When developers come before the county Board of Supervisors asking for a rezoning, affordable housing advocates take note. As part of a trade-off with the board, developers are sometimes asked to contribute a certain amount of money into a special affordable housing fund in exchange for the right to more intensely develop their parcel than planned. That fund, known as the Housing Trust Fund, was set up in 1988 when now-U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11) was chairman to capture money from developers proffered to affordable housing. Fifteen years and $18 million later, the Housing trust Fund has helped produce more than 1,000 units of affordable housing. That's more than two-thirds of the county's entire stock of affordable housing which now stands at 1,436. Montgomery County, by contrast, has over 11,000 units of affordable housing.
"It's a pretty successful program," said Tina Norvell, a spokesperson for the county's Department of Housing and Community Development. "That's part of the celebration."
WITH THE DEVELOPER'S money, the housing department either finances its own programs or loans it to nonprofit groups working to build or purchase homes to add to the stock of affordable housing. The Board of Supervisors has also occasionally shifted money from the General Fund into the trust fund.
Housing for first-time homebuyers, the elderly, group homes for people with mental health problems or for formerly-homeless people has been provided through the fund.
Michelle Krocker, director of housing and community development for the nonprofit group Reston Interfaith, said she was able to get money from the trust fund in the early 1990s to purchase two houses in the North Point section of Reston to rent to moderate-income families.
"It was key," she said. "Without the funding at that time we would not have been able to purchase those houses."
"It's just nice that within Fairfax County we have that relationship with the county. We really do partner with the county and they help finance some of these deals," she added.
DESPITE THE PROGRAM'S success, the county is still sorely in need of more affordable housing, said Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee).
"We still fall short of meeting the need and continue efforts particularly in looking to the future development type within the county which appears to be more building up than out," he said.
Also, the amount of money in the trust fund is tied to the health of the building industry. When it's booming, developers are lining up for rezonings and the trust fund prospers. When building slows, the stream of money to the fund slows to a trickle.
And the trust fund could become obsolete if the county succeeds in requiring that all new development contain affordable housing units. If affordable housing becomes a requirement, the county won't be looking to developers to contribute as part of their proffer package.
Two weeks ago, the Board of Supervisors voted to broaden the existing affordable housing ordinance by closing a loophole that exempted builders of mid-rise developments. So far, high-rise developers are still exempt from the requirement but Kauffman said the county would expect that high-rise developers contribute to the trust fund.
"We're typically looking for one or the other," he said.
To celebrate the trust fund's 15th anniversary, the county has launched a web site boasting its successes. The web site is http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/gov/rha/housingtrustfund/main.htm