March 11, 2021—The 2021 Fairfax County Housing Symposium, presented by the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority (FCRHA) and the George Mason University School of Business, wasn’t so much about bricks and mortar as it was about reshaping the conversation of affordable housing as a fundamental component of every aspect of our lives and our communities.
"Securing a stock of affordable housing is an essential part of our public policy if we are going to be a successful community,” said U.S. Congressman Gerry Connolly in his opening remarks. Congressman Connolly linked affordable housing as a critical part of the solution to many community issues including traffic congestion, overcrowding, and health disparities.
Video of the 2021 Housing Symposium is available:
Symposium Presents A New Perspective
Throughout the day’s discussions, government, business, health and educational leaders highlighted the impacts of stable housing on community health, educational achievement and the economy. Behind every unit of affordable housing, there is a story, and some examples included:
Enabling a young college graduate, earning an entry-level wage, to afford a rental apartment in Fairfax County.
Attracting and retaining jobs and economic growth by providing more affordable accommodations for the local workforce.
Providing affordable units that allow a family to have enough disposable income to pay for basic needs – such as food and medical care.
Through these impactful and relatable stories, the experts made it clear that housing affordability and stability plays a significant role in every resident’s ability to thrive in Fairfax County. Additional takeaways included:
“The average life expectancy for a person without stable housing is more than 27 years less than the average housed person. If you are working with a patient, and you want them to be medication compliant, it is very difficult to be compliant with your medications if you don’t even have a medicine cabinet to keep them in.” Dr. George Leventhal, Kaiser Permanente
“80 percent of what makes you healthy is not related to whether you have a primary care physician, health insurance, or even good genes. Those are all important factors, but the 80 percent include housing, education, level of income, race/ethnicity and transportation. That’s why when I think about health and housing, I think about healthy communities.” Dr. Patricia Mathews, Northern Virginia Health Foundation
“Fifteen percent of our students told us that they were homeless. That meant that they were sleeping in their cars; that they were sleeping on someone else’s sofa; that they were sleeping in a shelter; but they were still pursuing their educational journey. We live in a very affluent part of the state, but that affluence doesn’t extend to everyone.” Dr. Anne Kress, Northern Virginia Community College
“Fairfax County is developing talent, and to develop the talent in kids we’ve got to have the talent in the area to teach the kids. The only way we’re going to be able to do that is to have affordable housing for our middle class. We’re talking about teachers coming in at starting salaries of $50,000 a year. That might sound high, but in Fairfax County that salary doesn’t go a long way.” Superintendent Scott Brabrand, Fairfax County Public Schools
“Housing availability is directly connected to workforce availability, which is directly connected to economic or business growth. You cannot separate these. We know we have a high demand for workers, we know we have supply, but if they can’t afford to live where they want to live – and they increasingly share that they want to live near where they work – then we’re going to struggle to fill those positions.” Julie Coons, Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce
“I think we are going to see change in how companies deal with this issue – particularly ones that have a large presence in our area. Companies realize they have a greater responsibility and I think that we are going to see a greater participation and a greater facilitation of how these companies utilize their resources to scale up affordable housing.” Victor Hoskins, Fairfax County Economic Development Authority
The Pace is Accelerating for Affordable Housing
Since the leadership of U.S. Congressman Connolly as Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, Fairfax County has been an active participant in implementing policies, making investments, and building and preserving affordable homes. In 2019, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted a goal of creating a minimum of 5,000 new affordable units created by 2034, with aspirations toward meeting the projected need of 15,000 new units. Since that time, Fairfax County has nearly 2,000 units of housing either delivered or in the developmental pipeline towards that goal.
“This board has been relentless; there hasn’t been a meeting of this board within the past year where affordable housing has not been a topic of discussion,” said current Chairman Jeff McKay. “We are well on our way to exceeding the 5,000-unit floor and hopefully setting our sites on achieving our 15,000-unit need in Fairfax County.”
Within just the last few months, the county’s activities have resulted in public lands being designated for potential affordable housing development; the authorization of local funding to subsidize affordable housing developments; the awarding of federal dollars to provide rent assistance to residents who lost jobs or had reduced income due to COVID-19; revising the Workforce Dwelling Unit policy to increase the delivery of affordable units to low-income households; and the creation of the Affordable Housing Preservation Task Force to make recommendations for preserving the County’s existing stock of affordable homes, including mobile home parks.
Moving Forward From the Symposium
While so much is being done, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is certainly a long way to go in achieving our aspired vision for affordable housing for all residents of Fairfax County. According to the experts, getting there will take a communitywide commitment to changing the way we see our neighborhoods, changing the way we see the issue of density, and making the decision that affordable housing is essential for Fairfax County to thrive. It is attainable.
“We can make it work with smart planning and with involvement of the community,” said Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw in referencing the county’s successful planned residential communities in Reston, Burke Centre and Cardinal Forest, which allowed for a mix of housing types at a mix of affordability levels and inclusionary zoning.
The 2021 Housing Symposium set the stage for a large-scale paradigm shift in the way the Fairfax County community views affordable housing moving forward – in terms of people, not just buildings; in terms of opportunities for all residents, regardless of age or ability; and in terms of equitable outcomes for physical, social, economic and intellectual wellbeing. The work has begun, and the conversation continues.
For more information about affordable housing, please visit www.fairfaxcounty.gov/housing.