Democratic Party candidates running for Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors have thrown their support behind a VOICE-backed push to significantly increase funding for affordable housing.

by Lori Ostrow for The Fort Hunt Herald

May 23, 2019

Democratic Party candidates running for Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors have thrown their support behind a push to significantly increase funding for affordable housing.

Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE), a coalition of religious and civic organizations in Northern Virginia, is calling for a tripling and quadrupling of the planned investment of $28 million assigned in the County’s recently adopted budget for fiscal year 2020.

The group believes Fairfax County needs to increase that level of funding by “at least $100 million a year” to meet its own affordable housing goal of 15,000 new units while accounting for anticipated population growth over the next 10 years.

“VOICE applauds the County’s proposal to increase new funds to $28 million in 2020 for affordable housing. This is a critical start,” VOICE leaders said at the organization’s Fairfax Action candidates forum on Sunday, May 19, 2019.

“VOICE proposes that Fairfax raise its affordable housing fund to $60 million over the next four years, and then double that to $120 million over the next 10 years.

“This would ensure communities that have lived here for decades can afford to remain here and allow for anticipated population growth.

“VOICE calls on the next Chair to make sure the County’s affordable housing plan includes in its blueprint real investment in the County’s historic African American communities, mobile home parks and housing near Metrorail and bus hubs.

“According to the County’s recent report on affordable housing, its own goal is to build 15,000 new units to address housing needs. If the County were to actualize this goal of 15,000 units, it would require over $100 million a year for the next 12 years.”

The candidates forum was held at the Bethlehem Baptist Church in Gum Springs and was attended by more than 650 people.

The VOICE coalition has pledged to turn out at least 3,250 voters at the upcoming Democratic Party primary election on June 11, 2019.

In addition to more funding for affordable housing across the County, the group wants to protect mobile homes along the Richmond Highway corridor from redevelopment and gentrification, potentially pushing out many low-income families who can’t afford to live anywhere else in the County.

“Families who live in mobile home parks along U.S. Route 1 are part of our VOICE family. We stand together,” the group states.

“Each of these more than 1,000 families invested in a piece of the American Dream by buying a home, a mobile home. These homes are almost impossible to move and the families will lose their investment if the land is sold from underneath them.”

VOICE called on the candidates to protect the three main mobile home parks along Richmond Highway, if elected, in addition to increasing funding to support new and existing affordable housing units across the County.

The four candidates seeking the Democratic Party tick for the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors race in November is Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay, School Board member Ryan McElveen, Georgetown Law professor Alicia Plerhoples, and developer Tim Chapman.

Scroll down to read what the candidates said regarding affordable housing.

Ryan McElveen

[Regarding the mobile home parks], I absolutely commit to maintaining that community and meeting with that community as soon as I take office.

[On affordable housing], the commitment to $60 million [over four years] and $120 million [over 10 years], I absolutely commit to that.

In terms of funding, we have to commit our general fund to that effort, so I pledge to allocate two cents on the real estate tax so we can meet that funding need.

We need affordable housing throughout our community, not just in pockets. I come from McLean, where we can certainly do more to pull our weight on affordable housing.

In terms of land, in Fairfax County it should not be up to the developers alone to deal with affordable housing. They should be part of the conversation but, frankly, we’re not making enough progress there.

We should also put the affordable housing on County land, and I ask of all the congregations here to look into putting affordable housing on your properties, too, and I’d urge you to consider that as we look to the future.

We can also afford to put more affordable housing on our school properties as well, so our teachers are not commuting for miles and by the time they get to the classroom, they’re worn out.

Tim Chapman

Building affordable housing’s not just what I do, it’s who I am.

I’ve been building it for the last 20 years, and for the past 10 years I sat on the board of the Virginia Housing Development Authority and I was the chair under Governor Terry McAuliffe.

I watched my mother live in a car and struggle with mental health. I’ve been there, I understand; I’ve been a victim [of a lack of affordable housing].

Municipalities that don’t fund affordable housing is a discriminatory action, in my view. We must fund affordable housing because if you don’t, you imprison the parents into poverty and you shackle the children to poverty.

