Fairfax's affordable housing plan might not change Tysons

Justin Budreau says goodbye to his son Bryan, 6, before leaving their home in St. Leonard for his job as a Web developer in the Tysons Corner area. Budreau is among the many workers who commute a long way because they are priced out of housing.
Justin Budreau says goodbye to his son Bryan, 6, before leaving their home in St. Leonard for his job as a Web developer in the Tysons Corner area. Budreau is among the many workers who commute a long way because they are priced out of housing. (By James A. Parcell For The Washington Post)
By Kafia A. Hosh
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 7, 2010

Priced out of living in Tysons Corner, many among the 100,000-member workforce have been known to commute from as far as Fredericksburg and Oxon Hill, and even from points in West Virginia.

Justin Budreau, 28, makes more than $60,000 a year as a Web developer but said he is unable to afford a home near his job in Tysons. Instead, Budreau and his young son live in Calvert County, where he rents a spacious two-bedroom apartment for $1,200 a month.

His daily one-way work commute is about two hours, but "you've got to do it," Budreau said with a shrug. Tysons is "where the money is. There's no jobs like mine in my area."

Budreau exemplifies the kind of worker Fairfax County officials hope will one day have a chance to live near their jobs in Tysons. The county's ambitious 40-year plan to remake the work-oriented area into an urban, transit-focused downtown includes sweeping guidelines to boost the affordable housing stock.

Affordable housing "is something that we thought it was time to introduce into the discussion," said James P. Zook, Fairfax's planning and zoning director.

But the guidelines have sparked concerns among developers who say efforts to include more affordable housing would be too costly and hinder residential growth.

The guidelines say that new developments should set aside 20 percent of units for buyers or renters with household incomes of $51,350 to $123,240, or 50 to 120 percent of Fairfax's median household income of $102,700. In exchange, developers would be allowed to build 20 percent more units.

Also, redevelopment projects would be required to have a one-for-one replacement of each market-rate unit that is affordable to households making less than $123,240, or below 120 percent of the median income. Nonresidential developers would also be asked to contribute $3 per square foot to a trust fund that would go toward the creation of affordable housing.

For owners of Tysons apartment complexes, however, the choice to redevelop their properties boils down to a cost-benefit analysis. Investing in redevelopment -- even with the bonus density, owners said -- is not worth the cost of providing affordable housing under the proposed guidelines. They said that apartments ripe for redevelopment could remain unchanged and new residential construction could be slow to start. That could undermine Fairfax's plan to breathe new life into a largely dull business district, and thereby increase the residential population from 17,000 to 100,000 by 2050.

"If you really want to transform Tysons . . . keeping old, multifamily apartments is kind of counterproductive," said Elizabeth Baker, an urban planner for a law firm that represents several apartment complex owners. "It almost punishes a developer who has maintained a residential project."

One such apartment complex is Archstone, whose 200 or so units were built in the 1980s a few blocks from a future Metro station on Route 7. Rob Seldin, a senior vice president for Archstone-Smith, which owns the complex, said the affordable housing guidelines provide no incentive for his complex and similar properties to change.

"Pretty much every property in Tysons right now is successful as it is," he said. "If all that's going to happen is they're going to build a train to bring us more customers, that's great."

Michelle Krocker, a housing advocate and member of the Tysons Land Use Task Force, said the guidelines are meant to give some of Tysons' restaurant, hotel and retail workers an opportunity to live there, too. Affordable housing is essential, she said, especially because the real estate slump, coupled with the arrival of Metro, will probably drive up rents.

"We know that the cost of living here is extraordinary, and we know there will be more pressure on the rental market," Krocker said. "If all of the apartments are [too costly] to rent, we're going to have the same problem of all of these people commuting in."

Krocker said the task force has discussed partnering office and retail developers, who are the majority of Tysons landowners, with affordable housing builders to help create a mix of housing choices.

In the meantime, Tysons employees such as lab technician Roy Pressley have inched closer in their quest to find a more affordable house near their jobs.

Pressley, 64, moved two years ago from Culpeper to Gainesville, where he bought a house. Gainesville is more than 25 miles from Tysons, but it's as "close as my money will allow me to get to work," he said.

The affordable housing guidelines are part of Fairfax's proposal to update the Tysons land-use plan, which is going through the county approval process.

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