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One Big Question For Fairfax County: How To Make Housing Affordable

One Big Question For Fairfax County: How To Make Housing Affordable

Amazon recently designated Northern Virginia as a finalist for its HQ2. Infrastructure improvements and attractive new development may have given Fairfax County a competitive edge, but its progress has not been without casualties.

Fairfax County has experienced explosive growth, prompting many to laud the area as a model for transforming edge cities and sprawling suburbia into vibrant, live-work-play communities. But local low-income populations have been largely overlooked and underserved by new multifamily and mixed-use construction in Fairfax. 

A report commissioned by the Office of Human Rights and Equity Programs and released in September found the number of black households in 82% of census tracts in the county was lower than would be expected if affordability were not a constraint on choice of location.

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Fairfax County apartment rents, condo prices and home prices all shot up at rates that significantly outpaced income growth between 2010 and 2015. Average rents in Fairfax County are approximately $21K/year, while half of county jobs generate less than $50K/year. The average individual who works and lives alone in Fairfax would be spending over 40% of his or her income on housing.

The report raises concerns about discriminatory and predatory lending practices that disadvantage minorities in Fairfax County. The prevalence of white Realtors and a relative scarcity of affordable housing have created clusters of neighborhoods where the majority of residents are black that are concentrated in the southern part of Fairfax County, away from employment centers, the best school districts and public transit.

Reston Station Comstock Partners
A rendering of Comstock Partners' Reston Station mixed-use development

In Tysons, Fairfax’s leading business hub, an advisory group of county officials recommended supervisors relax workforce housing requirements for high-rise condos. The concessions, proposed in February and approved in April, were designed to help condo developers, but will work against low-income workers. The new rules do not affect new Tysons high-rise apartment projects, which must make at least 20% of their units affordable.

Fairfax County estimates its population will grow from 1.14 million today to 1.35 million by 2040, creating a need for more housing units. County officials are wary of discouraging developers with regulations that mandate affordable minimums. As residents and county officials come together to find solutions, both recognize the path to affordability may be long and difficult.