Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Building Better Communities in Northern Virginia

Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia is building better communities through affordable home ownership. Now, more than ever before, we believe that affordable home ownership is needed in Northern Virginia. Our local economy is better than most in the country, and yet the high cost of housing is creating a crisis of commutes and over-gentrification.

Today, across every jurisdiction in our area, the supply of affordable housing is insufficient to meet the demands of our growing population. As stated in this paper on February 13th, 60% of people employed in the City of Falls Church live five or more miles outside of the city – many driving an hour or more, due to insufficient affordable housing. This reality causes congestion, long commutes, and per a recent News-Press article, a “threat to local City business in terms of their ability to retain a quality workforce.”

Habitat for Humanity’s approach to affordable housing is unique in our focus on creating home ownership. We harness the power of volunteer labor and the generosity of individuals and business partners to help keep a home affordable. Our homeowners are qualified borrowers, who secure a 0% mortgage in addition to providing at least 500 hours of their own sweat equity towards our home builds.

Home ownership provides so much more than a roof over a family’s head. It secures wealth that can be passed down, generation after generation. It also encourages diverse neighborhoods, where multi-cultural and differentiated income homeowners share pride in a community. Home ownership allows children the opportunity to grow up in a stable environment, where they can focus on school and homework and not on the constantly changing faces of the teachers and kids around them. It’s important to offer affordable homes in areas where they would otherwise be inaccessible, giving children the opportunity to attend neighborhood schools that are often better than those accessible to the family.

Since 1990, Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia has built more than 80 homes, and assisted more than 400 of our neighbors realize and maintain the dream of owning their own home. In 2013 we are building our newest home in Falls Church, in the historic James Lee/Tinner Hill neighborhood. The future homeowner will be selected from a pool of applicants who are already living in or near Falls Church. These applicants have been moving year after year as their rents go up even when their incomes have not. Or they move because their apartment building is sold for redevelopment, and units are no longer affordable. Or they move because they want better for their family, and better is no longer nearby.

While we are evaluating the multitude of applications that were submitted for this one, single family home, we are made acutely aware of how the prospect of owning this home is a true dream for these potential homeowners. With homeownership, the family will enjoy much more than a place to live, but will benefit from the security and stability that owning provides.

In addition to building new homes to help families achieve homeownership for the first time, Habitat for Humanity is committed to helping non-Habitat homeowners remain in their homes.

In these uncertain economic times, low and moderate income homeowners may be experiencing difficulty in maintaining their homes. Homeowners who are unable to make important external home repairs risk their home’s value, and are ultimately at risk of losing their homes, while neighborhood appeal is also diminished. Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia assists homeowners who are unable to accomplish needed home repairs due to age, disability or financial impediment. As a non-profit organization, we facilitate pro-bono or reduced-rate contractor repairs and bring our volunteers to donate free labor.

We assist with repairs such as roof repair and replacement, siding repair, fences, accessible ramp construction, landscaping, window and door replacement, and more. Through a Federal Community Development Block Grant, Habitat NOVA is specifically assisting residents of the City of Falls Church with needed home repairs. To be eligible, residents can not earn more than 80% of the Area Median Income – meaning a family of four in the City of Falls Church earning up to $86,000 may be eligible for assistance under this program.

Homeowners who occupy their residence, and are in need of our help can download an application from our website: habitatnova.org/home-repair-program.

Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia needs the support of our neighbors, policy makers, businesses and community agencies. Together, we can raise our voices in support for more affordable housing. Together, we can partner to find land where Habitat can build, or reach out to a neighbor who needs help repairing their home. Together, we can create stronger communities by providing more affordable home ownership.

We invite individuals, the faith community, groups and businesses to become involved. You can support affordable home ownership by volunteering, by donating, and by helping us promote our mission of affordable home ownership.


Jonathan Smoot is Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia.