|An example of a residential studio apartment from a video by USA Today.|
These “micro-units” are becoming increasingly popular in other cities. Some of these units are as small as a one-car garage and are designed to maximize the use of space with features like a built-in bed or table that can be folded into a wall when not needed. Some are designed with high ceilings or a large window to make them seem larger.
The Fairfax County Planning Commission will host community workshops Sept. 25 and Oct. 2 to solicit public feedback on the proposal and a public hearing on Oct. 23. All of those meetings will begin at 8:15 p.m. in the board auditorium at the Fairfax County Government Center. A zoning ordinance amendment is expected to be recommended to the Board of Supervisors by the end of the year.
According to background information on the proposal presented to the Board of Supervisors, residential studio units would help alleviate homelessness, accommodate the county’s increasing population of single people 50 and older, and provide affordable, single-occupancy housing for people earning less than 60 percent of the area median income.
The amendment to the zoning ordinance calls for these units to have a kitchen and bathroom—but no bedroom. They would be in multifamily buildings in which all or a portion of the units would be residential studios. No more than 75 of these units would be permitted on a lot.
When the concept was presented to the Board of Supervisors’ Housing Committee earlier this year, there was concern about the potential for converting an existing single-family dwelling to a residential studio development, the report states. “Staff noted that while such a scenario was possible, such a conversion would be subject to the building code provisions for a multiple-family dwelling.”
Under the zoning proposal, developments with residential studios would need to be located on a major thoroughfare or a “collector street,” which feeds traffic from residential streets to busier roads, and must be “harmonious with the development on neighboring properties.” They would be permitted in areas with certain residential, commercial, or industrial zoning designations.
These units would fill a gap not being served by the county’s affordable dwelling unit program, which is targeted to households with incomes up to 120 percent of area median income. Most of this housing is in apartments or townhouses with one to three bedrooms.
The need for “single room occupancy” housing has been under consideration in the county since at least 2003.
According to a staff report by the Zoning Administration Division of the Department of Planning and Zoning: “The fast-paced growth in housing prices that predominated in past years put much of the county’s housing stock out of reach for many low and moderate-income residents. Homebuilders were marketing to higher-end markets, and very little housing was produced by developers to serve households with low income. Average home sizes increased substantially throughout this period, further exaggerating the gap in affordability for low and moderate-wage earners.”
The report also sites cultural changes leading to a rise in single-person households, including the delay of marriage, and increasing urbanization, particularly in Tysons and areas near transit stations.