Affordable housing supporters push county to back up words with funding

Affordable apartments for Ovation at Arrowbrook in McNair are undergoing construction (staff photo by David Taube)

While Fairfax County’s goal of creating 10,000 affordable housing units by 2034 is laudable, ambition alone will not address all of the county’s existing needs, residents and housing advocates say.

Affordable housing groups, residents, and other community members raised issues at budget hearings last week with how the county is seeking to address gaps in affordable housing. Many called for funding increases, a request that will have to be balanced with potentially competing priorities, such as property tax relief.

The advertised budget proposes a flat property tax rate of $1.14 per $100 of assessed property value. If that rate is adopted, due to increased assessments, the average homeowner’s bill would increase by $666 for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts on July 1.

According to community leader Michele “Cookie” Hymer Blitz, the county’s affordable housing gap has grown from around 31,000 units in 2020 to 42,000 units now.

“Please do not cut the tax rate below $1.13,” Blitz said. “Doing so would be a critical threat to beginning to mitigate our housing situation. The increase by the board from [5,000] to 10,000 affordable homes by 2034 is much needed, much appreciated. But it is not even half of the 42,000 units required to address our affordable housing crisis in a meaningful way.”

Concerned Fairfax co-chair William Taylor commended the Board of Supervisors for setting the 10,000-unit goal, but he said his group is concerned about whether this will benefit people with serious mental illness or substance abuse disorders.

People with greater needs would require greater subsidies, which could work against the county’s desire to add more affordable units.

“Our fear is…this mathematical tension is going to take place” and disadvantage people, Taylor said, requesting that the county modify its goal to include a target for those who make 12.5% or less of the area median income.

As advertised, the county’s fiscal year 2023 budget calls for over $73 million in affordable housing spending, with help from federal stimulus funding, County Executive Bryan Hill said in a budget letter.

Derwin Overton, executive director of the nonprofit Opportunities, Alternatives and Resources, which helps those involved in the criminal justice system, said prioritizing affordable housing in the budget could lead to more stability for those looking to reintegrate into society and their kids.