The Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce listened to comments about meeting the demand for workforce housing in Fairfax and Loudoun counties during its Metro Monday meeting yesterday afternoon.

The chamber hosted a panel made up of regional professionals who explained the difficulties that exist and the points that must be reached to meet the growing demand for housing.

The panelists explained that this is not a situation that affects just one group or income level, but is a widespread issue.

“I think the main thing to consider is that there’s affordability needs across all income levels,” Alex Koma, a reporter for the Washington Business Journal, told the chamber. “There is no income level, right now, that we’re not seeing renters’ cost burdened at this point.”

In addition to meeting the general housing need, Koma also discussed the challenges of coping with the COVID-19 pandemic as it affects Fairfax and Loudoun counties. He detailed that Fairfax has been forced to walk back tax increases while Loudoun has put a hold on portions of its spending.

“Localities are proceeding very cautiously. That goes as well for the state,” Koma said. “They have left some money for the Virginia Housing Trust Fund in the budget for this coming year, but in future fiscal years a lot of that progress has been undone.”

Graham Owen, the senior planner for the Department of Planning and Development in Fairfax County, echoed Koma’s sentiments regarding COVID-19’s effect, but stated “affordable housing does remain a top priority for the Board of Supervisors in Fairfax.” However, Owen did raise several other challenges that the county must address for affordable housing for all residents.

The county projects it will add more than 62,000 households in the next 15 years which includes a need for 15,000 new homes for families at 60% and below of the area median income (AMI), according to Owen. Owen added that challenges for the county include almost 71,000 households earning $50,000 or less, and rising rent and stagnant income pushing the county’s housing market out of reach for low to moderate income households.

Abdi Hamud, the Affordable and Workforce Housing Program Administrator in Fairfax County’s Department of Housing and Community Development, described the county’s efforts to address affordable housing with the Communitywide Housing Strategic Plan that was adopted by the Board of Directors in 2018. The plan calls for a need of 5,588 housing units for households that make between 50 and 80% of the AMI, 9,048 units for those between 80 and 100% AMI, and 11,929 units for those between 100 and 120% AMI.

The plan seeks to employ the Land Use Policy and public-private partnerships to address the housing needs over 15 years.

Kim Hart, a developer of affordable workforce housing who works with the non-profit Windy Hill Foundation and is a general partner of for-profit Good Works LP, presented further challenges from the development aspect and suggestions for policies he would like to be supported.

Hart explained the budgetary concerns for building affordable housing by pointing to steady prices in building materials as opposed to the variable cost of land that can affect unit pricing.

“Nobody sells me a 2×4 for less or a yard of concrete for less,” Hart said.

“If I’m going to rent a unit below market rate, especially down as low as 60% of AMI, or 50, or 40, or even to 30% of AMI, I have to save money on land and I have to save the cost of money.”

Hart also presented federal and state policies that affect the ability to build affordable housing.

At the federal level, Hart urged the chamber to support pending legislation to increase federal funding for low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC) which he said, “without it, we would have very little affordable housing.”

He also supported increasing funding and targeting those most in need, and to continue supporting the Community Reinvestment Act to allow banks to invest in LIHTC that will in turn support affordable housing.

For the state level, Hart commended Virginia Housing for “running a great program,” but urged pushing for more funds from the federal level for it. He also urged for support of House Joint Resolution 2 to amend Section 6, Article X of Virginia’s constitution. The passage of this resolution would allow for property tax exemption for affordable housing, according to Hart.

Hart’s analysis repeated a statement from Koma wherein he pointed at money for affordable housing being cut from budgets resulting in delaying or cancelling projects due to the high cost of materials and labor.

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Several Reston and Herndon’s local officials came together virtually yesterday (Monday) to discuss the possibilities of what the retail industry will look like after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce hosts “Metro Monday” on the last Monday of each month. This month Herndon’s Mayor Lisa Merkel, Fairfax County’s Director of Economic Initiatives Rebecca Moudry and other local business owners were present to talk about the future of retail in Reston and Herndon.

The possibilities of the future of retail include promoting more online ordering for food, creating new digital ways for businesses to interact with its customers, and merging more restaurant and retail places together.

Merkel believes “restaurants are becoming anchors for retail centers which promotes social engagements and draws in the office crowd during lunch hours.”

