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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Community considers solutions on affordable housing

The Housing Matters session in Mason District.
Dozens of local residents filled a large meeting room at the Mason Government Center July 13 to brainstorm ways to solve Fairfax County’s affordable housing crisis.

The “Housing Matters” session was convened by the county’s Office of Housing and Community Development, which is seeking community input for a strategic plan on affordable housing.

“The strategic plan will be shaped by and for the community,” Mason Supervisor Penny Gross told the group. She said the plan will identify policies, programs, and funding sources for ensuring the county has a range of housing options available to people of all income levels.

The lack of affordable housing is a huge problem in Fairfax County. Between 2010 and 2015, the average household income grew by just 10 percent, while the average housing cost soared between 15 percent (for single-family homes) to 27 percent (for condos).

Affordable housing is important for several reasons, said Vincent Rogers, director of policy, reporting and communications for the Office of Housing:
  • It contributes to individual and family well-being by promoting self-sufficiency, upward mobility, success in school, and physical and mental health.
  • Housing is the basis for inclusive and diverse communities.
  • Having a range of housing opportunities encourages people to live and work in the community, supports shorter commutes, and makes it easier for companies to attract and retain workers. 
According to Rogers, the recommended standard is that people shouldn’t spend more than one-third of their incomes on housing. That means Fairfax County households need to earn at least $70,000 to be able to afford the average housing cost.

Thousands of people in Fairfax County, however, are spending more than half of their incomes on rent, meaning they have to cut corners on food, healthcare, childcare and other needs.

If the demand for affordable housing is so strong, why aren’t developers stepping up? Rogers cited several reasons: Land and building costs are so high, it isn’t financially feasible. State and local land use and zoning regulations present barriers, and there is widespread community opposition to new housing.

Rogers asked participants to form small groups to discuss various scenarios about people struggling to cover their housing costs.

In one example, a single mom in her 30s earns just $26,500 a month working in retail and spends more than half of her income on housing. An unexpected car repair put her behind on rent and now she’s considering moving, which would mean her daughter would have to change schools for the second time in three years.

In another scenario, a 77-year-old retiree with physical disabilities who wants to stay in her home, or at least in her community, isn’t sure if she will be able to do so with an annual income of just $38,650.

Here are some of the comments reported by the groups after their discussions:
  • Fairfax County should protect tenants from arbitrary rent increases.
  • People who have to share apartments with roommates they don’t know lose privacy and dignity. 
  • Convert underutilized shopping malls, warehouses, and office buildings to housing.
  • A woman in her 70s said she can’t afford to retire and might have to move to the South, away from her children, to save on housing costs. 
  • Look for creative solutions, like a sharing approach used in Europe where students live for free with seniors in exchange for helping them with chores. 
  • Worker pay should be increased so people can earn a living wage.
  • Churches and community associations could help people find roommates. 
  • Both the county and private sector need to work on this to prevent young professionals from leaving the area.
  • Companies could help by subsidizing transportation costs. 
Feedback can also be submitted on an online survey through the end of August.

Of the three Housing Matters sessions so far – there were two in Reston and one in Alexandria – the Mason District meeting was the best attended, Rogers said. Additional sessions are planned with the business community.


  1. For me, as a 30 plus year citizen of Mason District, Mason District Council Code Compliance Committee chair, member of the 2017 Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Association Budget Committee, democratic socialist and business major, one of the two most important questions in this presentation is: Why aren’t we building more affordable housing? The reasons given are:
    1. Expensive land and rising construction and labor costs.
    2. State and local regulations, including zoning that limits the construction of smaller homes.
    3. Community opposition to new housing.
    First, the presentation implies that market solutions alone will not provide more ‘affordable housing’, but in my view that does not rule out a broader social, even a broader economic advantage to be had by building more less expensive housing. Secondly, state and local regulations are blamed but no details are provided as to what changes would mean for all the stakeholders. Finally, opposition from the community is offered as a hindrance but again, no discussion there either leaving me with the sense that the intended effect of this is to ‘other’ or discount those who find fault with the County’s undisclosed plans to meet an ambiguously defined need without explaining why the community might have good reason to object to what the County is proposing or, better said, may propose in the future.
    As a code compliance committee chair I am used to being othered by county officials for suggesting that the international hedge funds should not be allowed to write our local land use regulations here in Fairfax County or in any other local jurisdiction for that matter. Neither do I think that they should be permitted to dictate that we be lenient with human traffickers.
    That may seem like a non-sequitur but the fact is that the entire land use policy of Fairfax County is not so much about building affordable housing as it is about driving working middle class families from their homes by wrecking their valuable, stable working class neighborhoods, including their schools, civic associations, commercial areas and businesses for the purpose of looting their communities. If that sounds crazy, just look at the movement of wealth and power from the middle class to the hedge fund class over the last 30 years as this plan has been put in place. There is a reason why 60,000 people a year die of opiate overdose. It is in the plan.
    The whole ‘affordable housing’ initiative is a neatly packaged and marketed means of doing the unthinkable to honest, hardworking, generous people whose natural inclination for compassion and willingness to do the right thing become weapons to be used against them. It is very hard to believe that our hardworking, honest and compassionate leadership would do that to us but remember: the successful politicians get that the most important things in politics are honesty and compassion. They know that the ability to fake those characteristics is essential for success in the political world. The practice constantly to be perfect.
    If you missed the July 13 meeting you can watch the May 20 the meeting at: . And check out the videos on short-term rentals. This and many other assaults on our communities will be arriving in rapid fire succession from now on. And please, if you have a community association, get involved, very involved. If you don’t have one, start one.

