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Affordable housing group criticizes Fairfax County supervisor, disputes characterization of project as ‘luxury’ digs

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Luxury, like beauty, may be in the eye of the beholder. But it’s also at the heart of a continuing fuss over Fairfax County’s recently approved plan to build subsidized housing near its government complex.

The Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance has taken a slap at Board of Supervisors member Pat S. Herrity (R-Springfield) for what the group says is a distorted portrayal of the county’s plan to build 270 dwellings, known as the Residences at Government Center, for people who struggle to find homes in one of the region’s wealthiest jurisdictions. The project, undertaken by Jefferson at Fairfax Corner LLC on land ceded by the county, was approved by the county Board of Supervisors last week.

“While we acknowledge Supervisor Pat Herrity’s difference of opinion regarding the role of local government in housing, we continue to be troubled by his inaccurate and careless portrayal of the facts regarding housing programs in Fairfax County. The Residences at the Government Center, a mixed-income community of 270 units serving a range of households from 50 to 100% of area median income, is the latest housing initiative under attack by Mr. Herrity,” the group’s “Action Alert” says. The advisory went out to about 1,000 members of a listserv Tuesday.

But Herrity stood his ground over his criticism of the project, saying that the county should not be in the business of subsidizing a “luxury” apartment complex when privately operated units in the area are vacant.

“I consider pools, spas, rec rooms, weight rooms and rooms with Wii systems to be luxury,” Herrity said in an interview Tuesday.

The alliance’s open letter does not specify what the inaccuracies are. But in an interview Tuesday, the group’s executive director, Michelle Krocker, said the alliance objects to Herrity’s continued portrayal of the apartments as “luxury” units. Krocker accused Herrity, who discussed the apartments in his most recent newsletter, of implying that everyone who lives there will be making $100,000 a year.

The 55-foot-tall building will include dwellings for households making 50 percent, 70 percent, 80 percent, 90 percent and 100 percent of the area median income. The median household income for a family of three in Fairfax County is $102,499, according to the Census Bureau. About 20 percent of the units will serve households making 50 percent of AMI; about 27 percent will live in the dwellings set aside for people making 100 percent of AMI.

Board of Supervisors chairman Sharon S. Bulova (D) echoed the group’s criticism of Herrity. Bulova said the public-private partnership with Jefferson would allow the county to create a mix of housing types that teachers, firefighters, police officers and other middle-class workers could afford. By leasing land from the county and using federal low-income housing tax credits, the private-public arrangement allows Fairfax County to address an important meet at no cost to the tax payer, Bulova said. She noted that this was one of the critical needs highlighted in a report from the Fairfax County Economic Advisory Commission that the board approved the same day it endorsed the Residences at the Government Center.

Herrity, in his March 9 newsletter, said that the county should not be in the business of subsidizing an apartment complex that has “significant onsite amenities” such as “party rooms.” The county staff’s report says the builders will provide two indoor courtyards, a swimming pool with a spa, a clubhouse room, a fitness room, trail connections and a tot lot. Herrity said the private builder’s own Web site — since changed — used the word “luxury” in its sales pitch.

“Luxury does not belong in county-subsidized affordable housing,” Herrity wrote in the newsletter. He said taxpayers are subsidizing the project through the county’s giveaway of land valued from $10 million to $15 million and through federal tax credits that cost about $61 billion from 2008-17.

“Why should a guy who’s making $100,000 with a family of four — why should he be subsidizing somebody else in a luxury product when he’s paying full boat?” Herrity said in an interview Tuesday. “The majority of the people in Fairfax County do not think we should be subsidizing a luxury project to compete with the private sector.”

Herrity also was critical of the project’s change of focus, saying it initially had been billed as a way to house county employees but that now there is no guarantee that any county workers will live there.

The Board of Supervisors approved the development at its meeting March 8 by a vote of 7 to 3. Herrity joined fellow Republicans Michael R. Frey (Sully) and John C. Cook (Braddock) in opposing the project.

This post has been updated since it was first published.

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