Fairfax Suburbanista

Making growth work in Fairfax

Posts Tagged ‘affordable housing’

Layton Hall initial plan looks good, but needs to preserve some affordable units

Posted by Fairfax City Citizens on September 22, 2012

At the City Council’s September 18th meeting, the owner of Layton Hall Apartments presented plans to redevelop Layton Hall Apartments as a more compact and pedestrian-friendly community. However, the plans would not preserve any units at current rates, which would drive current residents out of the apartments and probably out of the city.

JCE proposes to replace the current 110 garden-style apartment units with 357 units on seven buildings, four of which would be set close to Layton Hall Drive. All parking would be underneath or behind the residential units. The more compact, street-oriented building design would connect the apartments more organically with nearby Courthouse Plaza and the city’s downtown area.

 The proposal could move very quickly – JCE intends to file its application within the next few weeks. More information about the proposed project can be found at http://fairfax.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=2&event_id=81&meta_id=30606

The Mayor and several Council members voiced concerns about the scale and density of the proposal. Given the right design, though, this scale and density could be a big plus for the city.

The rents for the units would range from $1,250 to $1,900 a month – a steep increase from current monthly rents ($1,150 -$1,450). Adding market-rate studio and one-bedroom apartments could help the city attract more young professionals – which would add to the city’s diversity, and could bring more activity to the downtown area. That’s a good thing.

At the same time, the city needs to be more proactive in trying to preserve moderately affordable housing as part of the redevelopment. If the city does not make provisions for preserving some below-market rate housing as it redevelops Layton Hall and other aging apartment stock, it will have several negative effects. The city will become a less diverse place, and residents will likely move further out to the fringes of the region, where housing costs are cheaper.

The city and surrounding region have a large service-based economy, thousands of teachers and administrative staff from George Mason University and public and private schools, in addition to a lot of public sector employees. We need to build housing that is affordable to these people, too.



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Posted by Fairfax City Citizens on November 16, 2009

It doesn’t sound as good as HUD — but really, shouldn’t our federal housing program be called HSD: Housing and Suburban Development? That thought is prompted by the above-the-fold editorial in today’s Washington Post. “The FHA’s nose dive” takes the Federal Housing Administration to task for propping up the single-family housing market through imprudent mortgage insurance policies.  Meanwhile, Congress has authorized a $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers. It seems that our economy is addicted to the credit cycle that is set in motion by the “purchase” of a home. And the land for those homes is in the suburbs.

Our local zoning laws already make it hard enough to build apartments. Fairfax City has an explicit “move up” housing policy that discourages the production of apartments. Well over 70 percent of Fairfax County’s housing stock consists of single-family homes or townhouses. But they are working in tandem with much larger forces that make single-family homes so much more profitable for developers than apartments. The FHA mortgage insurance policies will cover borrowers who put as little as 3.5 percent down on a house. If they default, the developer has already gotten his money. The bank gets its money. The buyer’s credit is ruined. We pick up the tab.

Apartment dwellers should be up in arms. They are subsidizing a massive public housing program. This has been going on for over 60 years. But now it is getting even more extreme.  FHA’s reserves have shrunk to less than 1 percent of the total loans it insures. China and the US’s economies are said to be joined at the hip; the one cannot prosper without propping up the other. Is the same true of our economy and the continued production of single-family housing?

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Big Government, Limited Choices

Posted by Fairfax City Citizens on August 17, 2009

Fairfax City's "step-up" housing policy has encouraged gated communities like Chancery Square.

Fairfax City's "step-up" housing policy has encouraged gated communities like Chancery Square.

