Fairfax: Asking the Needed Questions

Fairfax: Asking the Needed Questions

City Council and staff discuss City housing policy.

The City’s housing policy was one of the items discussed during the Fairfax City Council’s recent mini-retreat at the Blenheim Interpretive Center. Louise Armitage, the City’s Human Services coordinator, posed a variety of questions for the Council to consider.

Regarding housing strategy, she asked, “Is there a need for a master plan, or do we have enough data? It would be costly, and would the value be significant if we did a comprehensive study? Should we seek a contract with Fairfax County to administer a comprehensive housing program [for us] or use our own housing staff?” Trouble is, said Armitage, “We don’t have enough staff to do it.”

As for the preservation of existing, affordable housing, she said there are federal grants to help the City do it. She also noted that, in most jurisdictions, affordable housing and a housing strategy are under the auspices of the economic development coordinator.

Armitage also brought up the equally important issue of creating new, affordable housing in the City of Fairfax. “We could repurpose empty office space and also provide micro units for affordable housing,” she said. “And we’ll continue to seek affordable housing proffers for new construction [projects here].”

“And do we want congregant or scattered affordable housing units?” she asked. “Generally, when we’re talking about housing affordability, we’re talking about workforce housing – not for those at the lowest end of the income scale.”

Thanks to developers’ proffers, Armitage said the City currently has $800,000 earmarked for its Housing Trust Fund, but does not yet have the actual cash in hand. “Do we administer it ourselves or contract it out?” she asked the Council. “And we need this income to be sustainable.”

“Or, in all new commercial development, you could have a certain amount of money donated to the Housing Trust Fund, based on the square footage [of the project to be built],” she continued. “This would be done by proffer. And we need to decide how to allocate the funds we get.”

Mayor Scott Silverthorne recommended that the City “start by asking the county if it’s willing to [administer the fund for us].”

Councilwoman Nancy Loftus asked when the City would first see any of the already proffered money deposited into the Housing Trust Fund, and Brooke Hardin, director of Community Development and Planning, replied, “Maybe toward the end of the next calendar year.”

Loftus also wondered if the Council would lose control of that money once it is in the Housing Trust Fund, and Armitage told her, “We’d absolutely have to define how it’s spent.”

Furthermore, asked Loftus, “Does that money require administration, at all, until it’s of sufficient size to do something with? So why have a contract with the county, at all?” Silverthorne said the City would not have to have the contract take effect “until the money’s there.”

“And it depends on the purpose of the fund,” added Hardin. “For example, if we receive applications for the use of those funds, and program information, then the county could review and vet those applications for us.”

“This should probably be a stand-alone, work session item, and I’m not sure all the details have been worked out, yet,” said Silverthorne. “And we can also put this item on the agenda for our next, city county dinner, in a few months.”