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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Fairfax County to consider allowing tiny studio apartments

An example of a residential studio apartment from a video by USA Today.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors agreed last week to consider a new zoning category to allow tiny apartments, known as “residential studio units.” These single-person units, with about 500 square feet, would be aimed at lower-income people, including the elderly, students, and single professionals who don’t need or can’t afford a lot of space.

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.

26 comments:

  1. First they need to make occupancy laws and enforce them before the county should even consider these apartments. They have laws about how many people can live in a regular studio apartment or a one bedroom but htey are not enforced. We already have 15+ people living in a two bedroom this would be insane.

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  2. "These “micro-units” are becoming increasingly popular in other cities."

    The operative word here being "cities" !

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  3. Denial of the urbanization of Fairfax County does not mean it is not happening. Perhaps the reason 15+ people might be living together is because they can't afford any other living solution and this might provide an alternative. Affordable housing is a continuing problem. Owning a home in this county is very expensive and we need to have workers living near where they work or the traffic issues just keep getting worse. Just harping on enforcement or illegal immigrants does nothing to move the conversation forward but keeps the focus narrow and appeals to the angry and uninformed who want to blame anyone who doesn't look like them for all the ills of our society. It's more complicated than that.

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    1. I'm just now reading this article and comments but I don't think anyone above you mentioned illegal immigrants or "blame[d] anyone who doesn't look like them". Why is it that if anyone ever says they are concerned about over-crowding they are immediately pegged a racist or uncaring? I'm neither and I am definitely concerned about the over-crowding. I am not anti-RSU as long as some changes are made and they are SPREAD OUT over the county. They also need to make sure the infrastructure is there to support the population growth. Just look at the crisis our schools are facing in Mason District. In addition, Fairfax County needs to make some changes to how they enforce occupancy laws. The current way does not work and from what I can tell the BOS is in denial about it or doesn't care.

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  4. Fairfax County has a population over 1 million people, a larger population than DC and other big cities. Whether we like it or not, Fairfax County is an urban county; we are no longer suburbia. So yes, this is a good idea whose time has come. We need more options and choices in housing.

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  5. We do need more affordable housing options for people who work here--and also for the growing population of elderly singles. On the other hand, there's a risk that developers will jump on the studio-apartment model as a cheaper way to provide low-cost housing than larger units for disadvantaged families. We need to make sure that working families aren't neglected.

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  6. From what I can gather, these units will not be subsidized. The quid pro quo is, the County will allow units so small only in return for the promise to keep them affordable.

    If the county wants larger (IE already legal) units to be affordable, the County is going to have to pony something up - either $$$, a density bonus, or something. Developers aren't going to build guaranteed affordable units without an inducement.

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  7. I have a few dog crates available...

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  8. This would be great for people like my daughter who needs to live alone but cannot afford any current apartment rents. It can't come soon enough; she needs to be out on her own rather than at home.

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  9. This is just wrong and dehumanizing. We would not put our elderly in something like this why would we put our poor in it unless we want to hide or get rid of them. We can do better. I hope this is something whose time has not come!!!

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  10. @Anonymous 8/5/13 12:52 - "Just harping on enforcement or illegal immigrants does nothing to move the conversation forward but keeps the focus narrow and appeals to the angry and uninformed who want to blame anyone who doesn't look like them for all the ills of our society. It's more complicated than that."

    Please remember you can have a conversation with out purposely insulting others and their opinion.

    I am quite informed on what is going on. Our County has children living in closet and does not take a stand. The children are endangered and you say well they can not afford anything else. They are not living 15+ in an apartment solely because they can not afford anything they are also opening their homes to the family and friends who managed to get here "illegally". I am not opposed to having affordable housing I am opposed to not enforcing our laws. As cute these apartments are you will get a family of 6 living in them if the laws are not enforced.

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  11. I suspect that folks who dismiss the concerns of others about overcrowding and attribute them to prejudice, do not have to deal with overparking, noise and litter. In a way, they are just as shortsided as those they accuse.

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  12. Well, there are two issues you address here. The litter problem… yes, indeed, I am actively involved in that problem but I do not blame immigrants for that and I certainly don't dismiss it.

    I blame the State of Virginia for maintaining an obsolete system that encourages a “no value” premium on litter. Stores like 7-11 and McDonald’s which generate much of the source pollution pay a tax that is distributed through a board that is populated with members from the bag and bottle industries. That tax is distributed to groups like the Clean Fairfax Council who are supposed to aggressively organize cleanups. Here is the link to the tax return that is filed so you don’t have to take my word for it: http://www.tax.virginia.gov/site.cfm?alias=LitterTax#Tax Rates

    The question is does this small amount of tax ($10 - $15) per entity per property tax cycle effectively deal with the scale of litter we deal with here and is the current set up working? Well, no, of course not. But most of the state is rural, so the same problems we have here are non-existent in the rest of Virginia, so making the changes that urban areas require is thwarted by the fact that we are the minority in our states… doesn’t feel right does it, especially since we send a huge share of tax dollars to Richmond?

    When I was a child there were deposits put on cans and bottles and it encouraged all kinds of kids' groups to pick them up and collect the deposit money as fundraising.

    This system in Virginia was designed 50 years ago to put the burden on the front end of the transaction and perhaps this is something we should demand our elected officials take a look at. The truth is every few years some brave legislator brings this up, and is laughed out of Richmond. I don’t think it’s funny, but the bottle and bag industry give huge political donations to political leaders so there is no incentive to make a change. It must be done at the grassroots to make a difference so if you don’t think it’s funny, just ask your legislator to make this a priority.

