Unlocking the Door to Affordable Housing

County considers establishment of residential studio option to assist with housing affordability.

Like most areas that have seen explosive growth in the past 30 years, Fairfax County’s stock of affordable housing has dwindled as it’s grown into one of the nation’s wealthiest counties.

One of the obstacles to affordable housing are zoning regulations that ban what used to be the bottom end of the private housing market—rooming houses, the in-law-apartment, student housing and studio apartments.

“I think it’s a good way to provide more affordable housing options for county residents.”

-- Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova said Tuesday she is “hopeful” the board is ready to move forward on a plan to make housing more affordable throughout the county.

“Our board has been exploring the establishment of residential studio housing for about 10 years. I think it’s a good way to provide more affordable housing options for county residents. By advertising this for public hearing, we will initiate the process for engaging the community in the discussion,” Bulova said.

She added that the board could advertise for public hearings as early as its July 30 meeting.

“Let me just say, my feeling is we really need to move this forward,” Bulova said.

Donna Pesto, the county’s senior assistant zoning administrator, said the proposal would not change the building codes, and would apply to rental units only. She also said there could be no more than 75 residential studio units in a building and a minimum of 80 percent of units have to be affordable to low-income earners, those making about $45,000 per year or less. The maximum square footage for the units would be 500 square feet, including one bedroom and a kitchen.

“We see this use as very similar as assisted-living apartments and nursing homes, which are all carefully reviewed and require case-by-case approval by the board,” Pesto said. “The standards are pretty stringent.”

While many similar developments serve individuals at risk of homelessness, particularly those linked with supportive services, small efficiency apartments also provide an affordable housing option for seniors, students, recent graduates and single professionals, providing diversity and vibrancy to communities.

“There’s a lot of buzz now about micro-units that are 300- to 500-square-feet,” Bulova said.

“This is the hot housing product,” Pesto added.