Opinion: Maintaining a Viable, Diverse Community in Fairfax County

Opinion: Maintaining a Viable, Diverse Community in Fairfax County

While need for housing, childcare, healthcare and other human services have grown, these programs have faced significant cuts over past few years.

To the Board of Supervisors:

The following open letter to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors concerns housing and human services budget recommendations from the Fairfax County Budget Advocacy Coalition for Housing and Human Services.

As you consider the proposed FY 2015 county budget, we urge you to make additional and needed investments in housing, health and human services programs. These recommendations were developed through a collaborative process of nonprofit housing developers, human service providers, and advocacy organizations identifying community needs. Strategic public investments in housing and human services can leverage significant amounts of private capital to provide a return on the county’s investment. These investments help us maintain a diverse, caring community that provides access to opportunities for all.

The guiding principles that informed our decisions are as follows:

  • No one recommendation takes priority over the others;
  • Each recommendation funds a program that is an essential component of a system of housing and services that offer individuals and families in need the optimum chances for success;
  • These recommendations support a wide spectrum of households along the housing continuum;
  • No funding for new initiatives is requested. Instead, these recommendations fund coordinated efforts between housing and service providers to deliver critical safety net supports with maximum efficiency and adoption of best practices.

Our coalition supports the limited housing and human services funding in the County Executive's Budget, and respectfully urges no further cuts to these budgets. This request is made in light of significant cuts to these programs over the past few years, even as the need for housing, childcare, healthcare and other human services have grown. In supporting the County’s Executive proposals, we would like to highlight the following:

Contract Rate Increases for Human Service Providers: We support the County Executive’s inclusion of $2.17 million for a contract rate increase for human services providers in the County, especially nonprofits. These providers offer critical services to low and moderate income households that would fall to the county alone if the nonprofit partners did not exist. These community-based organizations have built corporate and private sector support for their efforts to leverage public resources. However, funding for these organizations that provide services must keep pace with inflation, our high cost of living, pay and benefits, to attract and retain their staff.

Consolidated Community Funding Pool (CCFP): We support the increase of $743,388 (7.5 percent over the FY 2014 Adopted Budget amount of $9.9 million) for the first year of a two-year CCFP cycle that begins in FY 2015. FY 2015 Community Development Block Grant funding is projected to be $1.8 million, an increase of $250,791. The total FY 2015 CCFP funding is therefore anticipated to be $12.4 million, an increase of $944,179 over the FY 2014 amount of $11.4 million. This additional funding strengthens the county's investment in community-based programs and is welcomed.

Mondloch Place $275,000 (Office to End and Prevent Homelessness): We support funding needed for on-site supportive services to formerly homeless single adults. The funds will pay the contract costs to operate the program, including staffing the facility, and leverages the county’s investment in the substantial renovation of the building.

Employment Services $200,000 (Office to End and Prevent Homelessness): We support continued funding for a pilot program integrating employment services into the existing Bridging Affordability framework of the Housing Blueprint. Providing services that adequately address the special needs of many in the Bridging Affordability program — something that is lacking in existing employment services programs — is essential for these households to achieve greater financial security and self-sufficiency. This funding was originally included in the FY 2014 budget, but was held in reserve pending approval of the plan.

Katherine K. Hanley Townhomes $235,220 (Office to End and Prevent Homelessness): We support funding to provide supportive housing and services to families with children. Two 3-unit buildings are scheduled to open in December 2014.

Domestic and Sexual Violence Services $139,973 (Department of Family Services): We support funding for one new program manager position to address both increasing caseloads and the complexity of work in the Office for Women and Domestic and Sexual Violence Services.

Investment in School Readiness $714,000 (Office of Children): We support the County Executive’s proposal in the FY2015 budget to expand community-based programs for children living in poverty to reach school benchmarks.

Affordable Housing (Housing and Community Development): Securing safe, decent affordable housing remains one of the greatest challenges for low and moderate income households in Fairfax County and is a considerable barrier to a family’s ability to achieve stability and self-sufficiency.

Housing Blueprint: The FY 2015 advertised budget includes $1.95 million to fund the Bridging Affordability rental program as a portion of the budget for the FY 2015 Housing Blueprint. The funding for this program was reallocated in the FY2014 budget, and the proposed FY2015 allocation is approximately $2 million less than FY2013.

Bridging Affordability was adopted as the county’s signature program within the Housing Blueprint to move families out of homelessness and onto a more sustainable future. This program provides rental subsidies and case management to extremely low-income households, and has successfully served over 281 families. Bridging Affordability works. Nearly 70 percent of households that have successfully transitioned out of Bridging Affordability into permanent housing have moved on to fair market housing.

With the current Bridging Affordability program funding, we are positioned to continue to serve approximately 150 new households through FY14 and FY15. Beginning in FY16, it is critical that Fairfax County continues to invest in this high-impact, high-demand program to ensure that hundreds of extremely low income families have access to stable housing options and don’t cycle back into homelessness.