    As far as the illegal immigrant problem, well in a professional capacity I’ve seen children huddled in basements where their parents were renting rooms. While both sobering and sad, they were together as a family, and I would not want to see them separated as they were cared for and loved. The immigration issue is like a tsunami we cannot stop, it is already upon us and is part of the fabric of our nation. We all start somewhere and blaming people for being people is unproductive and doesn’t solve anything. So my point is become the solution, stop complaining about what is. Options for affordable housing don’t impact you, why fight them just for the sake of not wanting change? Change is inevitable.

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    1. This is an educated position well argued whether you agree with it or not, but here again "the man" is accused and behind the problem vice personal responsibilit(in this case the plastic bag ndustry...hissssss,) Hide the children!!!!

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  13. FWIW, a 500 square-foot apartment is plenty roomy for one person, and would even work fine for a young (childless) couple. My current home is a single-family rambler that is only about 850 square feet, and it's fine for my wife and me. The photo shown with the article is for a ridiculously small space.

    Also, we have the small rambler in Annandale and a house in the Blue Ridge Mountains where it is much more rural. Plenty of trash gets scattered on the country roads out there, so trash is not simply a population density issue. My solution is to apply a trash collection fee/tax of 20 cents to every takeout order. That money would go directly to cleanup operations.

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  14. @Anonymous 8/6/13 10:31
    I know you are trying to come up with a solution which is wonderful but asking people to pay extra money becaue other people are disgusting and leave their trash, gum & cigarettes on the ground is not the solution. It is not the responsibility of many because the few can not follow the laws. They used to fine people caught littering and they used to not allow homes that were overcrowded. Enforce the laws!! My solution begins and ends with enforcing the laws that are already on the books.

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  15. These units are not aimed at young professionals. 80 percent of these new units must be available to low income occupants -- hardly a magnet for young professionals. Read the amendment, preferably before it is passed, to find out what is in it.

    http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpz/zoningordinance/proposed/residentialstudioinputmemo.pdf

    “Occupancy shall be limited to rental tenants only. Not less than eighty (80) percent of the total number of units shall be subject to tenant income and rental rate limits such that the units serve households whose income is at or below sixty (60) percent of the median income for the Washington Metropolitan Statistical area (WMSA).”

    Furthermore, this could be coming to a house near you!

    “In the event of a conversion of any building or single family dwelling*to a residential studio development, all Building Code requirements pertaining to multiple family dwelling unit structures shall apply".
    "*NOTE: Some members of the Board of Supervisors have expressed concern over the conversion of a single family dwelling to a residential studio ; therefore, the amendment will likely be advertised with an option to exclude such conversion”.

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  16. After reading the file http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpz/zoningordinance/proposed/residentialstudioinputmemo.pdf
    in more depth I truly believe this would be disastrous for Annandale and Seven Corners areas and stop any hope for revitalization as a destination place. All the County needs to do is to give an exceptions and single-family houses will be divided into single units. We know how easy it is to obtain exceptions in this County. There must be better solutions. This needs to be studied for a few more years and jumped into at this time. We should ask our supervisor not to vote for this.

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  17. It is not realistic to rely only on enforcement. Many slobs get away with it because there is no one around to see them litter. Other trash happens accidentally. Police can't follow every car.

    I'd rather institute modest fees targeted at the source of litter than hire dozens more enforcement people in an attempt to improve enforcement.

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  18. This is one stupid idea! The County already has individuals placing their children to sleep in closets and chest of drawers.

    JUST SAY NO TO A VERY STUPID IDEA. Sorry Fairfax you are no NY,DC or Arlington, what you are is a suburb turning into an urban slum, and this proposed zoning change will only ensure the County's continued decline.

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    1. Love this post!

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    2. I agree with you 100 percent. I am not sure why people do not understand what is happening here. Kids are being put in dangerous situation and apparently stating that fact is not PC.

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  19. This is not denial... its called - keeping an eye on things and perhaps your neighborhood has not been ruined by illegals and overcrowding - but I certainly wouldn't want these little units in my neighborhood full of too many people - legal or not.

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  20. Hey, thanks for posting. I plan on buying all of these up and fulfilling my lifelong dream. becoming a slumlord! Ever been to Asia, these things are downright palatial! Seriously, use less energy - who needs to heat and cool a mcmansion you only use 10% of - these fill a unique niche. Wait for it - I suppose liberals will see "the man" behind this ingenious idea where the free market has offered an alternative to those who can't afford a clean new home. Wall Street barons must be behind this somehow!

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  21. This will not affect people who live in McLean or Great Falls or Vienna, etc., or those who live in neighborhoods with HOAs. It will affect the same lot of us that have been plagued with illegal boarding houses. Please do not throw stones at us for not wanting this. I am someone who came from very humble beginnings, who worked hard to get to where I am. I had to scrimp and save and sacrifice, including living with a roommate I found in the newspaper when starting out. I know that it is hard, but this is not the answer. This will only cause more problems, and is not addressing the real underlying issues.

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  22. Homes rent for $1.85/sq.ft.; apartments, for $3.70/sq.ft. Landlords will double their income by converted to studio units. The incentive will be high to convert every neighborhood, regardless of the lot size, into studio units, full of renters but not owners. Renters have no vested interest in the neighborhood. Let your supervisor know whether or not you want that situation in your neighborhood.

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