High Cost of Homes Drives Young Teachers Out
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High Cost of Homes Drives Young Teachers Out

Loudoun Lacks Affordable Housing

When Bryon Armstrong’s elementary-school students ask him to watch their Little League baseball games, he said it kills him to say that he can’t make it because of the long commute back to his house in West Virginia. The physical-education teacher at Evergreen Mills Elementary School in Leesburg spends 45 minutes in the morning on the road to school. If he leaves at just the right time, he can avoid some traffic and get home in 30 minutes. If not, he’s in for a long ride home.

"I can’t afford to live in the community I teach in," Armstrong said.

Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick is concerned about the lack of affordable, and attractive housing for his workforce, especially the young teachers he recruits from around the country, and the world.

"For many of the residents who are already here, who have already succeeded, I’m not sure they are aware of how many teachers, police officers and firemen simply cannot find a decent place to live here in Loudoun County," he said. "Without that housing, we will not have the workforce we need."

WHEN ARMSTRONG BEGAN to look for a house three years ago, he went to the bank for a loan and was approved for $280,000.

"The cheapest home for sale is $300,000 and that’s not buying much," he said.

Armstrong bought a house in Jefferson County, W.Va., for $275,000.

"It’s a four bedroom [house], with a pool, a deck and a paved driveway," he said. "You can get so much more for your money out there."

The 45-minute commute to and from the Leesburg school takes a huge chunk of money out of his pocket. The third-year teacher said he spends, on average, $80 a week on gas.

"I look at my credit card bill at the end of the month and it’s just gas station after gas station on there," he said. "That’s where a lot of my money goes to."

The high cost of living not only affects Armstrong’s pocket; it affects his social life, too.

"I’m way out in the middle of nowhere," the 26-year-old said. "For a single teacher, there’s not much to do out there. None of my friends live out in West Virginia. If I go out, I go out in Northern Virginia."

In an effort to see his friends on the weekends, Armstrong said he has to sleep on friends' coaches.

"I’m constantly staying at friends house on Fridays and Saturdays, even during the week sometimes," Armstrong said. "I’m always doing that. If I could afford to take a cab back to my house, I could buy a home in Ashburn."

Armstrong said he works with a couple of young teachers who rent apartments in Loudoun County. He said they pay an average of $1,200 a month.

"That’s half our paycheck. It’s a waste of money and I want to make an investment," he said. "

According to Loudoun County Economic Development Statistics, the number of multi-family attached (MFA) housing units have decreased over the past seven years.

In 2001, MFA permits constituted 28 percent of all housing permits issued. That percentage has dropped every year since then, and for the past 12 months, that number further dropped 10.5 percent.

Even though the county’s population continues to increase, the percentage of MFA permits issued continues to drop.

The number of MFA permits issued in the first half of the decade range from 1,056 to 1,608 permits. Between March 2006 to March 2007, there were only 301 permits issued to construct MFA housing.

"There’s not a lot out there so that drives prices up," Armstrong said. "If I was renting a place right now, there would be no way for me to get ahead."

LIKE ARMSTRONG, Liz Diamond, a guidance counselor at Seneca Ridge Middle School guidance in Sterling, is frustrated with the real estate market in Loudoun.

When Diamond finished graduate school, she moved back to Loudoun County to work for the middle school she attended as a child.

"I looked for a place to rent in Loudoun, but everything was just so expensive," she said. "So I moved back in with my parents before I found a place in Reston."

Diamond said she liked her rental unit in Reston because of its proximity to Sterling, but said she was looking to buy a home.

After she took one look at the cost of homes in Loudoun, she knew she couldn’t afford it on her own.

"The cheapest home I was able to consider was $300,000, and that’s just a condo," she said. "Why would I spend all that money for something small?’"

About a year ago, Diamond married a fellow guidance counselor at Stone Bridge High School.

"Now that we have two incomes, we can afford a home," Diamond said. "That’s the only way I could do it."

"I would love to go watch my kids play baseball, but I can’t drive another 45 minutes back out to Loudoun. I can’t afford it," Armstrong said. "It’s tough for me to be a part of the community I teach in."