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Fairfax County Tables RSU Amendment

On June 9, the Residential Studio Committee of the Fairfax County Planning Commission voted to recommend that the review of the Zoning Ordinance Amendment for Residential Studio Units be tabled. This recommendation will be voted on by the full Planning Commission at their July 24 meeting and it is almost certain that it will be adopted. After months of committee hearings and community meetings throughout the county, the RSU amendment will be quietly put to rest.

What were the factors that defeated this proposal? They were many and varied, including:

Is Fairfax County committed to providing housing that is affordable for all its residents?

While the Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness in 2007 and the Blueprint for Housing in 2010, they have done very little in the ensuing years to provide the resources needed to implement these plans. In 2009, when the county reduced the Penny Fund for Housing to a half cent, the financial resources to leverage private capital to preserve and develop new affordable housing were lost (the remaining half cent is used to pay the debt service on the bonds issued for the Wedgewood Apartments acquisition). From 2005 to 2009, the One Penny Fund preserved over 2,200 units of affordable housing. Since 2009, the number of new or preserved units serving households earning less than $64,000 or 60% of area median income has declined significantly.

The FY2015 Housing and Community Development budget provides $5 million for new construction or a preservation project of 120 units, and approximately $3 million for Bridging Affordability, a rental subsidy for households moving out of homelessness. This is a paltry amount of funding for a county of this size and wealth. As has been famously said, "show me your budget and I'll show you your priorities."

Other policies to provide funding for housing have been studied and tabled by the Board of Supervisors, the most recent being the '3-2-1 policy' which would secure a contribution from commercial development in transit and high density areas of the county to support the development of workforce housing. This policy is currently in place for the Tysons redevelopment area, but Board members felt that if applied to other areas of the county, it could deter new commercial development which has slowed down in the last few years. However, both Arlington and Alexandria have commercial development fee policies in place, and the result has been a significant increase in resources for affordable housing with no apparent impact on commercial development.

The unwillingness to adopt new, proven funding strategies, combined with minimal local investment in housing programs means that the county is falling farther and farther behind in meeting the goals for the 10 Year Plan and the Blueprint for Housing. How can homelessness be addressed in a meaningful way if the stock of affordable housing isn't growing? How does Fairfax County ensure that there is housing in their communities for the workforce in the retail, hospitality, health care, public sector and entry level jobs? How does the county promote the development of stable, affordable housing for homeless children, youth aging out of foster care, persons with special needs, seniors on fixed incomes and low wage working people?

The need for a community conversation about housing

The final motion on the RSU amendment at the June 9 meeting included a recommendation stating that "there be a broader community dialogue about affordable housing, including a discussion on how best to provide for a range of housing opportunities....that will serve the County's current and future residents at all income levels." The Alliance enthusiastically endorses this recommendation, and believes the time for discussion is now. An honest community discussion would hopefully break down some of the barriers of mistrust and misunderstanding surrounding housing, and engage more members of the community in building consensus for solutions.

The growing shortage of affordable housing and the severe cost burden for an increasing percentage of the county's population is not unique to Fairfax County. This is a challenge that threatens the vitality and sustainability of the entire region, and some jurisdictions have made progress in increasing their affordable housing stock through a variety of financial and land use tools. As the largest jurisdiction and the engine of job growth for the region, Fairfax County should be the leader in addressing the housing issue. Instead, they are lagging far behind due to negligible investments and the absence of vision to address the unmet housing needs of its residents both today and in the future.

Arlington County Manager Identifies Potential Public Land Sites for Affordable Housing, Schools

In a first step toward developing a formal process for utilizing publicly owned or underutilized land for affordable housing, Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan announced that County-owned parcels that could be considered for future affordable housing and public school developments within the next several years have been identified and prioritized. Utilizing a Geographic Information System (GIS), county staff developed a database of 678 parcels owned by the County and Arlington Public Schools (APS). The information was presented to the County Board as part of a presentation on the proposed Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for 2015-2024. It is worthwhile to note that the inclusion of affordable housing in the CIP is part of the County's vision for 'investing in strategic priorities."

"Affordable housing and schools are two of our County's highest priorities, and the County Board has emphasized its commitment to the concept of using Public Land for Public Good," said Donnellan. "We need to do more analysis, but this is a good start for finding ways to use public land to achieve important community goals."

Recommended sites for affordable housing

The list of potential sites was narrowed to 24 based on criteria including, but not limited to, land area; environmental constraints; distance to metro stations or the primary transit network; zoning designations; and existing land use. Of these 24 sites, the County Manager is recommending eight sites for further consideration for affordable housing within the next 10 years, in two tiers:

  • Tier 1: Rosslyn Highlands Park/Fire Station #10; Courthouse Square and Plaza; land adjacent to Lee Gardens (North Woodbury Park); and Gables North Rolfe Street.
  • Tier 2: Fire Station #8; Edison complex; Lubber Run Park; and land adjacent to Jennie Dean Park.

All Tier 1 sites are currently in the planning process and will consider inclusion of affordable housing. Tier 2 sites are identified in the CIP for future studies, but the planning processes for these sites are not underway. A timeline for a special planning study to include a significant community discussion for each site under consideration will be developed. Additionally, the list of sites and priorities will be evaluated as part of the annual review of the County's Planning work program. The recently opened Arlington Mill Residences, a partnership between the county and the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing is an example of using public land to co-locate housing with a community center.

What are other jurisdictions doing?

Alexandria has included a recommendation in their Housing Master Plan to evaluate city-owned land for affordable housing, but the time line for implementation is 4-6 years, and community housing advocates have urged city staff to shorten the process since an inventory of public land is currently available. The Station at Potomac Yards, developed in partnership with the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation, is another example of co-locating affordable housing with a new fire station.

Fairfax County advocates promoted a public land policy for affordable housing as part of a 2005 report on the development of single room occupancy units to the Board of Supervisors. To date, there has been no shared inventory of county-owned land nor has there been any affordable housing development on publicly owned or underutilized land. The Residences at the Government Center, an affordable housing development planned for the County Government Center campus, has been in the works for more than six years, but there is no clear indication as to when construction may actually begin.

To learn more about using public land to develop affordable housing, see our newly released report "Leveraging Public Land for Affordable Housing in Northern Virginia: A Primer."

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

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.