Fairfax County will commit more than $500 million in subsidies for workforce housing in Tysons Corner, but has yet to figure out how to pay for transportation and other infrastructure, a Republican supervisor said Wednesday.
Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield), returning to a theme that has led to the most persistent and heated clashes on the Democratic-led board, said the county must reconsider current planning policies that require developers to contribute to workforce housing and other initiatives that he deemed inessential. These include the push for environmentally friendly building design and mass transit incentives, which are known as Transportation Demand Management plans, or TDMs.
Instead, Herrity called for a return to the days when developers shouldered the expense of widening existing roads or building new ones in exchange for county approval to construct more dwellings, offices and stores on a site.
“If we do not make this change, the County will look at taxpayers, as well as those who sit on congested Tysons roads, to fund the transportation improvements,” said Herrity, who outlined his views in an interview and in a newsletter going out Wednesday to his constituents. “The future success of Tysons Corner, as one of the most successful office parks in the country, will pay the price.”
For several years, Herrity and other Republicans have argued that the county should not be subsidizing housing at a time when the county is struggling to maintain existing levels of public services and minimize tax hikes on residents. They have been especially critical of workforce housing set aside for families that earn as much as 120 percent of the area median income. The AMI, which is set by the federal government, is now $107,500 for a family of four.
Herrity said most of the workforce housing in Tysons will go to those families; only 10 percent of the affordable housing in Tysons Corner will go to people earning less than $60,000 a year.
But supporters of such initiatives, including Chairman Sharon S. Bulova (D), have argued that the affordable housing initiatives cost taxpayers next to nothing and return substantial benefits. For example, providing affordable housing for teachers, firefighters and others with low- or mid-level incomes means that fewer of those workers will jam the roads commuting outside the county to less expensive housing. Segregating lower-income people into enclaves can also concentrate some of the problems that come with poverty. And supporters say the extra dwellings would not even exist if not for the county’s willingness to boost density in exchange for the subsidized units.
“Pat’s objections are beginning to sound like a broken record,” Bulova said Wednesday. She criticized Herrity’s methodology in tallying up the costs of subsidized housing in Tysons Corner and said he has not been closely involved enough in Tysons planning to understand the support developers have shown for setting aside workforce housing.
“It looks like a not very scientific analysis of what the costs are for housing in Tysons,” Bulova said. “It’s just not a very scientific or accurate chain of assumptions he’s making.”
Herrity has expressed support for affordable housing programs that aid the county’s poorest residents and people with disabilities, but he has been a tireless critic of the county’s workforce housing policies, saying taxpayers ultimately foot the bill subsidizing dwellings for working families making as much as $120,000 a year. But he and other opponents have also encountered difficulty tallying the overall cost.
For the past several weeks, however, Herrity and his staff said they eked out enough county data to form an estimate. That estimate is based on the county’s comprehensive plan calling for at least 20 percent of new dwellings to be set aside as workforce housing and a Tysons Corner developer’s testimony that the firm would pay $27 per square foot to comply with current policies that promote affordable housing, clean buildings and mass transit, Herrity said.
As a result, Herrity projected that Tysons Corner developers will ultimately kick in an estimated $2.2 billion for affordable housing, green roofs, and Transportation Demand Management plans, which Herrity said amount to “promises not to drive.”
Using data from the Georgelas Group’s project in Tysons, Herrity and his staff said the cost of affordable housing subsidies alone amounts to about $3.5 million for each of five planned residential buildings, or about $8 per square foot. Extrapolated for the rest of Tysons Corner, Herrity and his staff said the cost would be nearly $384.6 million.
Using similar calculations for commercial properties, Herrity and his staff say developers will contribute an additional $102.5 million for subsidized housing when they create new commercial space at a cost of about $3 per square foot.
And, Herrity said those estimates do not include the county’s loss of an estimated $70 million in revenues because subsidized housing units are taxed at less than their full market value.
Yet the county may have to tap taxpayers for an estimated $1.8 billion necessary to build the road network and other infrastructure that will support the mini-city, Herrity said.
“We’re putting a half-a- billion dollars into subsidized housing for people making $70,000 to $120,000 a year instead of handling a lot of our most important priorities, such as transportation in Tysons Corner,” Herrity said, in an interview.
In the past, however, developers were required to contribute much more toward transportation improvements that supported their projects, Herrity said.
“From 1976 to 1987 developer and business contributions were focused on our priorities – transportation, education, public safety and parks. During this time more funding was provided by businesses and developers for transportation improvements in the County than by federal, state and local funding sources combined,” Herrity wrote in his newsletter.
But Bulova said the business community understands how important it is to have a diverse class of employees living near their places of employment. And she said Herrity also fails to grasp that the eligible income levels for such housing are not high when considering the cost of living in the region.
“Remember that the $120,000 is not for a single person, it’s for a family. It could be a teacher married to a cop. Those people, under the county’s criteria, will be able to find units,” Bulova said.
This post has been updated since it was first published.