Fairfax Co Housing Strategic Plan

At the request of the Board of Supervisors, the Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) recently presented their framework for a new Housing Strategic Plan for the County. Stressing that this would not be a needs assessment, HCD’s Director said that this plan will align with other recent master plans, including the County’s Strategic  Plan to Facilitate Economic Success, a recently completed Health and Human Services Assessmentthe 50+ Community Action Plan, which looks at trends and recommendations for the county’s aging population, and the County’s newly adopted Social and Racial Equity Pledge.

In the last few years, neighboring jurisdictions have completed their own comprehensive housing plans. Alexandria City Council adopted a Housing Master Plan in 2013, and Arlington’s County Board adopted an Affordable Housing Master Plan in 2015. Loudoun County is updating an earlier housing needs assessment which is scheduled to be presented to the County’s Board of Supervisors early in 2017. Even the White House is taking notice of this issue. With housing affordability a growing concern nationwide, the Obama administration recently released a Housing Development Toolkit which identifies land use strategies that localities should consider to address our national housing shortage, especially in high growth areas like the DMV.

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Redeveloping Tysons

Building upon their Housing Blueprint, Fairfax County’s strategic plan will explore the intersection of needs – those who are experiencing homeless or are the most vulnerable; low-income working households; and the middle-income workforce – and creative housing solutions to address them. As has been made clear in the County’s Plan for Economic Success and other regional studies, providing housing opportunities at all income levels is critical to attract and retain a quality workforce.

What We Like About This Plan

This will be a community plan; one that seeks broad community engagement. HCD will develop outreach strategies that involve key stakeholders including schools, civic groups, chambers of commerce, developers, policymakers and housing advocates.

There is a 12-14 month timeline. With the comprehensive analysis of the county’s housing needs already completed, and a clear set of land use and regulatory policies that have been adopted, or are in need of expansion and/or refinement, this plan should move fairly quickly to recommendations and implementation.

What We Hope To See In This Plan

More robust preservation strategies. In general, it’s more cost effective to rehabilitate and preserve housing than to start from scratch. Much of the County’s older, more affordable market-rate housing is located in redevelopment areas adjacent to transit corridors, job opportunities and services such as Bailey’s Crossroads, Seven Corners and Annandale, where hundreds of low-income employees live. While the County has a ‘one-for-one’ replacement policy when affordable units are demolished, this policy is difficult to enforce with market affordable housing stock that has no public subsidy. Partnerships with the private sector, particularly non-profit developers, should be explored to rehabilitate, preserve and expand the supply of affordable housing in these locations.

Vacant commercial space for residential use. Much has been made of the glut of vacant commercial space, but there are many challenges to re-purposing commercial buildings for residential use. However, there are examples in the DMV of successful conversions, and the county should make this a greater priority in the ongoing assessment of how to turn these vacant buildings into productive uses that also address a significant county need. Sponsoring a demonstration residential project could be an illustrative first step.

Co-locating housing with public facilities. There are a few examples of public-private partnerships that have  developed housing on publicly-owned land such as the Residences at the Government Center. To facilitate additional development opportunities, the County’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) should include a feasibility analysis of future public facilities sites to assess whether residential development is appropriate. Community centers, fire stations, libraries and even schools should be evaluated for potential residential development via partnerships with the private sector.

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The Residences at the Government Center

Dedicated source of revenue. No plan will be successful if adequate financial resources are not secured, and public investment is critical to providing these housing opportunities. This could be accomplished through a fixed annual allocation to a production fund; bonds for housing; or a percentage of the real estate tax. The county’s existing allocations are woefully insufficient based on current housing needs, and a greater public commitment will be required to implement a plan. Through these strategic investments the County can leverage considerable private sector financial resources, and ensure a more sustainable and equitable future for its low and moderate income residents.