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Lived Experience, Partnership and Creativity: Three Themes at the Fairfax County Housing Symposium

Wednesday, March 6, at George Mason University, over 200 affordable housing professionals, students, community members and others gathered to discuss the issues, innovations, and the future of affordable housing in Fairfax County.  The 2024 Fairfax County Housing Symposium, was hosted by the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority (FCRHA) and the George Mason University Costello College of Business (FCRHA), with financial support from Virginia Housing, and the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors (NVAR).

The event included discussions on the complexities affordable housing development and preservation, the prevention of homelessness, and the lived experience of affordable housing.

A Need to Bring People with Lived Experience to the Table

“You’ve got to keep on having people with lived experience at the table – the more they work collaboratively with government, we will see more change. Affordable housing should mean that someone working full-time in a minimum wage job can afford housing without subsidies,” said Heather Thomas, a speaker at the event. As chair of FCRHA’s Moving to Work Resident Advisory Committee, her lived experience helps guide policy and programs.

Lived experience was also a part of the discussion about homelessness prevention. The Fairfax County Office to Prevent and End Homelessness Deputy Director Tom Barnett commented that several committees and staff positions at the agency require lived experience. Deborah Snyder, president and CEO, Operation Renewed Hope Foundation, discussed how the true understanding of the lives of veterans is essential to creating appropriate sheltering opportunities.

Power in Partnership

Partnership between private developers, public entities, financiers, and the community was emphasized as key to success to the development and preservation of affordable homes. Similarly, speakers highlighted opportunities for faith-based organizations, non-profits and others to partner in not only in affordable housing, but in homelessness services and fair housing.

“We take a lot of pride in the partnerships in this market. We partnered with APAH to deliver Oakwood Meadow Senior Residences, and we are working on another senior residence with Wesley Housing on Kindred Crossing. Our partnership with SCG Development at Ovation at Arrowbrook is an example of partnership that increased workforce housing in Fairfax County. Virginia Housing also enjoys an ongoing partnership with FCRHA, which we see as a true champion providing affordable housing opportunities across Fairfax County,” said Monique Johnson, Managing Director of Community Outreach, Virginia Housing.

“I appreciate what Fairfax County can do as a Moving to Work agency. Their creativity in the development the of Residences at North Hill is an example of what a close partnership between HUD and the FCRHA can do,” said Matthew Heckles, Field Policy and Management Regional Administrator, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“NVAR is proud to partner on the Housing Symposium. As the voice of real estate in Northern Virginia and beyond, our advocacy impacts many issues that make this region a great place to live, work, and play,” said Josh Veverka, Government Affairs Director, NVAR. “We can both advance the conversation around housing affordability and achieve our region’s housing needs.”

Affordable Housing Creativity

Looking to the future, several speakers and attendees discussed the power of preservation and reimaging affordable housing opportunities.

Anna Shapiro, Deputy Director for Real Estate Finance and Development for the Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development, shared the many components layered into the development and preservation of affordable housing, including public-private partnerships, acquisition partnerships, financing and zoning. “It requires dedication, innovation, collaboration and leadership to create these opportunities,” she commented.

“There is overhang in the office market. Why not take opportunities already there and preserve them for different uses? Consider the story of the asset over the long haul - with preservation, sometimes, over the years, you get a second bite of apple,” said Paul Bernard, President and CEO, AHC.

“The challenges and opportunities of affordable development are not unique to Fairfax County. Affordable housing is not an urban problem, nor suburban problem, nor rural problem. It touches on all corners of a region. Because it manifests in different ways, we need to have creative solutions,” said Kyle Speece, former Regional Vice President of Development, Conifer.

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