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Happy FamilyFairfax County's Planning Commission with hold two workshops on Wednesday, September 25 and October 2 to expand the discussion about the proposed residential studio unit (RSU) amendment to the Zoning Ordinance. There will be a staff presentation on Sept 25, and questions submitted online by citizens to the Planning Department will be answered in the second workshop on Oct 2. The plan is for both workshops to be televised on the County's cable station.

There is a growing body of evidence that indicates the presence of an increasing percentage of single person households both nationally and regionally, and many of these households desire a smaller, more affordable place to live than what the market currently provides. The RSU amendment seeks to address this growing need. These smaller units - often referred to as micro units - range in size from 250 - 500 sf, and are designed with kitchens and bathrooms in each unit. They can serve a range of people in our workforce, new graduates, returning veterans, those who are retired on fixed incomes, persons with disabilities who have limited incomes, and those with extremely low incomes. These are all people who want to live in our community, but with the current market housing choices, they have few options to be able to live affordably. In fact, given their incomes, many of these people may pay more than 50% of their monthly income for rent.

The proposed amendment allows the development of up to 75 small units for individuals earning up to 60% of the area median income - approximately $45,000 annually. Eighty percent of the residents in RSU developments will be at or below this income category; the remaining twenty percent will have no income restrictions. The amendment language requires development to take place near collector streets or major thoroughfares, with adherence to all height, set-back and open space requirements for the proposed zoning district. Parking requirements are reduced, taking into consideration the driving patterns or use of mass transit by the residents, as well as the historical data that shows lower rates of car ownership by many of these households.

Citizen groups in the County have responded to this proposal with strong emotion and concerns. Some of these concerns are legitimate and deserve to be considered, and some are based on unfounded fears and misconceptions regarding the design and scale of development, and the kinds of people who might live there.

Some of what drives this strong negative reaction is the overcrowding occurring in certain neighborhoods in the County. Illegal boarding houses have sprung up in communities, and homeowners there feel that the County has been slow or unresponsive to addressing the problem. These neighborhoods fear that RSUs could be a way to 'legitimize' overcrowded housing situations, and so they are opposed to any RSU development in the lower density residential districts - even with the strict requirements for commercial construction, appropriate scale, location on a collector street and the necessary approval by special exception.

However, people don't choose to live in overcrowded, unsafe conditions; they are forced to when they have no other options. In fact, housing advocates believe this new housing type could actually eliminate overcrowding in neighborhoods. Developing residential studio units throughout the county will provide more affordable opportunities for those persons living in illegal, overcrowded housing and those paying more than 50% of their income for housing costs.

The Alliance applauds the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission for taking the time to provide additional information about the unmet housing needs for singles, and addressing community concerns in these workshops. We believe this is a good first step to having a broader conversation about housing affordability in Fairfax County, and we would urge the County public affairs office, and the offices of the Supervisors to become more engaged in disseminating information and providing opportunities for dialogue on this question.

Fairfax County is a large, diverse, urbanizing county with a population of 1.1 million people, and it is appropriate that County leaders adopt policies that address the needs of lower income single households (many of whom make up our workforce). In doing so, we encourage solutions that balance the legitimate concerns of neighborhoods with the equally legitimate need to address housing affordability in the County.

Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) programs for Northern Virginia jurisdictions have been hit by the budget cuts know as sequestration, forcing local governments to rescind vouchers that had been awarded to clients who have not yet leased up, and/or possibly having to revoke vouchers used by clients currently in housing.

Nationally, approximately 140,000 households will lose access to rental subsidies, and they are among the most vulnerable in our communities. The majority of these households are made up of persons who are elderly, have special needs, are families with children and have incomes on average of $12,500, well below the poverty line. While the number of vouchers lost in Northern Virginia due to cuts is not available at this time, it could affect hundreds of households across our region.

This federal action comes at a time when local governments, in concert with their nonprofit partners and the larger community, have made some progress in reducing homelessness through prevention strategies, diligent case management and utilization of a housing locator system that facilitates rapid rehousing. A key element of this success was the availability of vouchers to subsidize our area's high house costs. This reduction in funding is all the more shocking due to the fact that this is only the second time in the voucher program's forty year history that Congress has failed to provide adequate funding to renew all existing vouchers in use, ensuring that there would be no reduction in the number of needy families assisted. The history of the appropriation process for HCV has been consistent and bi-partisan.