Although many local businesses received grants to help with its loss of income, Moudry said the coronavirus pandemic has particularly affected the retail system.

RISE grants have been awarded. We mailed postcards to every single business for local and federal grant programs,” Moudry said. “Economic Recovery Framework was recently launched to confront the economic shifts. That is the current task at hand.”

Job access and workforce development are essential factors in the framework. Moudry said the framework will work with the local transit system to improve both.

“The Reston bus plan will significantly improve bus transit and people’s access to jobs, as well as more opportunities for retail and people to come in and out,” Moudry said.

Tony Stafford, owner of Ford’s Fish Shack, said many businesses have had to take steps they thought they would never do.

“A lot of businesses had to reinvent themselves. We’ve seen a loss of lunch business because people aren’t going to work,” Stafford said. “This time last year, our takeout business was 7 p ercent of our overall sales, this year its 43 percent. of our overall sales. People are now comfortable ordering their meals off computer screens.”

Omar Aru, the owner of Escape Room Herndon, said setbacks posed by the pandemic have been significant, despite grants from the federal government and local assistance.

“There used to be a 15-minute wait period between each visit, but now it’s a 30-minute to an hour wait period between each visit to allow more time for proper cleaning and for rooms to air out,” Aur. said. “This means that we’re getting fewer games in and less people because we’re taking longer to clean.”

Photo courtesy of Omar Aru

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Given that the expansion of the Silver Line is expected to bring more people to already urbanized areas in Northern Virginia, community leaders are working toward solutions around the lack of affordable housing.

The Dulles Chamber of Commerce brought together representatives from Fairfax and Loudoun counties to talk about what this means for the future of affordable housing at a public meeting yesterday evening. Common themes of conversation included roadblocks to construction, current demand for units, land-use policies and even the type of people around town in need of subsidized housing.

The cost of living is not sustainable for lower-income people working in the area, according to Tom Fleetwood, the Director of Housing and Community Development for Fairfax County. Around Fairfax County, from 2010 to 2015, the average income only increased by 10% while the cost of housing increased by 17%.

Fairfax County will require at least 15,000 new affordable housing units in the next 15 years to support families earning 60% of the median income and below, according to Fleetwood.

Currently, there are 30,000 low-income renters in Fairfax County that are paying more than one-third of their income on housing. “This means that they’re what we call a cost-burden and that they have less money to contribute to our economy,” he said.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, four minimum wage jobs are needed in order to afford the average apartment in the county.

Once the extension project is complete, the housing disparity is only expected to grow.

In Tysons and Reston specifically, Fleetwood said that the biggest challenge is the limited availability of land for affordable housing projects. To combat this, updated inclusionary zoning policies have been a large help in rethinking how space is used, he said.

“Visionary zoning policies have produced a substantial number of below-market units that are serving working families in Tysons and in Reston,” Fleetwood said but didn’t volunteer a specific number.

Stephen Wilson, president of the SCG Development, offered previous examples at the meeting of how his company has worked around small parcels of open land, using creative designs in areas like Shady Grove to make the most of space.

“Land is a precious commodity everywhere, but particularly around high-density areas,” he said.

At Ovation at Arrowbrook in Herndon, SCG Development is branching out and working with community planners to incorporate affordable housing close to stations like Innovation Center.

Image courtesy Fairfax County

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Herndon residents are banding together to host the first-ever “Herndon WinterMarkt,” a traditional German-style Christmas Market with a family focus.

The event, which is set for Dec. 14 from 12 p.m to 8 p.m., will include vendors, food, crafts and entertainment linked to European traditions.

Kevin LeBlanc, an event organizer, said the idea was inspired by the large number of German and Austrian natives living in the area. Discussions to organize the event quickly gained momentum after residents partnered up with the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce to launch the event.

Organizers say Herndon’s historic downtown area naturally lends itself to community gatherings typically held in small grounds and villages.

“Historic Herndon lends itself to that kind of an atmosphere, both because of the historic town center and a strong sense of community that the town house.”

So far, the event will include Gluhwein and German beer. A majority of vendors and entertainers are German or Austrian. and the event will also coincides with the Herndon Model Trail show.

It will take place at the Herndon Depot Museum (717 Lynn Street).

More information will be available on the event’s Facebook page.

Photo via Herndon WinterMarkt/Facebook

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