  2. Hello. I think I am a smart guy, so maybe I am confused, but what in the hell are you talking about. Did you come up with this yourself or pull it off of a conspiracy theory website? Really, I am serious. If you are going to post whatever this is, at least give us some context. Websites. Articles. Something. I mean really. Help me out here. Is the Tri Lat Commission involved? You may be right about everything. However this post makes you come across as a conspiracy theory crazy guy. I really hope you reply with some quality back up info.

    1. Thank you for your comments Patrick but I'm afraid you are not in my target audience.

    2. Patrick my response was flip and I apologize. Though I have no doubt that such organizations exist, I have no credible source of information about the Trilateral Commission, Bilderbergers or any other such organizations to draw from nor is such required. History provides all that is necessary to describe our situation in these days. There has never been a shortage of those who would be kings and queens, who have perfect contempt for those who are not them and who think our experiments with democracy have always been an obnoxious waste of time.
      If you need convincing on that score and for overall background in that area two recommendations come to mind. First, World on Fire, How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability by Harvard educated Yale international law professor (specializing in ethnic conflict) Amy Chua. Easy reading, informative and very well informed. Second, Thieves of State, Why Corruption Threatens Global Security by former NPR reporter Sarah Chayes, also an easy and interesting read, provides insights into the International forces working to corrupt governments all over the word and the concentration of wealth and corrupt governments.
      Not so easy at close to 600 pages, plus 70 pages of footnotes: Shock Doctrine, The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein, a very comprehensive opposition Neocon/Neoliberal globalizing agenda. This one is a lot to get through but well worth it.
      A good background work on trade agreements: The Rise and Fall of the Fast Track Trade Authority by Lori Wallach. For the dark side of unofficial foreign policy: The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins. I don’t recommend buying this one, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas Piketty, at almost 700 pages and more detailed supporting information than you could ever want. As the hands down authority on the subject, Piketty focuses on wealth and income inequality in Europe and the United States since the 18th century. He makes it clear that we have been headed in the wrong direction for a long time now. Hope that helps.

  3. The entire Mason area is under siege by boarding houses, uncaring refugees trashing the area and an unskilled leadership without the tools to deal with this demographic change and the District's economic decline. Fairfax County, particularly its older communities are being weighted down by service demands by immigrants and high commercial vacancies. The County once an example of stable neighborhoods and a booming technology center is becoming a bastion of deteriorating post war neighborhoods. Mason cannot seem to find its way out of its spiral decline. Adjacent Arlington County and Alexandria City seem to be thriving. Doesn't add up! Social engineering doesn't work. Mason you are losing your middle class in a big way. The burgeoning industries are not moving into Mason. Other districts such as Merrifield found the right formula. Exon and Amazon are not moving into Mason nor are their taxpaying employees investing in its housing stock. Just drive down the streets in Mason and you will find many pockets of ongoing blight, its very sad. The BoS will probably recommend high rise concrete housing projects next, sort of like a Culmore gone high-rise. They are clueless.

    Farifax County needs bold new leadership, the current paradigm is not working.

    1. Sadly, the supervisor's office does nothing to support property owners and their complaints of multiple families living in single family homes and other issues. Code compliance does nothing either about complaints. These people pay no taxes in Mason District or even Virginia and yet use our services (schools, roads, etc). Penny's reelection is such a shame. She's long overdue for retirement.

  4. The Democrats abandoned the middle class awhile ago and Penny Gross has been in the lead. She is going to engage the community in the planning for affordable housing? Yeh, right. Just like she did the Bailey's Southeast Quadrant. Penny spent big bucks engaging the community, which built a plan that had great support. But, Penny used at least 3 out of turn amendments to destroy the 2007 plan for mixed use residential. Now we're stuck with a "new exit to Seminary Road" off Columbia Pike, a 355 unit rental apartment proposal and, of course, plans for Penny's human service palace.

    Why waste taxpayer money on community planning? Penny will do what she wants anyway. What a terrible shame she was re-elected.

  5. Get rid of Culmore! That place gives all Hispanics a bad name.