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Workshop seeks to ‘solve’ Tysons affordable housing challenges

Construction continues on Heming, a 410-unit apartment building in Scotts Run that will include 82 affordable dwelling units (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The conundrum of how to provide affordable housing in Tysons won’t be solved in a day, but the Tysons Partnership hopes to at least start a conversation about how it might be tackled.

About 100 developers, community advocates, property owners, policymakers and employers are expected to convene tomorrow afternoon (Wednesday) at the Boro Station Conference Center (1765 Greensboro Station Place) for a workshop on how to “solve” the area’s affordable housing issues, according to a media advisory.

During the interactive workshop, participants will be given different affordable housing proposals and tasked with coming up with ways to make them a reality using existing resources and Fairfax County policies.

The idea for the event came from the partnership’s housing subcommittee, which meets every month and was looking for an alternative to its typical seminar presentations, according to Tysons Partnership Land Use Council co-chair and board member John McGranahan.

“We hope participants will gain a better understanding of the complexities and challenges of providing affordable housing, but also the opportunities for real success,” McGranahan said. “We intend to follow-up this event with quarterly meetings to continue the dialogue we will begin with this workshop.”

Affordable housing is a key element of the county’s comprehensive plan to transform Tysons from a largely commercial center into a more livable community.

The plan calls for 20% of new residential units to be designated as affordable or workforce housing, a higher bar than what’s required elsewhere in the county. It also recommends that nonresidential developers contribute $3 per square foot to a Tysons Housing Trust Fund.

The county is dipping into that $8.7 million fund for the first time to help build the Dominion Square West all-affordable housing project that’s also being financed by Amazon, federal COVID-19 relief funds, and local tax revenue.

Fairfax County sees the planned Dominion Square West buildings as an example of how creative partnerships between the public, private, and nonprofit sectors can boost its affordable housing stock, but one project can only make so much of a dent when overall real estate prices continue to rise.

According to the real estate firm Redfin, the median sale price for housing in Tysons was $500,000, as of April, a 7% increase over 2021. The current average rent is $2,444 — well above the national average of $1,628 — even though the average apartment is only 926 square feet in size, according to RentCafe.

In addition to raising equity concerns, the limited availability of affordable housing poses an obstacle to employers and the county’s efforts to make Tysons more walkable and transit-oriented.

“There is a tremendous employment base in Tysons, and providing the broad range of employees who work in Tysons with opportunities to live in Tysons is important,” McGranahan, who also works as a land-use attorney, said. “Tysons employers want affordable housing for their employees. It is both an economic development and a quality of life issue.”

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