Housing emerges as top issue in Lee District race

Migliaccio speaking in front of group
Lee District Supervisor candidate James Migliaccio speaks at Tanger Kabob House Cafe on Saturday.

It’s getting more and more expensive to live in Fairfax County, and the four candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for Lee District Supervisor are well aware of that. Each has named housing as one of their top concerns — if not the top concern — in this year’s race.

That emphasis affordable housing was well-received by residents of the Jefferson Manor neighborhood, who hosted the four candidates for a meet-and-greet Saturday evening at Tanger Kabob House Cafe on Telegraph Road.

The candidates — Kelly Hebron, Larysa Kautz, Rodney Lusk and James Migliaccio — each gave brief remarks at the start of the event and then spent the next two hours mingling with those in attendance. While transportation, education, equity and other issues were raised, housing was the most consistent theme.

“The lack of affordable housing in the county is pretty upsetting,” Jefferson Manor resident Barb Slinker said after hearing the candidates. “People can’t work in the county and live here an more, some of them. We clearly do need a lot more affordable housing.”

Hebron and Kautz, both newcomers to the Fairfax County political arena, talked about their individual experiences and how it’s affected their perspective. Hebron recalled how she came to the county out of law school 20 years ago and was able to stay and start a family.

But it’s getting harder and harder for families in similar situations to do the same, she noted.

“There are some things that I see that are happening that I just cannot stand on the sidelines and say ‘I’ll just wait for somebody else to take care of it,’” Hebron said during her speech.

Kautz said housing was her number one priority. A first-generation American, Kautz talked about her own experiences growing up poor and how it informs her approach to the issue.

“I understand what it’s like to live with insecurity and not know if you and your family can stay in the same school district or in the same house because you’re not sure if you can pay the rent or the mortgage,” said

Lusk, who works for the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, said those starting just their careers and older citizens are struggling more and more to find housing in the county.

“When we look at the cost of housing in Fairfax County, it’s become so exorbitant that people who are … entering the workforce can’t afford to live in Fairfax County,” Lusk said. “People who are seniors can’t afford to live in Fairfax County. And those who are public sector employees can’t afford to live in Fairfax County.”

Migliaccio, the current Lee District Planning Commissioner, said implementing Embark Richmond Highway as quickly as possible would help guard against the loss of market-rate affordable housing. Migliaccio noted Amazon will soon be arriving to the area and that other high-paying employers expected to follow. Because of that, Migliaccio said, existing market-rate housing on the Richmond Highway corridor could be redeveloped to target more affluent residents.

There’s little the county can do at this point to prevent such scenarios, Migliaccio said. But the high-density mixed-use projects called for in Embark are mandated to include a certain percentage of affordable housing units.

“So we want to build up our central business districts with mixed-use development and lock in 12-15 percent [of units] for affordable housing,” Migliaccio said.

Jefferson Manor resident Ryan Murphy said afterward that he appreciated the candidates’ focus on the issue. Murphy and his wife currently rent, but are looking into purchasing a home. Murphy said prices in the area, even for some of Jefferson Manor’s 1,200-square-foot duplexes, have given them pause.

“I worry about [housing prices] pushing folks out and also preventing newer folks from coming in — unless they have heaps of money,” Murphy said. “So it’s promising that I heard everyone talk about it.”

Survey responses

Kautz, Lusk and Migliaccio all recently responded to the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance’s candidate survey on the issue. Below are some excerpts from their answers. The full responses can be read here.

“[Affordable housing] at the top of my priorities list, and foundational to almost every issue of concern to my campaign. Without access to adequate and affordable housing, the challenges facing middle class and vulnerable families in our county are serverly compounded. The best and most immediate way we can provide support to these same families, is to take steps to help them address their housing needs.”
— Rodney Lusk

“For those living in or seeking affordable housing, we cannot just have a goal of “no net loss” of affordable housing in connection with the development projects that are upcoming. We must be working to significantly increase the number of affordable housing units. A county-wide goal of ⅓ of the number of units that is needed is not enough. We must plan & build affordable units in places that are accessible to multi-modal public transportation. And we must be transparent and proactive when it comes to assisting our residents who are going to be impacted by the loss of existing affordable housing to planned development.”
— Larysa Kautz

“Affordability is intrinsically linked to economic development, education and transportation. Where we live, work and play dictates so much of our quality of life. An evenly distributed diverse housing stock throughout Fairfax County lends itself to an attractive place for businesses to locate, strong community schools and a robust transportation network. The lack of affordable housing options will hinder efforts to grow, attract and retain businesses since these businesses will be forced to locate elsewhere closer to its workforce.”
— James Migliaccio