Herndon Council Hosts Housing Panel

Herndon Council Hosts Housing Panel

State senators and legal counsel weigh in

Herndon Town Council hosted a Panel Discussion on Housing Tues., Jan. 5 to build proficiency and understanding in matters related to housing policy development. Video of the discussion is available online. Town Manager Bill Ashton moderated. He said the event would be part of an ongoing series and kicking off the first discussion would be remarks by three panelists. A question and answer period would follow.

State Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-33) offered information based on her service as an elected official and her prior role as a legislative aide to Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust. The positions provided her with information about Fairfax County housing and land use issues. She said, "Affordable housing is a top priority for all Virginians especially in our neck of the woods where we have such a wide-ranging group of people from all backgrounds and demographics. It's important that we have housing stock that allows everybody to live affordably."

Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31) brought a wide range of experience and knowledge of housing issues in Northern Virginia. According to Favola, the challenge was how do we achieve affordable housing when our land area is so expensive, our quality of life is high, and that translates to a very high cost of living.

Jeff Gore's previous experience included legal counsel to the Senate Local Government Committee and the House County, Cities and Towns Committee. He said affordable housing would be a topic in the upcoming legislative session, and a comprehensive, affordable dwelling unit statute had been enacted.

"There's issues of funding...The state has set up an Affordable Housing Trust Fund, so some localities are doing that on their own, earmarking a certain amount of their property tax dollars to help them," Gore said.

Q: What do you think are the best tools available for a jurisdiction to ascertain the most significant housing needs within their jurisdictions, as a baseline sort of activity?

Favola said that in Arlington, they had a Housing Office and collected anecdotal information in terms of the profile and numbers of people and families looking for housing. Then they did surveys to determine their housing stock and what might be available to families, public servants who are just starting their careers “struggling to live in the communities they served."

Q: Given that Herndon does not have a housing office, do you know if Fairfax County connects Herndon residents to an affordable housing center?

Boysko said: Supervisor John Foust is more than willing to sit down and talk with the Town to develop strategies and work with the community and the town council to make some inroads on that." Boysko added that three branches of government, the Town of Herndon, the County, and the state, work hand in hand to try to be a resource to each other. Former council member and Planning Commissioner Melissa Jonas is on the Housing Commission for Fairfax County and another really good resource for collaboration, according to Boysko.

Gore said Arlington's program "was unique;" they'd been doing it for so long. "The concept of requiring a certain number of affordable dwelling units, workforce housing, however, you define it in your program or your ordinance, there aren't really the statutory tools in Virginia for a locality to require or mandate those units, not through a rezoning. Never through a conditional rezoning can a locality technically require any public facility to be proffered by the applicant, by the developer."

Boyd said in 2016, the statute dealing with what a locality could discuss with an applicant changed. It tightened significantly, tightened at the behest of the development community and particularly homebuilders. It put limits on the types of things that could be proffered as part of rezoning and even "some real tight parameters on what can even be discussed...That had a chilling effect on development."

According to Boyd, what happened in 2019 was that the statute was amended to free up localities, local staff, local board, and council members to discuss with the applicant. It provided the applicant a voluntary opt-out of the entire statute framework and all the limitations of having a conversation with the town and proffer.

"That's the key takeaway from the 2019 revision...There's a path to get there, for the right type of development, if the applicant is willing."