Budgets Reflect Values

Over the next two weeks, local governments in Northern Virginia will release their proposed budgets for FY 2016 and the number crunching will begin. Once again, we are being warned about revenue shortfalls, cuts to services, and troubling forecasts for the region’s economic future. NVAHA Budgets Reflect Values Unfortunately, this refrain is all too familiar.

How to afford housing has become a concern for an increasing percentage of our population — the majority of whom are full-time workers. The federal definition of affordable is that no more than 30% of your income goes to your housing costs, but wages for many jobs have not kept pace with the rise in rents.

Did you know that an hourly “rent” wage for a two-bedroom apartment in NoVA is $28.25? That means that if you earn the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour, you must work 156 hours a week to afford your rent!

Affordable Housing Ranks High

On the list of priorities at community meetings held across the region when annual budgets are being discussed, affordable housing ranks high.

  • Arlington County has set of goal of preserving 6,000 units of affordable housing on Columbia Pike, a major urban corridor undergoing redevelopment.
  • Fairfax County held over 50 community focus groups last year to identify the most important elements for economic success in the county, and affordable housing was in the top three.
  • In the City of Alexandria, a well-attended community meeting identified affordable housing as one of the city’s top priorities.

Over the last ten years, transportation and affordable housing have consistently been named the two greatest challenges to the growth and vitality of our region. We have made major advancements in transportation.

Our region has aggressively added transportation, like this new Silver Line station. Affordable housing, however, has lagged.

Our region has aggressively added transportation, like this new Silver Line station. Affordable housing has lagged.

 The same cannot be said for housing that is affordable to low and moderate income households. If anything, we have lost thousands of affordable units to redevelopment, and as we develop new housing, fewer units are affordable.  

Do Budgets Reflect Our Values?

If we hold that our budgets reflect our values and our priorities, they are not reflected in the outcomes. People still experience homelessness for prolonged periods of time, others continue to live paycheck to paycheck, or double up in overcrowded conditions because they can’t afford housing.

Safe, decent shelter is a basic need for all of us, and the shortage of affordable housing reaches beyond its impact on the individual to broader consequences for the community at large. Safe, affordable housingis the platform upon which individuals and families achieve stability and neighborhoods prosper. Businesses are successful in recruiting and retaining workers, commuting times are reduced, and quality of life is enhanced when people can live in the community where they work.

Need for Public Investment

Countless research reports have been issued documenting our region’s housing shortages, and we’ve projected our workforce housing needs for the future. Best practices have been discussed and a variety of land use and financial tools have been examined. We have quantified the problem, we know how to achieve the solution, and we’ve identified affordable housing as a high community priority. So why have we made so little progress in addressing our unmet housing needs?

The public investments needed for housing will leverage millions more in private sector funding and economic activity, create jobs and provide housing for people who will spend their paychecks locally. Why aren’t we meeting this challenge? What do we need to do to make our budgets reflect our values? 

Michelle Krocker

Executive Director, Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance (NVAHA)