Sharon S. Bulova, the Democratic chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, has delivered a forceful counterstroke to criticism of the county’s affordable housing program as subsidized “luxury.”
Responding to the latest attack on the initiative by Republican supervisor Pat Herrity (Springfield), Bulova issued a statement arguing, in effect, that affordable housing units for low-income, elderly and people with disabilities people must be included in new housing developments with wealthier residents — even if some of the complexes include swimming pools, gyms or other desirable amenities — in order to avoid creating ghettos. She argued that Fairfax County, which is one of the region’s most affluent communities, must do all it can to make sure that working-class families, including teachers, police and firefighters, can afford to live there. Teaming with private developers, who set aside a certain number of subsidized units in new, well-located and even desirable settings, is the best way to do it, she said.
“A critical strategy for providing affordable housing alternatives to residents is that these homes are integrated into the community and dispersed across Fairfax County. Doing so prevents the creation of pockets of poverty,” Bulova said in a statement issued Tuesday. “The concentration of poverty can perpetuate the causes of poverty, lead to higher crime rates and create unattractive, blighted and unsafe areas in Fairfax County.”
Bulova also defended the county’s expenditure for homeowners association fees in developments with pools, noting that the fees pay for basic services too, such as snow removal. And she suggested that critics imply that perhaps the new developments should treat its poorer residents differently.
Bulova responded after Herrity renewed his criticism of the county’s affordable housing program Tuesday, saying taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for “luxury amenities.”
To prove his point, Herrity cited a Fox 5 news story that aired Monday and a new report from the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy that echo his concerns about Fairfax’s affordable housing initiatives.
The Fox report said that the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority is paying more than $1.3 million in fees for homeowners associations for more than 500 condos and townhomes, “including one development with two outdoor pools, a club room, an athletic center and a billiards room.”
According to a June report from the Jefferson Institute, which is based in Herrity’s district: “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.”
Herrity said Tuesday in an edition of his newsletter that “the role of government should be to give those in need a hand up, not provide them with a place to live that provides no incentive for advancement and is better than the housing and amenities of the majority of the taxpayers that are funding it.”
Members of affordable housing organizations have accused Herrity of giving a distorted picture of the county’s housing initiative. They note that the Residences at Government Center, a mixed-income community with 270 dwellings, will house people who make half to 100 percent of the area median income, which in Fairfax County is $102,499 for a family of three. Advocates have said the arrangement ensures that low-and middle-income families, such as firefighters and teachers, can live side by side with wealthier families in an affluent part of the county instead of being forced out of Fairfax altogether.
Bulova’s full statement follows:
Fairfax County’s affordable housing program provides housing opportunities to our neediest citizens: the disabled, the elderly and the poor. It also provides housing opportunities for lower income middle class working families. By partnering with the private sector and area non-profits, we have been able to leverage County resources to provide people who live and work in Fairfax County an affordable home.
A critical strategy for providing affordable housing alternatives to residents is that these homes are integrated into the community and dispersed across Fairfax County. Doing so prevents the creation of pockets of poverty. The concentration of poverty can perpetuate the causes of poverty, lead to higher crime rates and create unattractive, blighted and unsafe areas in Fairfax County.
Being the most desirable place to live in the region means the high cost of housing can prevent people who work here from also living here. Our affordable housing program helps us meet our goal of having homes available in Fairfax County for our working families, which helps us meet our economic development goals without adding to our transportation problems.
In several of the private communities where Fairfax County owns affordable units, we pay a monthly fee just as other tenants in those communities do. These fees go toward basic services such as maintenance, snow removal, and utilities. They also go to shared amenities. For example, 15 of the 41 condominium developments in which Fairfax County owns affordable units have swimming pools for their tenants.
Fairfax County cannot and will not ask private companies to treat tenants differently based on income. If a child in an affordable unit wants to use the swimming pool with his neighbors, he should be allowed to. We also will not ask private companies to waive such fees and interfere with their ability to be successful. Fairfax County will also not tell these private companies which amenities they can provide in an open, competitive market. These companies are very valuable partners in our housing program and we respect their right to choose which services and amenities they provide their customers and to charge appropriately for those services.
Recent criticism of these fees raises several questions. Should we concentrate our affordable housing with low income individuals and families all together, or integrate them seamlessly into the community as we have done successfully for years? Should we interfere with the free market and tell Fairfax County companies how they should run their businesses, or offer incentives to developers to help us meet our (and their) community’s housing goals?
Or should we completely do away with our affordable housing program and drive lower income and entry level workers out of Fairfax County?