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Virginia Politics
Posted at 07:45 PM ET, 07/12/2011

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors wrangles over affordable housing — again

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ deep divisions over its affordable housing programs broke into the open again Tuesday after Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) urged the county to cease giving subsidies for “luxury units and amenities.”

Raising the subject at Tuesday’s regular Board of Supervisors meeting, Herrity once more criticized properties owned by the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority that include amenities such as “‘resort-style swimming pools,’ billiard rooms, executive business centers, granite counter tops, ceramic tile, indoor basketball courts and stainless steel appliances.”

Picking up on a report issued last week by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, Herrity said that the RHA-owned units cost $1.5 million a year in condo fees, which are paid mostly from the county’s general fund. He said that, if not for county-imposed deed restrictions that suppress their value, some affordable dwellings would sell for nearly $1 million. One condo unit alone cost $6,800 a year in fees, he said.

“Our taxpayers are paying for luxuries while people in need wait for resources to be available. These RHA-owned units with their amenities are nicer than the housing and amenities that the majority of taxpayers who are actually paying for it,” Herrity said. “This is clearly wrong and unfair.”

Herrity told of a constituent who approached him over the Fourth of July weekend to say that she had looked into living at a complex that contained subsidized units but decided she could not afford to live there, and moved elsewhere. And he warned that as Tysons Corner changes into an urban center, the county could be paying even higher amounts in housing subsidies because 20 percent of the new development there is to be set aside for affordable housing.

The upshot was that Herrity asked that the Board’s Housing Committee reappraise the county’s affordable-housing ordinance and discuss ways to prevent the county from underwriting “luxury.”

But the discussion started right away, and a good deal of it was impassioned. The debate also more or less followed the partisan lines on the Board, which has a 7-3 Democratic majority over Republicans.

“I think it is insult to the people who have to accept these houses for someone to imply that that housing that they’re being provided is too good for them,” said Supervisor Catherine M. Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill), who chairs the Housing Committee. Hudgins said integrated affordable housing helps to integrate communities, allowing people in different walks of life to live near each other while their children attend the same schools.

Supervisor Jeff McKay (D-Lee) wondered whether he had gone back in time, saying Herrity seemed to be pining for a day when poor people were effectively segregated into certain neighborhoods where affordable housing was concentrated.

“What I heard is, ‘Build all your affordable housing in one area,” McKay said. He argued that social costs later — in concentrations of poverty, crime and lack of jobs — are more than any condo fees today.

In an interview afterwards, McKay said Herrity and fellow Republicans have latched onto affordable housing in the hopes of finding an issue that would resonate with voters this fall. “It’s being driven thematically,” McKay said.

Michael W. Thompson, a longtime Republican supporter who chairs the Jefferson Institute, reopened the debate over affordable housing with a report issued last week.

“There are housing developments in Fairfax County where subsidized homes have sold for about 16 percent of the cost of the ‘normal’ units in that development. Where there are $860,000 homes, the county has required ‘similar looking’ homes to be built and sold for only $145,000,” his report says.

In reviewing a county financial audit, Supervisor John W. Foust (D-Dranesville) highlighted portions dealing with the RHA, whose affordable housing programs serve about 17,000 county residents. Their income is about $25,000 a year, or about 27 percent of area median income, and one-third include a person with a disability, Foust said.

In citing the auditors’ report, Foust also said that in order to avoid creating pockets of poverty, the RHA has tried to distribute its affordable housing units around the county and that 577 of its affordable dwellings are condominiums that require the payment of condo fees for shared amenities, maintenance and services. The auditor found that the average assessed value was nearly $82,000 and the average condo fee per unit fee was $208 a month.

“It is outrageous to suggest that there are million-dollar homes in McLean that are part of this [affordable housing] program. It is simply not true,” Foust said, who called the Jefferson Institute a “so-called think tank.”

The Board passed 6-4 a substitute motion that asked the Housing Committee to focus on RHA-controlled condo fees. Hudgins, however, noted that the Housing Committee’s work frequently centers on the issue of affordable housing.

But Herrity said the issue amounts to an injustice.

“I can’t ask our taxpayers to pay for luxuries they don’t have themselves,” Herrity said. “I believe that’s wrong.”

The most recent dust-ups over affordable housing have had other consequences too: Last week, the blog Bacon’s Rebellion announced that it was severing its ties to the Institute, whose newsletter is now the Jefferson Policy Journal.

This post has been updated since it was first published.

By  |  07:45 PM ET, 07/12/2011

 
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