Tens of thousands of families in Northern Virginia need housing that doesn’t bust their household budgets, and the efforts of governments, nonprofits and private developers are not keeping up, several experts and advocates said Monday at a conference on affordable housing.
Neither the funds nor the political will exist to make a serious attempt to solve the problem, experts at the annual State of Affordable Housing seminar said. Expected cuts in federal housing funds under the Trump administration will not help matters.
About 120 activists, advocates and officials met in Arlington and urged each other to think creatively about how to build less expensively in limited space, and find new supporters among the business, law enforcement and education sectors to help persuade local and state governments to devote money to affordable housing.
At the same time, a high-level local brain trust gathered in a closed-door meeting at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments in the District to discuss the same issue.
That group included Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chair Sharon Bulova (D), Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg (D) and Arlington County Board chair Jay Fisette (D), along with business and philanthropic leaders, said the council’s executive director, Chuck Bean.
Bean said the gathering could lead to a regional work group focused on affordable housing.
Fisette, who also attended the seminar in Arlington, declared a “moral imperative” to create affordable housing in the wealthy communities around Washington — a statement that others agreed with.
“We pat ourselves on the back for developing 1,000 units when we need 30 or 40 or 50,000,” said developer Jim Edmondson of the real estate and consulting company E&G Group. “We need more resources or we are not going to solve this problem in my lifetime or my grandchildren’s lifetime.”
Several speakers noted that families, seniors and people with disabilities who manage to get into affordable housing often also need supportive services to live on their own.
But money for those services is entirely separate from housing, and the region’s poorest residents often don’t have access to the support they need to remain in stable situations, advocates said.
“As good as ‘housing first’ is, without deep resources on a long-term basis, it’s set up to fail,” said Michael Scheurer of Cornerstones Housing Development Corp., which operates a homeless shelter in Reston.
The seminar was held at the Church at Clarendon, which sold the air rights over its property to create eight stories of apartments that range from luxury to affordable — an example of the ways in which housing nonprofit groups are trying to find the resources they need.
Other options include cutting the number of parking spaces, which cost several thousand dollars each, when building an affordable housing complex near public transit.
Edmondson said his firm developed a property at 2321 Fourth St. NE in Washington with only one parking space for each four apartments — and even those are not fully used.