Advisory groups call for no net loss of affordable housing units

Exterior of apartment complex
The Kings Gardens Apartments in the Penn Daw area.

Two affordable housing advisory groups created by Fairfax County, including one focused on the Richmond Highway area, have released their draft reports to the Board of Supervisors.

Both advisory groups — the Embark Affordable Housing Group focused on the Route 1 corridor and the Affordable Housing Resources Panel (AHRP) tasked with looking at the issue from a county-wide perspective — recommend county leaders commit to no net loss of existing market affordable rental units, both in the Richmond Highway corridor and
in Fairfax County as a whole.

“Market-affordable” is defined as affordable for those at 60 percent of the average median income (AMI) — which is roughly equivalent to a family of four who earns $60,000 per year, according to the reports. The Embark Affordable Housing Group’s recommendations note that the Embark Richmond Highway plan only specified that housing set under 100 percent of the AMI should be maintained.

Housing locations plotted on map
(Click to enlarge)

The Embark group cited challenges specific the corridor due to the expected redevelopment called for in the Embark Richmond Highway plan. Most affordable housing on the highway sits outside the various Community Business Centers (CBCs) that are planned to get high-density construction, and group members anticipate that will make the corridor’s affordable units particularly ripe for development.

“These complexes may experience redevelopment or repositioning pressure as the Embark plan is implemented,” the draft plan reads. “These apartments are largely older, garden-style communities; many of which would require significant investment to physically preserve as quality, sustainable homes over the long term.”

More affordable housing units may be built in the CBCs to help offset the loss of housing outside of those areas, the report said. As these changes happen, the draft report recommend the county focus on assisting residents displaced by new development.

“[The Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority], the county and their affordable housing partners in the Richmond Highway corridor [should] provide for admissions preferences for persons who lose their market-affordable rental homes due to redevelopment, to the extent feasible under existing fair housing laws.”

Officials should also look at using county land and facilities for locating affordable housing, according to the recommendations outlined in the report. FCRHA should also look at acquiring land for future public-private partnerships, as was done with the planned North Hill development in Hybla Valley, the report said.

sites plotted on map
Click to enlarge

The 14-member Embark Affordable Housing Group met nine times between June 2018 and February of this year. The 30-member AHRP met five times since October 2018.

Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck said in a press release that while advisory groups’ “efforts [were] commendable,” the county still needs more tools to retain affordable housing, and also to help residents become homeowners in the county as well.

“These needs are not only in the rental market, but we must strive to support homeownership as well,” Storck said. “Providing enhanced opportunities for residents to own their own homes is one of the best paths to financial and community stability, and something the County must further embrace.”

“An excellent roadmap”

The 37-page AHRP draft report calls on Fairfax County to add a minimum of 5,000 new homes that are affordable to households that earn up to 60 percent of the AMI. The recommendation says the 5,000 number is “a floor” and should be reached in the next 15 years.

Additionally, the 5,000 number should “be supplemented with additional financing mechanisms and tools to potentially increase the new production of affordable units above the goal of 5,000 units, with the aspiration of fulfilling the demand of 15,000 units.”

To help fund the effort, the AHRP endorsed a 1 penny increase on the real estate tax starting in fiscal year 2021. This would be in addition to the half penny already dedicated to affordable housing. The AHRP also recommended creating three new county positions dedicated to handling affordable housing issues.

Board of Supervisors chairman Sharon Bulova praised the AHRP report in a press release.

“In order to ensure a healthy economy, reduce traffic congestion and maintain an excellent quality of life, it’s important for residents to be able to live near where they work in housing that is affordable,” Bulova said. “[The AHRP] has presented the Board with an excellent roadmap to consider during a future budget cycle.”

Other AHRP recommendations included examining partnerships with houses of worship who are interested in having affordable housing built on their property — an approach that has been used in Arlington and Alexandria. The AHRP said co-locating affordable housing with other county projects — such as the Bailey’s Shelter — is another tactic officials should try to do more.

Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay said the arrival of Amazon H2Q in the area and the expected changes to the Route 1 outlined in the Embark plan, the county can expect officials to remain focused on affordable housing.

“Affordable housing must continue to be a top County priority,” said McKay, who is running for chairman of the Board of Supervisors. “As Embark comes to fruition and Amazon HQ2 arrives, we know we need to continue creating and preserving affordable housing for all.”

You can read the draft report of the Embark advisory group here.

You can read the AHRP draft report here.

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