|Community leaders oppose studio units in single-family neighborhoods already plagued by overcrowded houses.|
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.