Letter: Shortage of Affordable Housing

Letter: Shortage of Affordable Housing

To the editor:

I want to shed light on a critical issue that affects every member of our community: the dire shortage of affordable housing. This shortage impacts not only individuals and families struggling to make ends meet, but also drives inflation, exacerbates economic disparities, and hinders the well-being of working Fairfax County residents.

The root cause of this crisis lies in the fundamental economic concept of scarcity. Despite surging demand, our housing supply remains inadequate, leading to skyrocketing prices and forcing many to bear the burden of unaffordable living costs. I am one of the residents affected by such prices. Recently, I retired from the military and searched for housing that could support my family of five. Prices for four-bedroom houses hovered near $1 million, and three-bedroom houses cost nearly $700,000. With home ownership out of my price range, I settled for a rental home at $3,600 a month — higher than I’ve ever paid. Utilities cost around $100 per service. I am fortunate to have a working spouse, older children without childcare needs, and retiree benefits. I cannot imagine how others could afford to live here.

It is crucial to recognize that no amount of wage increases, rent controls, or stipends can overcome inflation without addressing the underlying issue of insufficient supply. For decades residents have embraced the notion of unlimited space and suburban sprawl, fueled by a car ownership culture. However, the reality is that land is finite and scarce. We can no longer afford to build housing as we have grown accustomed to, with single-family homes boasting generous parking spaces and expansive yards.

Suburban sprawl fostered car dependency as people drove to work, school,

and shopping, while federal grants promoted car-centric transportation systems at the expense of mass transit. Car-centric development ensured

that parking would be considered with all housing plans. The result was more traffic, scarce land relegated to fewer homes, and restricted prosperity.  

The housing shortage is the symptom, but banning responsible development makes it an incurable disease. The impact of this housing shortage extends beyond mere financial strain; it affects the very fabric of our communities. The shortage forces many members of our community to commute long distances, live paycheck to paycheck, and consequently are unable to build emergency funds, save for retirement, or even afford necessities such as food and healthcare. Even long-time homeowners contend with ever-rising real estate tax assessments that consume their disposable incomes. 

It is imperative that we support initiatives aimed at addressing this crisis, such as Supervisor Rodney Lusk's proposal for an affordable housing development at the Franconia Governmental Center site. By approving projects like the Franconia development, which may provide approximately 120 affordable units, we take a significant step towards alleviating the housing shortage. Moreover, dedicating a portion of these units to vital professionals such as teachers, first responders, and medical professionals would provide critical services to our community.

Consider the profound impact that affordable housing can have on our residents' financial well-being. A mere $500 monthly savings in rent equates to a $9,000 annual pay raise (after accounting for state and federal taxes). This not only enables hard-working individuals and families to retain more of their earnings but also generates much-needed tax revenue for the county. If assessed for even half the value of comparable properties, this development could generate as much tax revenue as 21 single-family homes, or over $138,000 annually. I can think of no other policy that would put more money in the pockets of people while also growing the wealth of our county.

Addressing the housing shortage is not just an economic necessity, but a moral obligation. Housing is a human right. Fortunately, most of us don’t have to choose between two evils. By prioritizing the construction of affordable housing units, we can mitigate inflationary pressures, foster economic growth, and ensure a brighter future for all members of our community.