What are the broader implications for NoVA? Communities will have to evaluate the impact of this budget cut on their ability to make progress on their Ten Year Plans and broader affordable housing targets and goals for extremely low income and at risk populations. Those jurisdictions that relied heavily on federal dollars to fund their housing programs will now be confronted with the public costs of addressing growing unmet housing needs and a possible rise in homelessness due to inadequate investment of local dollars in affordable housing preservation and production. Securing sufficient housing stock that is affordable to a variety of household incomes continues to be a serious, persistent regional challenge and deserves a regional response.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has written an excellent summary brief on this issue which provides additional information on the broader implications of this cut. Their report can be found @

2,500 Homeless Children in Fairfax County Public Schools by End of School Year

The Washington Post reports that the number of homeless school children in the Fairfax County public school system is likely to surpass 2,500 by the end of this school year.

School officials say that homelessness affects children in all grades from kindergarten through high school, and at least 400 of these students are 'unaccompanied youths' who live without parents or guardians. This is a disturbing statistic in light of the fact that 2011 American Community Survey data identifies Fairfax County as the second wealthiest county in the United States with a median income of $106,000.

How did this happen? Fairfax County has taken some positive steps to end homelessness.

What has been the outcome of these actions?

Modest gains have been achieved through the alignment of existing housing resources (principally the federal housing choice voucher program) with the goals identified in the Blueprint. Some scattered site housing has been made available to serve extremely low income households with disabilities. In addition, housing locators have made good progress with landlords in securing housing for homeless or at risk households who might have otherwise been unable to secure rental housing due to credit history or a spotty employment record.

But the root problem is the shortage of affordable housing options for households in Fairfax County making less than 50% of the area median income.

What can be done?

  • Provide sufficient resources to achieve the objectives of the plan, with emphasis on developing and preserving affordable units. While elected officials have unanimously endorsed the plan, the Blueprint for Housing has been level funded - and we might add inadequately funded - for three years.
  • Seek opportunities to develop housing on publicly owned land that is vacant or underutilized. Existing shelters should be evaluated to determine whether additional density that provides permanent housing could be supported. Look creatively at existing county facilities to see whether it would be appropriate to co-locate housing units. Arlington is developing housing at the new community center at Arlington Mills, and Alexandria included housing at the Fire Station at Potomac Yards.
  • Review land use policies and zoning regulations that inhibit strategies to develop more housing and make changes that facilitate the development of affordable units.
  • Homelessness is a reality throughout Northern Virginia, not just in Fairfax County, and as indicated here, the County has taken some positive first steps, but much more needs to be done. The challenges to providing affordable housing and addressing growing homelessness are significant, and the County has acknowledged their role in addressing the issue and identified ending homelessness as a priority. Now we ask that Fairfax consider the appropriate level of funding for this priority and include it in their FY2014 budget, because in the second wealthiest county in the country, over 2,000 school children should not be homeless.

The Impacts of Affordable Housing on Education

A growing body of research suggests that stable, affordable housing may provide children with enhanced opportunities for educational success. While schools and teachers bear principal responsibility for children's education, research shows that a supportive and stable home environment can complement the efforts of educators, leading to better student achievement.

This report by the Center for Housing Policy is an update to a 2007 literature review which examined the various ways in which the production, rehabilitation, or other provision of affordable housing may affect educational outcomes for children. Six prominent themes are discussed and include:

  • Stable, affordable housing may reduce the frequency of unwanted moves that can be disruptive to a child's educational experience;
  • Creating mixed-income communities increases the likelihood that all children will be exposed to more support for education and stronger school systems;
  • Providing decent, quality affordable housing reduces housing-related stress that can contribute to poor educational outcomes for children;
  • Safe, decent, well maintained housing will reduce the incidents of housing-related health hazards such as lead poisoning and asthma that impact learning;
  • Affordable housing developments can be a platform for educational improvement by providing residential-based after-school programs;
  • Affordable housing supports children's educational achievements by reducing homelessness among families with children.

