Countywide

Fairfax County board approves plan to lure developers into replacing lost affordable housing

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

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a new policy last week that could offer incentives to developers to replace the affordable housing lost to new development.

The new policy wouldn’t just require a one-to-one replacement of units set aside as affordable — known as committed affordable units — but would incentivize the replacement of those that were naturally affordable — meaning market-rate affordable.

In effect, if a new development brings units to a site previously affordable for those making less than the area median income, the developer would be offered incentives to include an equal number of affordable units in the new development. Those incentives could include additional density, building height and financial assistance.

The sole voice against the new amendment at the meeting last Tuesday (March 21) was Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, who said the county can’t subsidize its way out of the regional housing crisis. According to Herrity:

The requirement to replace market-rate affordable units could inhibit the delivery of much needed housing, especially if incentives fail to cover the cost of the preserved affordable units. It’s a lot of those incentives that are basically making housing unaffordable for many of our residents, because those incentives are paid by our residents. Our young adults and our seniors are priced out of housing. We’re not going to be able to do enough government-subsidized housing to fix this problem. Where we need to start is reducing the cost of housing. I’m not going to be supporting this, that’s probably no surprise to the board, but I think there are better ways to attack this problem.

The rest of the board, though, was enthusiastic in its support of the new policy.

“This is a good next step for us,” Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck said. “The issue is: how do we ensure this distribution of housing is countywide? I think this starts to tackle that issue by highlighting and identifying where those issues and where those needs are. I’m looking to support far more housing that’s affordable in many other areas.”

Storck said the policy is part of the county’s commitment to ensure residents can afford to stay in the county even as overall housing prices continue to rise.

“I have a statement that I say often and my staff will probably roll their eyes when I say this again: we need to make sure we leave no one behind,” Storck said. “If you’ve lived in our community for a while, we need to make sure there are options for you. To get those options, we need to build more housing.”

The policy change was approved in a 9-1 vote.

Following adoption by the Board of Supervisors, staff will work to put together a draft of new guidelines in May and present those to the board later this summer.