The FY2015 advertised budget also includes $5 million for the New Private Partner Acquisition to increase the county’s stock of committed affordable housing. This funding would be used to preserve or develop 120 units of affordable housing for low income working families, but this amount is inadequate to provide the gap financing for such a project, especially if the goal of serving formerly homeless persons, as stated in the Blueprint, is to be achieved.

In considering these requests, please note the following statistics:

  • U.S. Census Bureau statistics show an estimated 73,916 households in Fairfax County earning less than $50,000 annually, or about 47 percent of the area’s median income for a family of four ($107,300);
  • Census data also shows an estimated 67,293 persons living below the poverty level in Fairfax County;
  • According to the Center for Housing Research at Virginia Tech, the total affordable housing gap in Fairfax County for low and moderate-income renters (earning no more than $85,000 for a family of four) is 28,405 units;
  • The Blueprint for Housing shows a shortfall of 1,818 units for FY2015 in meeting the goals of the 10 Year Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness;
  • Nearly 1,650 CSB clients need affordable housing.

Communities who are successful in addressing their unmet housing needs have adopted a dedicated, reliable source of funding to preserve or develop housing that is affordable. The county’s greatest strides in affordable housing were made during the years when one penny of the real estate tax was dedicated to housing preservation. Whether it’s a dedicated revenue source or an annual, reliable commitment to a housing trust fund, we urge Fairfax County to once again consider this investment in housing that is affordable and needed for a significant and growing percentage of the County’s population.

Community Health Care Network (CHCN): In FY 2014, funding for CHCN was cut by $752,000. The $250,000 reduction in specialty care contracts that resulted has worsened an already insufficient supply of local specialists. CHCN has therefore increased its utilization and reliance on University of Virginia Medical Center specialists, requiring CHCN's low income, uninsured clients to travel to Charlottesville, spending scarce money and missing days at work. It is our understanding that a working group of public and private providers and leaders has recently initiated efforts to build and sustain a local specialty network system. Therefore, rather than recommend restoration of the funding at this time, we suggest that the county continue to support this effort and play an appropriate role in developing solutions to this problem. By the time of Carryover, we should all have a better understanding about the needed resources, if any.

This coalition appreciates the significant budget challenges you face for FY2015, and thanks you for our partnership as we work together in support of the most vulnerable in our community. However, we are deeply concerned that the housing and human services system has reached a “tipping point” where it will not be possible to decrease funding without sacrificing services and failing to meet the human services needs of county residents. We believe that there is very little margin for error, and that any further cuts will result in program reductions, eliminations, or waiting lists for services. If Fairfax County is to remain a place of excellence, we must come together as a community to discuss a long term strategy for funding and maintaining adequate, annual investments in housing and human services in future budgets.

Alternative House, Judith Dittman, Executive Director; Centreville Immigration Forum/Centreville Labor Resource Center, Alice Foltz, Board President; Cornerstones, Kerrie Wilson, CEO; Community Residences, Inc. Dennis J. Manning, LCSW, President and CEO FACETS, Inc., Amanda Andere, Executive Director; Fairfax Area Disability Services Board; Fairfax County Alliance for Human Services, Shannon Steene, Chair; Fairfax Education Association, Kimberley Adams, President; Governing Board of the Fairfax Falls Church Partnership to Prevent and End Homelessness, Michael L. O’Reilly, Chairman; Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia, Rev. Jon Smoot, Executive Director; James Mott Community Assistance Program, Inc., Cheryl Mavritte, Executive Director and Rebecca Johnson, Acting Board Chair; Literacy Council of Northern Virginia, Patricia Donnelly, Executive Director; Lorton Community Action Center, Linda Patterson, Executive Director; New Hope Housing, Pam Michell, Executive Director; Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance, Michelle Krocker, Executive Director; Northern Virginia Family Service, Mary Agee, President and CEO; Our Daily Bread, Lisa Whetzel, Executive Director and Richard Haynes, Board President; Pathway Homes, Inc., Sylisa Lambert-Woodard, President and CEO; PRS, Inc., Wendy Gradison, LCSW, President and CEO; Shelter House, Inc., Joe Meyer, Deputy Executive Director and Denise Miller, Board President; United Community Ministries, Shirley Marshall, Executive Director and Jim Seeley, Board member and Chair of the Advocacy Committee; Volunteers of America Chesapeake, Russell K. Snyder, President and CEO; Wesley Housing Development Corporation, Shelley Murphy, President and CEO; Western Fairfax Christian Ministries, Melissa Jansen, Executive Director; Individual citizen advocates: Marlene Blum, Vienna (Providence District); Alvin W. Smuzynski, Fairfax Station (Springfield District); Francis J. Pettit, Burke (Springfield District), and Ellen Hayes, Fairfax (Braddock District)