Advocates call on Fairfax board to provide more funds for affordable housing

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors recently adopted a minimum goal of 10,000 affordable housing units by 2034, doubling its original goal, and the county’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2023 commits more than $73 million to affordable housing.

But the board is being pushed to advance that commitment with increased funding. During public hearings last week, the board heard from several community leaders and residents who called for the increases.

Heather Thomas, vice chair of Fairfax County’s Community Action Advisory Board, was one of several advisory board members who spoke.

“If the goal is to eliminate homelessness and create a Fairfax where all are included, we need to create policies and fund measures that do not perpetuate a broken system,” Thomas said.

Thomas is also a representative for the county’s low-income population. She went on to criticize the housing options available in the county.

“To live in an affordable housing property, you must have a minimum income between $32,000 to $40,000 a year depending on the unit size and property. The rent – regardless of whether you have housing assistance or not – runs anywhere from $1,800 to $2,000 per month. Just think about that for a minute. This comes to $21,600 to $24,000 a year in rent, without basic utilities,” Thomas said.

Thomas referenced residents in her current neighborhood, which is under renovation. That has caused residents to worry that rent will drastically increase once the work is completed.

“Everyone living here is on edge, wondering what is going to happen to their rent when they finally do these basic repairs,” she said.

Kerrie Wilson, co-chair of Fairfax County’s Affordable Housing Advisory Council, applauded the board’s new goal of 10,000 affordable units, but said the county would not be able to “meet its goal or add the momentum to bring new projects to the table without additional new dollars.”

Some residents, such as William Taylor, co-chair of Concerned Fairfax, also raised concerns about affordable housing for those living with mental health conditions.

“Affordable housing – stable housing – is very important to individuals with SMI [serious mental illness] and SUD [substance use disorder]. Their lives are unstable enough as it is, they can’t abide having an unstable housing situation,” said Taylor, whose organization helps those with mental illnesses.

“The population of folks with SMI and SUD – they don’t have income generally in the 60% AMI [area median income] range. Their income level, as best we can tell, is more at 12.5%,” he added.

Taylor said his “understanding of how affordable housing financing works is that the lower the income of the individual who needs the housing the greater subsidy is required.” He believes this will cause people with mental health conditions to be disadvantaged.

“Our fear is that this mathematical tension is going to take place and without anyone intending it to happen,” he said.

In fiscal year 2021, 60% of the area median income for a family of four in Fairfax County was $77,400, according to the county’s website.

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