Cornerstones Proposal Raises Local Residents’ Concerns

Cornerstones Proposal Raises Local Residents’ Concerns

Would build 34 units of permanent, supportive housing in Fair Oaks.

Artist’s rendition of the proposed apartment building in Fair Oaks.

Artist’s rendition of the proposed apartment building in Fair Oaks.

In February 2022, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors authorized consideration of a Comprehensive Plan amendment for a 1.12-acre, county-owned site in Fair Oaks. It asked county staff to look at the possibility of allowing affordable housing, up to a density of 35 units/acre, as an alternative use there. 

That action paved the way for Cornerstones’ application to build permanent supportive housing on that property. A local nonprofit, Cornerstones promotes self-sufficiency by providing support and advocacy for people in need of food, shelter, affordable housing and financial aid.

The land at issue is in the Sully District, on Washington Corporation Drive, northwest of the interchange of Route 50 and West Ox Road. Currently, the Comprehensive Plan recommends residential use at two units/acre or low-intensity office use.

Fairfax County held an online, informational meeting about Cornerstones’ proposal on Jan. 22. Hosting it were Supervisor Kathy Smith (D-Sully) and staff from the county’s Department of Planning and Development.

Attorney Lynne Strobel, representing the applicant, presented details about the project. She said there’d be 34 units of housing for low-income people in a 27,000-square-foot building about 34 feet high. 

“It would be permanent, supportive housing in a nice, attractive building,” said Strobel. “They’d all be very small, one-bedroom units with a generous common area. And the occupants – primarily single individuals – would receive services from Cornerstones.”

Paul Browne, an affordable-housing consultant working with Cornerstones on this proposal, said the Harris Teeter grocery store is within walking distance, and public transportation is available on Route 50. He noted, as well, that “the rent will be far less than market rate, and the occupants may get rent subsidies.”

Some myths about affordable housing arose at the meeting.

A man who didn’t identify himself commented, “These people will bring crime with them.”

But, replied Strobel, “It’s not transient housing. It’s an opportunity for individuals to have stable housing in a supportive setting.” Browne added that property management will be on site to protect both the occupants and the nearby residents.

Another man then spoke up, worried about the possibility of there being “sex offenders and people with a violent, criminal history there.” However, Kerrie Wilson, CEO of Cornerstones, assured him that wouldn’t be the case.

“HUD [the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development] and the Fairfax County Housing Authority determine [people’s] credit and do criminal-background checks,” she explained. “People with those types of felony convictions wouldn’t be allowed to live there.”

“Usually, they’ve been victims, themselves,” continued Wilson. “And when they’re not living on the streets and have permanent, supportive housing, crime goes down.”

Amy Lemieux, president of the nearby Fair Oaks Estates Homeowners Assn., asked, “Why wasn’t there any outreach to the neighborhoods closest to this? The county should have given us more notice of this meeting and project.”

In response, Graham Owen, a planner with the Department of Planning and Development, said, “We sent out about 2,500 mailers for this meeting, and we’re happy to reach out to your HOA and fill them in about this.”

Wilson said all the occupants would be from Fairfax County, and she also stressed that this facility would not be a shelter. Lemieux then asked what services would be provided there.

“On-site case management with social workers and, as needed, AA meetings and substance-abuse counseling,” replied Wilson. “We’d also offer jobs training to get them back into the workforce, and we’d have a van to take them to and from appointments. We’d give them access to the county services they need, and they could also join clubs and do hobbies.”

Harmonie Taddeo, executive director of Western Fairfax Christian Ministries (WFCM), which provides food, emergency rent and utility assistance, plus other services to local residents in need, spoke up, as well. “We know the need for affordable housing is great and we support Cornerstones and this project,” she said. “And we would help provide food for those who need it.”

Wilson said the people living in this new facility would mainly be individuals with disabilities, elderly people and people who’ve experienced homelessness. “They’ll sign a lease and will have to pay their portion of the rent,” she said. “Cornerstones has been helping people like this for some 50 years, and we’ve been very successful at it.”

Next, Joshua Booth with YIMBYs (Yes in My Neighborhood) of Northern Virginia, also voiced his support for this proposal. “I’m for this project,” he said. “I think it’s fantastic to help these people and get them back on their feet. And it’s great that the county gives them supportive services.”

Lemieux, though, was still apprehensive. “Hundreds of children and houses are within walking distance of this facility,” she said. “We have empathy for these folks’ situation, but we have a concern about formerly homeless people – whose substance abuse and mental health led them to become homeless – living near our communities.”

Wilson countered that “permanent, supportive housing is a national model with proven benefits. Fairfax County has a limited number of these types of projects, and that’s why it’s so important and there’s such a need. There are about 300 individuals in Fairfax County today who could use this type of housing with the supports.”

“The county does provide support for people who’ve experienced homelessness, in apartments throughout the county,” added Browne. “We think the strong advantage here is that, in this setting, Cornerstones can provide 24/7 services and monitoring.”

Barbara Davis of Greenbriar, about a mile away from the site, said, “Criminal activity in our community has increased in the last couple years. Do you screen for all crimes committed, such as car thefts and packages being stolen?”

“We do screen for felony offenses,” replied Wilson. “And misdemeanor crimes may also show up.”

“And if they commit a crime while they’re living there, would they be evicted?” asked Davis.

“Yes,” answered Wilson. “And, also, for the use of illegal substances – that would violate their lease.”

Resident Charles Tennyson said, “This sounds like Section 8 housing, which brings an unwanted element. When can the citizens vote on this?”

Graham said it’s definitely not Section 8 housing and serves another population. He also said, “The Board of Supervisors, which represents the citizens, makes the decision.”

“There’ll be public hearings, and people can contact us with their concerns,” said Supervisor Smith. “We want to hear what the public has to say.” The Planning Commission public hearing is scheduled for May 1, and the Supervisors will hold their public hearing on June 11.

Resident Reggie Henry asked, “Assuming this building is approved, when will it become occupied?” Browne said construction would start about 18 months after the Supervisors’ approval, while the site plan is being done and approved, and take about a year to complete, so it would be about 2-1/2 years total.

Hoping to allay citizens’ fears, Browne said the bottom line is that “it’s an apartment building where Cornerstones will provide services to the residents, as needed.”

The issue will next go to the joint Sully District Council and West Fairfax County Citizens Assn. Land-Use Committee on March 18.