The HAND network is hard at work to address the growing housing affordability challenge across the Capital Region. Five Minutes With is a series highlighting these members and other stakeholders. This informal conversation delves into their recent projects, the affordable housing industry, and more. In this edition, we had a conversation with John Hall, Loudoun County’s new Director of Housing & Community Development. Check out our dialogue below to learn about his nearly 30-year career, what excites him about working in the DMV region again, and what he believes is a “secret sauce” to creating more equitable communities in our region!
HAND: Congratulations on your new role as Loudoun County’s new Director of Housing & Community Development! You have extensive experience in housing and community development – can you tell us about your journey to this point?
JH: Thank you very much! I cannot believe I have been working nearly 30 years. My journey has been so fulfilling. I am grateful for having the privilege to work with so many great communities. I started in the banking industry with commercial loan servicing and real estate loan administration in Dallas, Texas. I pursued graduate studies in New York to focus on poverty alleviation activities such as workforce development and all other social welfare policies. I never imagined integrating my banking experience. In fact, in my first position after graduate school, my boss told me she hired me because of my banking experience, which is what I was trying to escape. What I found over the years is that the banking experience provided me with an acute awareness of affirmative covenants, regulatory requirements, as well as commercial acquisition and development knowledge.
I leveraged this knowledge with workforce development to build neighborhood assets with a couple of community development corporations in Texas. As a non-profit developer, I worked with elected officials, board members and communities to increase rooftops and generate economic activity. My position in Lubbock, Texas afforded me the opportunity to work with everyone in order to effectuate components of John McKnight’s Asset Based Community Development model.
From there, I initially arrived in the mid-Atlantic region working at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. I endeavored to preserve affordable housing on a national level by working in the Mark-to-Market program with qualified non-profit organizations. Wanting to be closer to the action, I became a field office director at HUD for the capital region and later for the Commonwealth of Virginia. I left this role as I was appointed agency director for the District of Columbia’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). We achieved a lot at DHCD with affordable housing production, but what I am most proud of is the interdepartmental collaboration that institutionalized permanent supportive housing using the agency’s annual consolidated Notice of Funding Availability. Since then, I have gained more experience at the local level overseeing entitlement grants and public housing agencies.
HAND: You were once the director of DC’s Housing and Community Development Department. What excites you about working in the DMV region again?
JH: I am elated to return to the DMV. There is no place that possesses the intellectual capital this region has. I am among friends in the business and look forward to re-activating networks to do great things together that benefit the residents of Loudoun County and the whole region.
HAND: As director of a newly established independent department, what excites you about your leadership role in this new department? Do you foresee any challenges? Are there key takeaways from your experience thus far that you are bringing into your new position?
JH: I am excited about the commitment of Loudoun County’s elected officials to provide attainable housing for everyone. The County’s Unmet Housing Needs Strategic Plan (https://www.loudoun.gov/5278/Unmet-Housing-Needs-Strategic-Plan) has 143 key action items for us to create the opportunity for victory throughout the county. Implementing public policy is my forte, and I am overjoyed to join the team.
Housing and community development is hard everywhere. Immediate challenges will be adjusting to rising mortgage interest rates and inflation. To mitigate this, we must optimize resources with strategic collaborations to produce results.
I have always maintained a strong focus on compliance. That may go back to my banking days. We want to spend money wisely and appropriately to reduce any chance of grantors requiring repayment. I also know that we must be results driven in a relatively short timeframe. Having shovel-ready projects in the development pipeline is key to delivering for county residents.
HAND: According to our Housing Indicator Tool (HIT), 45 percent of renters in Loudoun County spend more than 30% of their income on paying rent. How do you see your role in helping to navigate this issue?
JH: Households should not be rent-burdened. My objective is to triage this challenge in various ways. One way is to examine transit-oriented development opportunities. Metro’s Silver Line recently commenced service in the county. I see this milestone as an effective way for households living near stations to bundle their housing and transportation costs to improve their quality of life. Enhancing programming such as the Housing Choice Voucher Program is another mechanism to reduce rent burden. Participants can leverage the voucher with the Family Self-Sufficiency Program to increase wages whereby the differential in the rent increase is matched by the program and set aside in an escrow account. Often times participants earn enough for down payments to purchase a home while then using the voucher share toward a mortgage payment. I would like to see more emphasis placed in this regard to increase homeownership, generate wealth and stabilize families.
HAND: Do you believe there is a “secret sauce” to addressing housing affordability and creating more equitable communities in our region? If so, what do you think that is? What do you think is the largest obstacle?
JH: I believe the secret sauce is collaborating partnerships, where all parties bring resources for a specified period of time. I do believe, however, that despite competing priorities, we all get done what we want to get done. We just have to identify partners with shared vision and commitment in making our communities stronger.
HAND: What is your “why”? What keeps you motivated to continue your work in this space?
JH: My upbringing emphasized for me to take care of people around me and not just family but neighbors and community. So, I am motivated to be the voice for people who are not in the room and who may not know how to use available resources to improve daily living.
HAND: What might you be doing if you weren’t working in this industry?
JH: I would be teaching financial literacy to increase the number of people who break cycles of poverty.