Every few years, Fairfax County conducts a Human Services Needs Assessment to better understand the needs of residents and plan for the future. Using feedback from the community, survey data, and information from county programs and services, a public report is issued, and the information gathered forms the basis for determining both the assets and the needs for our broader community. As the report states, “Human services can no longer be identified as only a critical safety net for the very poor, but rather the key to Fairfax County, where all residents enjoy success, prosperity, and health.” The entire report is available on-line at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/living/healthhuman/needs-assessment.
The assessment noted several key themes, which should not be a surprise in this region:
• Affordable and accessible housing for all residents continues to be paramount, and important for a vibrant economy and a strong tax base;
• Financial stability is key to the economic prosperity of residents who are struggling more often to meet basic household needs;
• Access to health insurance, behavioral health services, and domestic violence services are critical to the continuation of livable, caring, and safe neighborhoods; and
• Affordable, accessible, and efficient transportation options are fundamental to fully participate in community activities and services.
Overall, the assessment found, our population is growing (596,900 residents in 1980; 1,125,400 residents in 2015); shifting (from inside the Beltway to outside I-495); becoming more diverse, and older. By 2035, it is estimated that adults aged 65 and older will make up nearly 15 percent of the county’s population. That’s almost double the percentage of older adults who resided in the county in 2000.
Although Fairfax County weathered the Great Recession better than some jurisdictions, the economic effects still are being felt. Recovery has been unequal; job loss affected lower-wage occupations more than higher-wage ones. However, a study by the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University also indicated that many newer jobs have lower salaries. Job creation is important, but wages have not kept pace with inflation.
At the same time, federal resources in the region are decreasing, and the proportion of county human resources funding has decreased, putting additional strain on non-profit partners that help meet the demand for services. At the same time, housing prices have improved, which is good news for homeowners, but not so good news for young families seeking to purchase a home of their own. Rents have increased faster, by percentage, than home values, too.
So what can we do? The report outlines a number of realistic goals for the community overall. Sustainable housing, economic self-sufficiency, healthy people, connected individuals – all are crucial components for building a strong community. The human services system must develop a five-year strategic resources plan to match critical needs with available resources. That same system needs true service integration, regular performance data, and effective communication with all partners – government, residents, non-profit providers, the faith community, and community representatives on county boards, authorities and commissions, who provide advice and recommendations to the Board of Supervisors. Working together, we can ensure that, when the next needs assessment is conducted, the picture, and the future, is vastly improved.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.