Opinion: Commentary: Make Space for All People

Opinion: Commentary: Make Space for All People

The following testimony was presented to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

Good afternoon board members and staff. I am testifying on behalf of the South County Task Force for Human Services. Our organization has advocated for affordable housing, health care, human services, and equity in the Lee and Mt Vernon Districts, especially along the Route 1 corridor, since 1975. I am also chair of the NAACP Housing Committee, and served on the Affordable Housing Resource Panel this year.

Our community’s biggest issue is existential.

For nearly 40 years we have held the vision of a Route 1 corridor where residents could thrive. Over the next 20 years that may happen ... but sadly they could be entirely different residents.

Most of our current corridor residents will be forced out of Fairfax County if gentrification, compelled by market forces, prevails as it has in Arlington and Alexandra.

My specific budget recommendations will follow, but first I will present an idea of how the county could prevent this.

I call it One Fairfax Development.

County, state, and federal taxes put billions into large infrastructure projects such as Route 1 widening, Embark, and Metro expansion.

It is assumed that taxpayers will benefit from these projects. Nearby property owners benefit from rising land values, developers benefit from new sites near transit, commuters benefit by getting to work faster, the county benefits from increased taxes from new development.

But some taxpayers are harmed by new development. Which ones? Repeatedly, low and moderate income renters are harmed — not a little but a lot — because their homes are replaced by higher-rent units that they cannot afford. Given the overall high rents in the county, they end up moving out of the county — thus losing county schools, services, and amenities and facing long commutes back to their jobs in Fairfax. Even now many county workers cannot afford to live in the county.

Data from many cities and counties show that as an area gentrifies it also loses diversity.

Under One Fairfax Development, we must commit to being a community that has space for people of all income levels, races, and ethnicities.

When we develop infrastructure, we must analyse the winners and losers from the OneFairfax viewpoint and add components to the original development package to make sure we are not destroying the fabric of the community.

Affordable housing must be part of new development the same way parks and schools are.

Studies project a need for homes for 15,000 additional low to moderate wage families in the next 15 years, yet our blue ribbon housing advisory panel recommended that we try to accommodate only 5,000 of them.

Would we do that with schools? If we project that 15,000 new students will live in Fairfax in the next 15 years, would we plan to build classroom space for only 5,000 of them?

Affordable housing is not charity; It is a way to keep our community whole.

Regarding the FY2020-21 budget, our recommendations are summarized here:

In FY2020

Sorry but the “strategic plan” you got from the Affordable Housing Resource Panel on housing is not a strategic plan. It is just a list of recommendations and it is imperative that you direct the Departments of Planning and Development and Housing and Community Development to actually develop a strategic plan in FY2020 out of these recommendations and that they create a meaningful dashboard and indicator metrics to show the public both the current and projected need for housing units and how total and annual efforts address that need. Arlington has such a dashboard.

These recommendations have been referred to as “no-cost” recommendations, but strategic planning and good analytics do not come cheap and the county has not been able to approach this capacity with current funding.

In FY2020 we recommend you assure funds for any of the 16 housing projects in the pipeline needed to move forward this year.

Capital Improvement Program (CIP)

Schedule bonds in the five-year plan to acquire more county land near transit that can be used for affordable housing, and bonds to build co-located affordable housing with any new public facilities.

For FY21 Budget Guidance

We support the statement of many groups that we need to put $50M a year into a fund for affordable housing. When stocking this fund, consider that after 10 years of a 50 percent cutback beginning in 2009, the housing fund is currently short by over $100 million.

Even these actions are not enough to address the projected need for 15,000 new low to moderate income families over the next 15 years. We need a serious public discussion on how to achieve OneFairfax Development.

Mary Paden

Chair, South County Task Force for Human Services