and Maria Jallu also aspired to establish their family of five in a stable home in Loudoun. Yet even a combined income in healthcare and transportation fell short of the area’s ever-rising housing costs. The family applied to Habitat for Humanity while living in the basement of another family’s home.
Loudoun Habitat for Humanity opened the door to homeownership for both these families.
Making safe, affordable housing a reality for all
Loudoun Habitat for Humanity has been supporting affordable access to housing in Loudoun County for 28 years. The organization takes inspiration from the Isaiah verse, “My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.” In practice, this means offering all who need it a hand up to secure housing through home ownership or home repair. “Habitat has a vision of a Loudoun County where everyone who wants to live here can find an affordable place to call home,” says Therese Cashen, Loudoun Habitat for Humanity Executive Director.
Microsoft shares Habitat for Humanity’s vision for affordable, secure housing in Loudoun County. In partnership with Loudoun Habitat, Microsoft offers grants and employee volunteerism for specific renovation and repair projects, technology support for Habitat’s Tools for Life Learning Center, and funding to help Habitat applicants meet their goal of homeownership.
“Habitat has a vision of a Loudoun County where everyone who wants to live here can find an affordable place to call home.”—Therese Cashen, Loudoun Habitat for Humanity Executive Director
Easing housing inequality
Habitat for Humanity’s hand-up to stable housing is especially impactful in Loudoun County, where the median home value was $600,000 in November 2021, according to Redfin (or $508,100 in 2015–2019, according to the US Census). A Washington, DC suburb and business hub, Loudoun County has one of the highest median incomes in the nation.
But the prosperity conceals vast inequality. “There are some folks living here in one of the richest counties in the country with no indoor plumbing and no running water,” Cashen explains. Many low- to moderate-income families are simply excluded from stable housing. They move frequently to chase lower rents in this ever-rising rental market or they crowd multiple families into single-family units.
This instability is especially hard on children, for whom frequent moves mean disruptions in school and community ties. Children need a stable space to sleep, to play, or to do homework. Crowding is also an issue; Cashen recalls seeing families crowded into a single room or children sleeping upstairs near unfamiliar people while parents sleep in the basement.
Providing a helping hand to a stable home
Habitat operates on a “hand-up” model, not a handout. This means families partner with Habitat to achieve their goal of homeownership. Habitat buys the property, constructs or renovates the home, and transfers ownership to qualified partner families. Loudoun Habitat for Humanity works with families who earn 30 to 60 percent of the area median income. The organization offers families affordable mortgages based on 30 percent of their current income—no matter what the current market value is for their home.
Habitat’s model relies on volunteer labor. The organization buys land or a fixer-upper and builds on this investment by constructing a new home or renovating an old one. Partner families contribute “sweat equity,” working alongside volunteers from the community, including skilled licensed contractors who donate their time and expertise.
The Ali-Afridi and Jallu families, for example, had a hand in establishing themselves as homeowners. Literally. Ramona Afrida learned to tile her new bathroom. The Jallu family constructed a shed from the ground up and built a wheelchair ramp for an elderly veteran.
Both families have since moved into their new homes. The Ali-Afridi family left behind their cramped apartment for a new tri-level home in Leesburg. The children have their own room, and their grandmother will soon join the family from Pakistan. In May 2020, the Jallu family traded their basement rental for a three-bedroom townhome in Sterling, Virginia with a backyard where their children can run and play.
Thanks to the active role they took in their path to homeownership, both families are well prepared for the responsibilities that come with owning a property. In addition to learning home repair alongside licensed contractors, families have access to homeowner support programs such as the eight-week “Home Buyers Club” training session and the Tools for Life Learning Center, which together cover everything from home maintenance to financial management.
Making an impact through home ownership and repair
As of December 2021, Loudoun Habitat has placed 234 people in 62 homes and renovated 20 homes, impacting 49 residents.
Looking ahead, Loudoun Habitat for Humanity hopes to expand its impact on housing affordability through public advocacy and land trust investments. In partnership with corporate donors and the Loudoun County government, Habitat aims to purchase properties and donate the land to the VA Community Land Trust (VACLT). This model ensures that a home not only is affordable now, but remains so for future owners, in perpetuity.
The true impact of safe and affordable housing can be seen in the lives changed. Tisha Hilliard, who recently moved into a renovated home with her daughter, reflects: “I am most happy about making a home here for me and my daughter, a place where we can lay our head and be thankful. This truly is a blessing… we can grow older in this home and have a future.” For Mohammed Sebti, owning a home means, “Less stress. More savings. More space. More freedom.” His 9-year-old daughter adds: “The first thing I am going to do is paint my room turquoise and then I want to plant a garden.”
A safe home gives children security and a strong start in life. “Homeownership is extremely important,” Cashen explains. “It builds generational wealth. It gives stability. It gives security.” In a county marked by inequality, Loudoun Habitat is bringing stable, secure housing within reach of all residents.
“I am most happy about making a home here for me and my daughter, a place where we can lay our head and be thankful.”—Tisha Hilliard, homeowner as of August 2020