main banner

Monday, September 9, 2013

Affordable housing advocates promoting residential studio units

Community leaders oppose studio units in single-family neighborhoods already plagued by overcrowded houses.
Discussions here about Fairfax County’s proposal for a new zoning category to allow “residential studio units” (RSUs) have mainly focused on the potentially deleterious effect on stable residential neighborhoods.

Yet there’s another side to the issue. Advocates for affordable housing have been pushing for these efficiency units for years, and they believe that with sufficient regulation, this kind of housing can help meet the needs of lower-income individuals without harming existing neighborhoods.

RSUs are zero-bedroom efficiency apartments of about 500 square feet, including a bathroom and kitchen. The county is proposing two options—one of which would allow the units in low-density residential areas— as well as areas zoned for industrial, commercial, and multifamily housing uses.

The public is invited to learn more about RSUs at a special meeting of the Mason District Council of Community Associations tonight, Sept. 9, at Peace Lutheran Church, 6362 Lincolnia Road, at 7:30 p.m.

Other meetings open to the public on RSUs have been scheduled by the Providence District Council (Sept. 17, 7:30 p.m., at the Dunn Loring Administrative Center, 2334 Gallows Road) and the Fairfax Federation of Citizens Associations (Mason District Government Center, Columbia Pike, 7 p.m.). The Fairfax County Planning Commission has scheduled two work sessions on the proposal, Sept. 25 and Oct. 2, and a public hearing on Nov. 20 at the Fairfax County Government Center.

“There is a great need out there” for this kind of housing, said Amanda Misiko Andere, executive director of FACETS, an organization that helps find transitional and permanent housing for low-income or homeless individuals and families, along with other assistance, such as meals, medical care, and employment counseling.

There are more than 60,000 people in Fairfax County living in poverty. The most recent effort to count the homeless discovered 1,350 people living in cars, parks, or other places, although the actual number is likely to be much higher.

According to a document distributed by FACETS, there were only 1,361 efficiency apartments in Fairfax County in 2011, and the average rent was $1,010 a month. By the traditional measure that housing costs shouldn’t exceed 30 percent of a person’s income, an individual would need to earn at last $40,400 a year to afford one of these units.

Nearly l30 percent of Fairfax County’s 385,570 households live in renter-occupied housing, and about a quarter of that population have incomes below $25,000, according to a report from the Census Bureau. Nearly 25,000 households in the county have incomes below $35,000.

“We were looking at ways to end homelessness and promote affordable housing and saw this [RSUs] as a best practice that’s being tried around the country,” said Andere.

According to Andere, “There a growing need for smaller apartments” for the increasing population of seniors on fixed incomes, people with disabilities, young people just coming out of college, and people with low-paying jobs, as well as those who are homeless or doubling up in overcrowded houses or apartments. There are more housing options for families, she said, although isn’t enough housing to meet their needs either.

When it comes to putting RSUs in single-family neighborhoods, she said, FACETS doesn’t have a position on this, but feels the public needs to understand the needs. “We’re supporting this in more industrial areas,” she said. “There could be rare circumstances where this might work in single-family neighborhoods if done in partnership with a credible nonprofit. We would work with the community.”

Andere doesn’t think there would be a rush to retrofit existing houses to accommodate RSUs because each apartment would need a bathroom and kitchen, and that would require “a huge amount of effort and a significant investment.”

There already are group homes—serving people with disabilities or the elderly—in existing neighborhoods that are managed by nonprofits. There’s one in Annandale, for example, for people with mental issues, and there are probably others in the area. Residents of groups homes, however, generally don’t have their own kitchens and bathrooms.

12 comments:

  1. thanks for looking for the other side of the story.

    The difference between a legitimate concern with impacts, and reflexive NIMBYISM, is the willingness to listen to the issues - and to realize that this is being pushed by affordable housing advocates, not by a nefarious conspiracy of developers.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the article. There is a need for affordable housing. And the RSUs should be zoned multifamily.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Nimbysim usually refers to a chemical plant. Anyway - I agree there is a need... but I dont think it should be in anything less that R20.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Gosh, we already have lots and lots of people living in houses next door to and across the street from us. The county does not need to change any zoning. On one side we have a family of 5 plus several men living in their basement, and their house is 800 sf. Next door we have another family of 5 plus more people in their basement, another 800 sf house. Across the street is a family of 6 plus enough extra people to need to park 8 cars on the street, but their house has a small addition on the back so it's about 1,000 sf. I only know the square footage because we have the same house as all of our neighbors.
    So the idea of needing some kind of special zoning is just moot, especially in any of Annandale's neighborhoods.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And those people you cite might be candidates for these proposed studio apartments. There is a demand for affordable housing for individuals--you just proved it. Now we have a choice: plan and build for it, or just let it happen where it's not necessarily highest and best use.

      Delete
    2. We do have a choice... the county needs to enforce the laws on the books. Additionally, the RSU should ONLY be in commerical, industrial and R-20 zoned areas. Just because people are breaking the law does not mean we change the laws to their wants.

      Delete
    3. whats wrong with granny flats - IE one RSU per house, only if the house is owner-occupied. It could provide additional housing (in R20 zones the RSUs will be competing for land with new buildings for yuppies) and can also provide an income stream to elderly homeowners.

      Delete
  5. I agree anon 9:35 - totally. People against this proposed amendment arent being nimbys as we are already LIVING THIS FREAKING NIGHTMARE. Code compliance is a total JOKE and we have no enforcement of the law. We don't want to legalize all the boarding houses here. I am happy to help people in need - but not next to my house with tons of cars, trash, and when they are ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. But this proposal won't legalize that - it will provide a better alternative.

      I don't know if this proposal includes it - but a good idea would be that for any place where such a unit is put in what had previously been a SFH - the other unit has to be owner occupied. IE its fine if a resident owner rents out a unit, but not an absentee landlord. The resident owner has an interest in making sure its a responsible tenant.

      Delete
    2. Screaming No is not an effective way to change the status quo you rail against.

      Delete
  6. There are poor people in our region. They have to live somewhere. I am not sure allowing in R20 only gives enough flexibility. And what is wrong with a 2 family house - they were common when I was growing up. Gives a place for someone to live in a quiet area, and also gives an (often older) home owner an extra income stream.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. These are not 2 family houses these are required to be between 3 and 75 units with up to 3 people per unit. These units have no minimum square footage just a maximum of 500 square feet.

      Delete