This past Saturday’s Wall Street Journal has a great article on the need to reduce the huge government subsidies for homeownership and encourage the production of homes and apartments for rent. If you want to expose “Big Government,” look no further than the array of subsidies, loan guarantee programs and local zoning laws that have been developed over the past 75 years to encourage homeownership, drive up the cost of housing and stimulate real estate speculation. As author Thomas Sugrue writes, “The story of how the dream [of homeownership] became a reality is not one of independence, self-sufficiency, and entrepreneurial pluck. It’s not the story of the inexorable march of the free market. . . . We are a nation of home-owners and home speculators because of Uncle Sam.”

Now that we’ve come down to earth, will housing and land use policies change to enable developers to produce homes that people can afford? Fairfax County has a starkly limited housing market consisting of wide swaths of “single-family” neighborhoods, a smattering of garden and high-rise apartments, and townhouses. Fewer than one in every five homes in the county is a rental unit. One reason that families pool their resources to buy or rent in “single-family” neighborhoods mainly is that they cannot find affordable, convenient places to rent.

Retooling our secondary mortgage institutions to help people find homes that they can really afford without “easy” credit, and without “driving to qualify” is mind-bogglingly complex. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is taking steps toward a more balanced housing policy that provides more funding for rental housing. But there are local forces at work too. Fairfax City’s housing policy explicitly encourages less affordable housing and the production of more expensive homes to match the high median income of its residents. Officials say that the city already has more rental units in proportion to overall housing stock than the county does, which is true, although the difference is small and becoming even smaller. But the real estate “market” — however artificial — is already working hard enough to stimulate over-expensive housing, even with the real estate bust, and zoning codes already discourage more rental housing.

Local housing policy should not add even more deterrents to building affordable homes. Instead, the county and city should be looking at increasing rental housing in commercial corridors like Fairfax Boulevard and Route 1 where people can more easily use transit and reduce their transportation costs — the second highest average household cost behind housing.

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A more livable central Fairfax

Posted by Fairfax City Citizens on June 30, 2009

Dirt is getting cleared big-time for the mixed-use Ridgewood project in Springfield. Ridgewood will include affordable homes — a big plus especially in a location within walking and bicycling distance to Fairfax County Government Center — stores, parks and office space, and all parking will be structured and embedded inside the site. Residents will be able to walk to a lot of amenities including the nearby Wegman’s and Fairfax Corner. The project will also extend Government Center Parkway, adding another important link in the road network.

All good. Kudos to developer KSI, Springfield District civic leaders, Planning Commissioner Peter Murphy and former Supervisor Elaine McConnell for getting the project through. The land use in this area is getting better. Now, will our obscenely auto-oriented roads in this area follow suit?

The central Fairfax/Government Center area is studded with overly wide roads that are difficult and unpleasant to cross by foot or bicycle on. Route 29 is unbikeable unless you are extremely brave and willing to risk right hooks from motorists who barely slow down into their turns. Government Center Parkway and Monument Drive are ridiculously wide, with far more capacity than needed for the volume of cars they handle.  In classic Tysons-Cornerish land use planning, the wildly popular Wegmans Supermarket lacks dedicated pedestrian access; even residents of the nearby condos on Ridge Top Road and Monument have no direct pedestrian or bicycle access.

Two large vacant retail spaces suggest future redevelopment is not far off at Jermantown Plaza and the nearby shopping center once anchored by Home Expo

Two large vacant retail spaces suggest future redevelopment is not far off at Jermantown Plaza and the nearby shopping center once anchored by Home Expo

Currently the whole is less than the sum of its parts, but one hopes that with more creative land use such as exemplified by Ridgewood the impetus will grow for multi-modal improvements on Route 29, Waples Mill Road and other current car sewers. Along with VDOT, another big factor here will be land use decisions made just over the border in Fairfax City. Just two (admittedly long super-suburban) blocks from Ridgewood are two underperforming Fairfax City shopping centers along with a trailer park that has long been eyed for redevelopment. Part of this area — the Jermantown Shopping Center may become part of the city’s Fairfax Boulevard overlay district. So there is a lot that could happen over the next decade to build on the momentum for a more livable central Fairfax. But we have to start taming those roads.

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