Report: Fairfax County Far Short on Meeting Affordable Housing Needs

Even with a penny on the Fairfax County real estate tax rate designated for affordable housing, the effort after two years is coming nowhere near filling need that exists in the county. The goals of the county’s penny policy have been met, but there’s a big difference between goals and needs.

This is the evidence provided in a draft of a comprehensive progress report prepared this summer by the county board’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, which was appointed to track the effectiveness of the so-called “Penny Fund” program.

According to the progress report a total of 1,412 affordable housing units have been preserved with the penny bringing $39 million to the fund in its first two fiscal years of operation.

But even with a push for an additional 1,766 units over the next four years, as recommended by the advisory group, in the year 2010 the county will remain 8,875 units short of meeting the demand for affordable housing.

Moreover, the study by the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis, included in the advisory group’s report, indicates that by the year 2025, in order to support the job growth expected in the county, a total of 31,641 new affordable housing units will be required.

Of these units, almost half, or 15,611, will need to be housing accommodating those with incomes 50% or less of the area’s average median income.

The advisory committee’s report reiterates its recommendation that a second penny equivalent of the county’s real estate tax income be set aside for affordable housing goals, but even that, it conceded, would not bring the county’s housing stock anywhere near current and projected needs.

Moreover, the draft of the report came out prior to recent new developments and indicators of the wider housing market. Yesterday, a U.S. Census report showed that the number of Americans, overall, who spend over 30% of their income on mortgage payments grew from 27% five years ago to 37% today.

According to government studies, anything over 30% is highly risky, given the uncertainties in the job market, health and other factors, as well as the maturity of adjusted rate mortgages that often drive monthly payments to double or more their initial phase costs.

However, the Fairfax County Affordable Housing Committee draft progress report, updated to include results from Fiscal Year 2007 that ended July 1, found that, measured against the county board’s expectations set forth in November 2005, all goals have either been met or exceeded.

The initial goal of preserving 1,000 affordable units in three years was exceeded by 412 with a full year to spare.

In Fiscal Year 2006, the “Penny Fund” policy generated $17.9 million and in Fiscal Year 2007 it added $21.6 million. A total of 892 affordable housing units were preserved the first year, and another 520 units this last year, for a total of 1,412.

All of the funds to date have been expended on preserving existing housing that was otherwise at risk of demolition or major overhaul into non-affordable status. No funds in FY07 went to assisted living for seniors, although there are a number of assisted living facilities under construction that include components of affordable housing.

The advisory board draft also calls for new initiatives in the area of single-room occupancy and residential studio units. “The committee recognizes low and moderate-income singles, particularly those with special needs, as among the most difficult to house.”

It adds, “The committee recognizes the purchase of old motels as potential preservation opportunities where single-room occupancy housing could be provided.”

But it goes on to urge the adoption of a proposed amendment to the county zoning ordinance to facilitate the development of single-room occupancy housing in the county, including initiatives to promote affordable and workforce housing in commercial, industrial and mixed-use districts through a “special exception” process.