Annually, funding for education is the largest line item in the budgets of all our jurisdictions in Northern Virginia. As a region, we understand the importance of, and are willing to invest in quality education for our children, so this issue has high community value and is allocated the necessary resources. If the provision of safe, affordable housing has an impact on a child's ability to learn and be successful, doesn't it make sense to protect that educational investment with an appropriate investment in affordable housing?

To read the report in it's entirely, click here

Fairfax County Affirms Their Commitment to Workforce Housing for Tysons

Last Friday, Fairfax County and the ULI Terwilliger Center for Workforce Housing co-hosted a Tysons Workforce Housing Summit, showcasing the newly adopted comprehensive plan for Tysons and the future of workforce housing there.

The extension of Metro and the planned arrival of four metro stops in 2013 provided the framework for a multi-year community visioning process that produced comprehensive plan language to guide the growth of Tysons over the next twenty years, and a mechanism to revisit continued redevelopment beyond that date. The desired outcome of the plan is to create a more compact, pedestrian-friendly urban area with a mix of uses, multi-modal transit options, and plenty of opportunities for people to live, work and play. Central to the success of that vision are policies that dramatically increase residential development to provide balance to the job growth that is projected to take place over the next 40-50 years, the expected build-out period for the Tysons plan.

The new housing policies for redevelopment in Tysons require 20 percent of all residential development to serve households between 50 - 120% of Area Median Income (AMI). During a presentation at the summit, Fairfax County Chairman Sharon Bulova joined a distinguished panel of speakers led by former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros and including Bart Harvey, former Chairman of Enterprise Community Partners; Tom Bozzuto, CEO of the Bozzuto Group; Ron Terwilliger, Chairman Emeritus of Trammell Crow Residential; and John McClain, Deputy Director, GMU Center for Regional Analysis in affirming the commitment of Fairfax County to housing at Tysons that serves households and a workforce at a variety of income levels. Among the themes reiterated during the presentation were:

  • A 20 percent workforce housing requirement is achievable at Tysons;
  • The provision of workforce housing is desirable and critical to the success of Tysons as a vibrant, economically sustainable urban center;
  • A supply of workforce housing will be essential to recruit and retain a 21st century workforce for Tysons;
  • The entire Board of Supervisors is supportive of and committed to the housing policies for Tysons.

Other key stakeholders spoke about the importance of workforce housing to the future of Tysons. SAIC, a landowner and large employer in Tysons, shared their plans for residential development in redesigning their 18 acre site, and spoke about the housing needs of the 25 percent of their workforce that makes between 50-80% of AMI. GMU's John McClain opened the discussion with statistics on the number of housing units that will be needed (80,000) to accommodate the projected job growth, and noted that 55% of all jobs in Fairfax County earn $50,000 or less.

At the close, the Terwilliger Center for Workforce Housing announced that they will be a partner with Fairfax County to provide technical assistance and support for developers working through strategies for financing and developing the residential component of their site plans.

The Alliance was pleased to be a member of the Housing Committee of the Tysons Task Force that developed the recommendations for workforce housing, and we applaud Chairman Bulova and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for their strong support and commitment to the implementation of the Plan. The promise by the Terwilliger Center to assist Tysons developers who are less familiar with affordable housing financing strategies is good news, and a partnership that the Alliance would like to see replicated with other jurisdictions that develop inclusionary zoning requirements for affordable and workforce housing.

Housing Policy Framework For the Commonwealth of Virginia: An Interim Report to the Governor

Bob Sledd, senior economic advisor to Governor Robert McDonnell, presented the Interim Housing Policy Framework Report and the Initial Report of the Homeless Outcome Advisory Committee at the Governor's Housing Conference in Richmond on November 18. These interim reports, created by two separate work groups, were developed in response to the Governor's Executive Order issued in April 2010, to develop recommendations for a state housing policy that would acknowledge housing as an essential factor in economic development, the provision of human services and the development of transportation systems.

