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Submission for Washington Post- Local Opinion

Affordable Housing: Time to Change the Dialogue

Affordable Housing. It’s an issue affecting millions of people across the country, yet, many feel it is an issue only impacting our poorest population. Much of this can be attributed to the underlying stigma associated with affordability; that the term “affordable housing” equals lower property values, higher crime, and unemployment rates. All clichéd assumptions that often go unchallenged in affordable housing dialogues across the nation. It is time we change that. It is time we start the conversation with the economic benefits of having affordable housing in our communities. It is time to start showing that it is more than housing assistance; that it is a valuable economic resource that benefits us all.

According to a recent study by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, 21.3 million households across the nation are cost burden (spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing), and the number of those who spend more than 50 percent is about 11.4 million. In Fairfax County, the National Low Income Housing Coalition Out of Reach 2015 report found that the annual salary needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment that cost $1,458 was $58,320 –approximately 53 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) for a family of four. In short, our teachers, firemen, policemen, and young professionals cannot afford to live where they work. More affordability is needed for our workforce; a critical component of our local economy. It is time to change the dialogue.

Often the issue, when advocating for affordable housing, is that we fail to effectively communicate why affordable housing is important. We fail to discuss its value; how it is the foundational element of economic resilience in local communities. How it improves the local tax base and stabilizes family units. How communities benefits from public investments; ensuring that opportunities for individuals and families of all income levels are available.

The Urban Land Institute reports that more than half of the large companies with more than 100 employees cite a lack of affordable housing near their business as a significant challenge; and 58 percent of the companies claim to have lost employees due to burdensome commutes. By having affordable housing, employees are able to live where they work and support the local economy. In addition, having a larger pool of waged workers makes for a more attractive location for businesses to relocate, which in turn, improves the commercial tax base so that local government is less reliant on residential real property taxes. It’s all connected.

The Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority (FCRHA) understands the need for more affordable housing and its economic tie. By preserving affordable units in high transit communities, the FCRHA is able to contribute to the economic health of Fairfax County.  Over 400 rental workforce units have been constructed to help provide affordable housing to the County workforce. As of June 2016, the FCRHA has preserved about 2,785 affordable housing units; more than doubling the Board of Supervisors’ original 2004 goal of preserving 1,000 units in the County.

In Fiscal Year 2016, the FCRHA used HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME) and Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) funds to preserve a total of 23 units via loans provided to local nonprofit affordable housing providers. Most recently, the FCRHA authorized a loan of up to $5.65 million for the acquisition of a 113-unit apartment complex, Huntington Gardens, in the Lee District.  This property will be preserved as affordable housing for the next 30 years and will be home to families with incomes at or below 60 percent AMI. In addition, 28 units will be for chronically homeless individuals with special needs; an often overlooked demographic that is likely to have both service and housing needs.

As Fairfax County grows, the need for affordable housing will only increase. We cannot look at this issue through the same lens. We have to change the dialogue. The facts are, affordable housing is good for the local economy, improves the local tax base, stabilizes family units, allows workers to live where they work, and provides opportunities for individuals and families of all income levels.  It is not just an issue for the lower-income and underserved populations. It is a vital resource that benefits us all.


Robert Schwaninger
Chairman, Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority

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