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Is housing in Prince William affordable?

Housing can be expensive.

And for those that are economically challenged, the cost of housing in the Northern Virginia region can be a major hurdle that impacts their lives.

According to a Prince William rental market comparison, a one bedroom apartment runs $961, a two bedroom runs $1582 and a three bedroom runs $1,801 per month.

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stated that the average wage for individuals in Prince William is $832 per week – $3328 per month. This is lower than the national average according to the BLS, which is $1027 per week – $4108 per month.

So for individuals paying for housing in Prince William, many pay 28% to 54% of their monthly income, depending on the size of the space, utilities and fees added to the initial housing cost.

According to Andrea Eck, a housing specialist for Northern Virginia Family Services, those that pay more than 30% of their income towards housing are ‘precariously housed’.

“I bet if you took a look at your housing costs, it would probably be more than 30%, and that’s because it’s expensive to live here…We serve a low income population – typically people that are 30, 50 or 80% or below area median income. And based on the family’s income, their rent does not exceed 30% of their income, because we know that anybody who pays more than 30% of their income on housing is precariously housed,” said Eck.

While there are residents that are able to afford the housing costs in the county, there are some that cannot.

A 2015 report from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments stated that there are 409 homeless individuals in the county – 136 of which are children. These are the individuals that populate the area’s tent cities and homeless shelters.

What programs are available in the county?

The homeless are not the only individuals in need of access to affordable housing.

Bill Lake, the director of Prince William’s Office of Housing and Community Development, works with residents in need providing rental assistance, also known as Section 8 housing.

“We help low income families with their rental obligations, to help them find affordable, decent, safe and sanitary homes. Our families receive a voucher – they go out and find housing. The housing is inspected to meet certain housing quality standards…they negotiate with the landlord what the rent would be, and we have to do something called ‘rent comparables’ where we have to make sure that the rent is being charged is [appropriate] for the area,” said Lake.

While the housing vouchers are assisting with the need for affordable housing in Prince William County, there is a gap between need and what is available.

“We have a waiting list of over 8,000 families, and we’re serving now about 1,900,” said Lake.

“Vouchers are limited, and the wait list is not open,” Eck commented.

Additionally, the Office of Housing and Community Development puts forward $55,000 per year towards assisting homeless individuals in finding housing.

Alongside the Office of Housing and Community Development, NVFS does have housing services, including their 92-bed SERVE shelter in Manassas, and their takeover in operations of the Hilda Barg shelter in Woodbridge, according to Eck.

NVFS also owns properties where residents can pay a reduced rate, but this is limited as well, said Eck.

What can be done to provide more affordable housing options?

According to Eck, there are several things that can be done in the county to ensure residents have access to affordable housing.

“On the housing side specifically, I think Prince William County has made some great strides by shifting to a rapid re-housing philosophy in our home shelters…and something critical to that process is a housing locator…the reason why housing locators are so important is that they build that network of property managers and private landlords that are willing to work with us and the barriers our clients face,” said Eck.

Eck stated that the board of supervisors has supported affordable housing initiatives by contributing to area non-profits like NVFS.

“Our local county board of supervisors is very supportive of the non-profit community that is working to address this issue, so there are contributions made to non-profit partners doing this work…I think their continued support of the work that is being done…is obviously very critical,” said Eck.

Creating job opportunities and maintaining access to public transportation are critical pieces of alleviating the problem.

“I also think that availability housing in and of itself isn’t the only issue. We also know that jobs help to create stable communities, when folks are working, earning a living wage. So ongoing efforts to build a robust job training [program] and supportive services that go along with it [are important]…Ongoing support of our public transportation system is pretty important as well because, the folks that we work with really rely on public transportation to be able to get to those jobs and those job training programs,” said Eck.

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