Social Equity in Fairfax County
On July 12, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted the One Fairfax Resolution, calling for the development of a racial and social equity policy to ensure that all individuals in Fairfax have an opportunity to reach their highest level of personal achievement. The day the resolution was adopted, Chairman Bulova stated that:
“One Fairfax emphasizes the importance of making County-wide decisions through the lens of racial and social equity. This is a formal declaration that will help shape decisions regarding education, land use, zoning and public-private partnerships. I am proud to represent a county that values our diverse community and supports our students, residents, workforce, and business owners of every race, socio-economic status, and background.”
Given the turbulent times in the country, we applaud the Board for this declaration of support for racial and social equity, but what exactly does it mean, especially for those of us working in the areas of community development and housing affordability for our low income and minority neighbors?
Based on American Communities Survey data in the County’s FY16 budget document, we know that:
- there are an estimated 72,000 households in the County who earn less than $50,000 annually, and an estimated 60,000 people who live below the federal poverty level;
- the current affordable housing gap for low income renters in the county is 31,000 units, and there are fewer than 10,000 units with rents below $1,000/month;
- with the average rent for a 2-bedroom apartment approaching $1,800/month, the housing choice for these families in the county is either excessive rent burdens or over-crowded, unsafe housing.
To demonstrate true commitment to social equity, the County should make meaningful investments in housing, infrastructure and services for low-income families and individuals struggling to make ends meet. That includes:
- Providing sufficient financial resources – a dedicated revenue source, a bond, or annual baseline commitment to the housing trust fund – to leverage private dollars to develop the thousands of units needed for our lower income households and our workforce;
- Adopting land use policies that require affordable housing development near transit stations and major bus routes, giving people ease of access to job centers and community services;
- Convening a workforce summit with our institutions of higher learning, major employers, state and federal partners and nonprofit organizations in the County to develop effective, robust skills training for living wage jobs for low income households. Housing advocates know that good paying jobs are the other half of the housing affordability equation.
As we strive to ensure that our policies and practices continue to keep us economically competitive as a region, we know that having a full spectrum of housing choices for all members of our workforce is critical to our future. That’s why housing affordability is a key component of the County’s Strategic Plan to Facilitate Economic Success.
While Fairfax County has undertaken initiatives to address disparities in the areas of health, child welfare and education, these additional steps would go a long way to advance a true growth model for its diverse population, and that’s an agenda we can really get behind.