Making Room for Needy

Making Room for Needy

Supervisors allocate $637,000 to nonprofit groups to purchase homes for lower income residents.

At a time when housing developers are charging higher and higher prices for their homes, some nonprofit developers are taking the opposite track. In partnership with county agencies, these groups are working to provide affordable housing units for lower income residents or for people with disabilities. County housing officials say it is not uncommon for public and private entities to cooperate on such affordable housing programs, boosting the stock of affordable homes.

"All of our programs are structured in a way to really leverage the resources of the private sector, primarily nonprofits," said Erik Hoffman, director of real estate, finance and grant management at the Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development.

IT WAS WITH this in mind that the Board of Supervisors Monday approved the transfer of over $637,000 to three nonprofit developers to help them provide housing to those in need. The money comes from the Home Investment Partnerships Program, a federal program that allocates money to localities for affordable housing. The localities then set aside 15 percent of their HUD funding to be used by local nonprofit housing groups.

After reviewing proposals from several groups, Hoffman's office chose three community developers to receive the money to acquire at least 32 affordable housing units. The three groups — Homestretch, Inc., Robert Pierre Johnson Housing Corporation and Wesley Housing Development Corporation — will combine the county's dollars with money from foundations to purchase the units.

"It's one of the many ways we provide affordable housing and this is just another funding stream for those partnerships," said Board Chairman Katherine Hanley (D).

The program was started in the mid-1990s to allow private groups to supplement public housing efforts.

"It has been a very successful program since it has been implemented," said Ron Hantz, director of housing development for the Robert Pierre Johnson Housing Corporation.

Hantz said Fairfax County gets relatively little money through the program. "Most of the jurisdictions are jurisdictions that are showing more in terms of poverty."

HOUSING OFFICIALS in Fairfax County are increasingly turning to private nonprofit companies to help them boost the county's stock of affordable housing. Budget cuts to the agency have made it difficult to continue to provide the same services without contracting out to private groups.

"We are trying to move more [in that direction] given not only the fiscal constraints but also the restraints of personnel so [nonprofits] can go out there and do the work that we couldn't do on our own," said Hoffman.

Hoffman called this move "a sea change" that has been part of the department's strategic plan for the past two years.

"We are looking to the private sector for ways to expand our reach, to have a more pronounced effect on affordable housing."

The Department of Housing and Community Development still provides services that private companies cannot provide because the financial risks associated are too great, added Hoffman. "We still try to fill in that niche for that more fragile population," such as elderly or indigent residents.