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County proposes giving developers option to move affordable housing off-site

The Residences at North Hill, an affordable housing development in Hybla Valley (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

In the future, Fairfax County property owners planning to redevelop rental properties may be able to replace affordable housing units on-site with units in nearby locations.

Under drafted administrative guidelines, the county would only provide the option if it’s not “financially feasible” for the property owner to maintain the affordable units on the existing site.

The off-site housing “must be within a one-mile radius of the original property location to the extent practicable,” according to the draft guidelines.

County staff would also evaluate whether the new units are in a comparable location, including whether tenants would have similar access to major roads and transit, county facilities such as schools, and commercial areas.

The county is now aiming for one-for-one replacement of affordable housing units when there is redevelopment, per a March amendment to the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan.

Specifically, the policy intends to preserve rental multifamily housing units that are either committed affordable — meaning rents are restricted to certain income levels — or market affordable — meaning they’re accessible for households that earn up to 60% of the area median income, even without rent or income restrictions.

The county’s Department of Housing and Community Development is developing draft administrative guidelines for the policy. The ability to move preserved affordable units off-site is outlined in the latest draft, presented to the Board of Supervisors housing committee Tuesday (Aug. 1).

Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw expressed reservations about the feasibility of the 1-mile radius.

“I find it hard to believe that there would be many property owners that would be able to make that work,” he said.

Meghan Van Dam, director of the HCD’s affordable housing development division, acknowledged that in certain circumstances, the 1-mile radius could be a challenge.

“In general, we looked at the 1-mile radius thinking about what might be walkable, what might be reasonable in terms of if you do have support networks in place in your community, how could you access those, where would they be located,” Van Dam said.

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, who cast the only vote against the comprehensive plan amendment in March, remained skeptical of the policy.

“It increases housing costs, period,” he said.

A final version of the guidelines could be adopted as soon as September. The guidelines will be discussed for a potential vote at a board public hearing on Sept. 26.

County staff also plan to update the county’s Relocation Guidelines, which provide information about how developers of rental and mobile home properties can assist tenants displaced by development. Those guidelines were last updated in 2012.

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