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Proposal To Boost Housing In Fairfax

Gerald E. Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, gave his annual State of the County speech last night.
Gerald E. Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, gave his annual State of the County speech last night. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
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By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 29, 2008

Gerald E. Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, proposed last night using county funds to buy foreclosed properties and then sell them at below-market prices to working families.

Doing so would not only create affordable housing in one of the nation's most expensive communities, but it would also help protect neighborhoods in danger of decline from the exploding number of homes going into foreclosure across Fairfax, Connolly said in his annual State of the County speech at the government center.

"Taking a home out of foreclosure would help restore stability to a neighborhood and restore confidence in the local real estate market," said Connolly, a candidate for Congress. "Workforce housing is in great demand but short in supply."

Connolly leads an 8 to 2 Democratic majority on the board, assuring that his idea will be considered. It would be up to Connolly and the board to decide how much money to spend on the proposal. He said the money would come from an existing program that allocates nearly $23 million annually to preserve affordable housing.

Connolly acknowledged his good fortune to govern one of the nation's wealthiest communities and Virginia's most powerful economic engine, which boasts a median household income above $100,000 and continues to add jobs despite the threat of a national recession and the effects of the subprime mortgage crunch on the real estate market.

"A report from the U.S. Department of Labor singled out Fairfax County as the epicenter of the national capital area job boom," Connolly said, "and Time magazine cited Fairfax as 'one of the great economic success stories of our time.' "

Still, Connolly addressed what he views as the county's ongoing challenges: traffic, growth management, homelessness. He proposed expanding the county's efforts to combat blight and illegal property uses and urged federal approval of the proposed Metrorail extension to Dulles International Airport, not only to relieve traffic congestion but also to spur the remaking of suburban Tysons Corner into a walkable, livable 24-hour community.

Connolly used his platform as one of Virginia's most influential elected leaders to champion a progressive agenda to fight global warming, keep money flowing to the county's high-ranking school system, and improve local services for the elderly and mentally ill. Connolly even promoted the board's efforts to improve arts programs in Fairfax.

"We have some challenges ahead of us, but together we are moving forward in a positive direction, building on the tremendous quality of life we enjoy here in Fairfax County," Connolly said in the speech. "All of us have invested in this community and have a stake in its success.

It is an agenda that meshes with his campaign for Congress. Connolly is one of four candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in the 11th Congressional District, which encompasses much of central and southern Fairfax County as well as a swath of Prince William County. The seat is held by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), who is retiring. Democrats are widely viewed as carrying the advantage to take over the seat in increasingly Democrat-leaning Fairfax County.

Connolly's most formidable opponent for the nomination is former state lawmaker Leslie L. Byrne, a left-leaning politician with deep roots in the Democratic Party's progressive wing. Connolly is under pressure to compete with Byrne for support among the left-leaning party activists likely to vote in the June primary, but he also carries the advantage of leading a highly regarded local government, and he enjoys deep support in the county's business community.

Connolly's agenda is likely to meet with strong support among his colleagues on the Democrat-dominated Board of Supervisors, with one or two exceptions. Supervisor Pat S. Herrity (R-Springfield), has said he wants to eliminate the affordable housing program that Connolly hopes to use to buy foreclosed properties.

Herrity, who is considering a bid to replace Connolly as board chairman, is unlikely to attract enough support from the board to kill the affordable housing program. That won't stop him from publicly criticizing Connolly's agenda, he said.

"We're already the largest landlord in Fairfax County," Herrity said. "We're already trying to serve families earning 120 percent of median income. Why would we want to do more?"

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