Meeting the challenge of affordable housing in Fairfax County

By Jerry Poje:

Fairfax County’s future is on the line. As we saw in part I of this series, high housing costs are forcing lower income families, young adults and seniors to migrate out of our region. This cripples our diversity, clogs roadways and explodes our regional carbon footprint.

But something can be done, and is being done, to address the issue. And you can play a role.

The gap in low-rent units is estimated at 31,000 currently, with 15,000 additional units necessary in the coming decade. The total, 46,000, works out to 5,100, on the average, for each of the county’s nine magisterial districts. How to get to that goal?

The Board of Supervisors and School Board have jointly adopted the “One Fairfax Policy,” promising to include concerns for “equity” – ie social fairness and justice – in all county government actions. Affordable housing is a top focus area for the policy.

More concretely, the supervisory board charged the Department of Housing and Community Development to craft a strategic plan to preserve and produce affordable units.

Phase 1 of the plan identifies 25 short-term strategies that are being implemented over the next 2 years by:

  • Modernizing agency administration and processes, innovating and leveraging partnerships
  • Improving tools for better land use and zoning
  • Seeking new funding sources and using revenue more strategically
  • Housing vulnerable populations: those with disabilities, seniors, and extremely low-income individuals and families

Phase 2 of the plan plots longer-term strategies, recommending:

  • producing at least 5,000 new homes, affordable to families earning up to 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) over the next fifteen years
  • that the Board of Supervisors commit the equivalent of an additional penny on the real estate tax rate to support this production, starting in FY 2021

Adding another penny of real estate assessment revenue would generate approximately $12.5 million to preserve existing affordable housing under threat, as well as approximately $25 million for building new affordable homes.

The supervisors added $5 million to our county housing trust fund in April and directed the County Executive to explore the additional penny tax when drafting the FY 2021 budget proposal.

But getting support for increasing taxes is never easy.

Fairfax NAACP hosted a major housing forum in Vienna in March in collaboration with more than 20 non-profits, faith communities and service organizations that drew many in need and a wealth of elected and aspiring candidates.

At the forum, county workers, homeless adults, and ministers spoke compellingly about the deepening housing crisis.

In addition, a new model of community engagement has emerged in south county, where looming gentrification along the Embark Richmond Highway project has mobilized residents. Social and racial equity are front and center in these discussions. Communities who’ve witnessed generations of rampant discriminatory policies are adamant that reparations be made in new housing funding and policy priorities

Each of us should use our voices, and our votes, to ensure that all in Fairfax can reside affordably. Let’s see to it that the supervisory board we elect in November will meet the promise of the One Fairfax Policy.

Moreover, let’s make our state legislature in Richmond a better partner.   Last year Massachusetts, whose population is only 80% the size of ours, passed a $1.8 billion state housing bond, while the Republican-dominated legislature in Richmond killed Gov. Northam’s meager $20 million proposed infusion to our state housing trust fund. We need to vote in state senators and delegates who want to build a better Virginia home.

Let’s grow the YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard) movement so that all who currently live or work here, or have grown up here, can reside here. This will ensure our economic vibrancy, maximize the return on our taxpayer investment, and promote a common democratic culture.

Feel free to email me (, or get in touch with the Fairfax County Human Services Council, or the Fairfax County Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, to learn how you can help.


Jerry Poje is a member of Fairfax County Human Services Council representing the Hunter Mill District, and the Fairfax County Affordable Housing Advisory Committee.  He is also a member of the Hunter Mill Democratic Committee.