Work efforts from the Executive Order have resulted in: 1) the creation of the Virginia Foreclosure Task Force to respond to issues related to foreclosure and housing market recovery; 2) an initial action plan to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of state resources in order to prevent homelessness and address the needs of homeless Virginians; and 3) 14 policy recommendations that address the need to streamline regulations, better link housing with jobs and transportation, promote sustainable communities, and ensure the provision of a range of housing options that address the needs of all Virginians.

In his presentation, Mr. Sledd noted that, "these recommendations seek to realign existing priorities in light of no new resources," so there should be no expectation of new programs or new funding for housing, at least in the short term.

However, there are some positives that housing advocates can take away from this initiative. One of the 14 policy recommendations in the Interim Housing Policy Framework Report calls for the creation "of a structure authorizing a state housing trust fund to enable a consistent source of "gap" financing for affordable housing development." Other recommendations call attention to:

  • establishing priorities for mixed-income housing for all income groups and housing types;
  • balance between homeownership and rental opportunities,
  • preservation of existing affordable housing;
  • linking housing, employment and transportation through establishment and alignment of land use priorities and incentives; and
  • regional affordable housing planning incentives.
The recommendations of the Homeless Outcome Advisory Committee offer more encouraging news. While most of their recommendations focus on realigning priorities among specific state agencies to create efficiencies in levels of service for homeless individuals and families, the Committee did establish a quantitative goal of reducing homelessness in the Commonwealth by 15 percent in three years.

It is unclear at this time what the next steps will be, but both committees will continue to meet into 2011, and the Alliance will monitor and report on their progress. For now, advocates should view these interim reports as a structure or framework for a future housing policy that must be filled in over time with programs and resources to achieve the stated goals. These reports target all the right outcomes, but details, resources and implementation plans are lacking. Nevertheless, the Alliance applauds Governor McDonnell for initiating the discussion.

To read the reports of both committees, go to

Why Invest In Affordable Housing?

This two page document provides strong talking points with accompanying research that supports community investment in affordable housing. Advocates must continue to remind both our elected officials and the general public about the benefits that affordable housing provides for our communities, especially at this time when jurisdictions are deliberating priorities for their FY2012 budgets. Decent, affordable housing promotes family stability and a child's ability to succeed in school. The construction and rehabilitation of affordable housing creates jobs and fuels local economies; and if jurisdictions provide housing for the workforce near job centers, there would be fewer and shorter commutes - a benefit for us all!

We encourage you to download a copy of this document and share it with your advocacy community. Our thanks and appreciation goes to Klein Hornig for researching and creating this document.

To read the document, click here.

Call To Action: Restoring Housing Funding
Two new studies on the state of housing in the Washington metro area were released recently. These reports, from the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and the Urban Institute, can be added to the established body of research that demonstrates the persistent and growing shortage of affordable housing for low and moderate income families.

As stated in ULI's report summary, "Despite recent shifts in the regional housing market, land values and home prices in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area remain unattainable for a large portion of workforce households."

Studies by GMU's Center for Regional Analysis and other research firms have shown that the Northern Virginia region needs tens of thousands of units of affordable rental housing near job centers and transit nodes for our workforce, as well as affordable housing for our most vulnerable families and individuals who are homeless, at risk of becoming homeless or have special needs.

Housing advocates have an important role to play in addressing this shortage. First, using available research and the real life stories of low and moderate income families, advocates should continue to educate local elected officials about the need. Foreclosures and reduced real estate values have given many political leaders the mistaken impression that housing affordability is no longer an issue.

Second, it is time for all jurisdictions to identify an appropriate, dedicated source of funding that can be used to address this housing shortage. Providing housing opportunities for households of all incomes is a component of the infrastructure necessary for a healthy, vibrant sustainable community - no less important than excellent schools, adequate public safety and an efficient transportation network.

To assist advocates in this work, the Alliance has developed a new section on its Research and Publications webpage, "Call To Action: Restoring Resources for Affordable Housing." This section contains talking points, fact sheets and links to reports on our housing needs.

As local governments work through the fall to develop budgets for FY2011, housing advocates should be "at the table," working to restore funds for the preservation and construction of affordable housing that were eliminated in the last fiscal year. The Alliance will continue to share housing information and resources, and work with our partner organizations to develop the most effective strategies for restoring funding for affordable housing in our region. To review Call to Action, go to