Step one is that we’ve got to make the commercial real estate developers pay their fair share, which they’re not doing right now. They use sophisticated means to devalue their properties so their taxes are less; then when they trade the asset, it sells for more than the assessed value.

We need to implement lot coverage ratio area fees, so when people put McMansions on their land, they pay an annual fee on that to help fund affordable housing.

We need to marry a County tax credit with the state tax credit and federal tax credit. This is the most critical issue we have in our country right now. Two-thirds of renters right now across the country spend more than 50 percent of their income on rent and we’re not really doing anything about it.

In an election year, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors got together and thought $5 million was the answer — in an election year! That’s when they’re supposed to give you the best they’ve got.

A follow-up question specifically asked candidates if they support VOICE’s proposed multi-million dollar funding increase for affordable housing.

Yes, construction prices are rising at about 18 percent per year right now, so we’re going to need more than $60 million. And to be candid, we’ll probably need more than $120 million over 10 years.

But for specificity, the answer is yes; we’re going to do that, and there are a myriad of ways we’re going to do that.

We’ll need County money, but we’ll also partner with the Federal Home Loan Bank, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Virginia Housing Development Authority.

We need to have the passion and drive to fix the affordable housing crisis in Fairfax County.

Alicia Plerhoples

Regarding losing homes or not being able to afford a place to live, your stories are my stories. I experienced eviction as a child as well.

My father lost his job, and we were evicted from my home. I spent the better part of my 4th grade living in a motel room with my family.

We have too many Fairfax County residents who are one or two paychecks away from that happening to them, so I fully commit to standing with the members of the mobile home community and Audubon to preserve their homes.

This is also an issue of gentrification.

We have EMBARK coming to the Richmond Highway area. It’s wonderful to say we’re going to have no net loss of market-affordable homes, or affordable housing, but what does that really mean? Have we counted and done an assessment of where those homes are that we want to preserve and keep?

Until we do that, with EMBARK coming in, there’s not going to be preservation. We see prices are going to rise around the County.

I support a one-and-a-half penny restoration of our affordable housing fund, but we can’t just rely on our real estate property taxes, because those property taxes are passed along and rent goes up for people who can’t afford it.

I’m going to fight to make sure the state is increasing its dollars, and the County provides money for affordable housing.

And this isn’t a very popular thing, but I think we need to bring the meals tax back, because that would give us $100 million every year that we could use not just for schools, but affordable housing. And I would work to not put it on the ballot, I’d work with the General Assembly to get it passed by ordinance.

Finally, we also need to look at our land. Much land in Fairfax County is zoned for single-family houses, but who can afford a single-family home in Fairfax County? We’ll look and see in what pockets of land we can add multi-family units that are going to be more affordable.

We also want to make sure we’re not creating any new pockets of poverty around the County, and that we’re developing affordable housing everywhere.

A follow-up question specifically asked candidates if they support VOICE’s proposed multi-million dollar funding increase for affordable housing.

Yes, because we have often been asked to settle for less in this County.

Alexandria’s done it, Arlington’s done it; they each have committed $90 million and $70 million each year for affordable housing.

We shouldn’t be settling for less in Fairfax County; we should have that funding for affordable housing. The way we get to that is through the meals tax and working with the state to bring in more dollars.

Jeff McKay

I grew up on the Route 1 corridor. It’s where I spent 30 years of my life, and I’m darn proud of that.

If everyone in the County embraced affordable housing in the way we do in South County, we wouldn’t have a lot of the affordable housing problems we have now.

Affordable housing needs to be considered everywhere in Fairfax County. There are no places it should be off limits.

There have not been any places it’s off limits in my District, and I’ve preserved and built hundreds of affordable dwelling units in my District.

When it comes to the Audubon trailer park, I’ve been proud to represent that community for the past 11 years. I’ve been a partner with VOICE on some programs in there.

I know the people in there; I’ve been to all the doors. I’ve had attempts at redeveloping it come through my door, and they’ve been flat-out rejected.

For EMBARK to work, it must lift up all people. We have an opportunity to bring $1 billion of infrastructure investment in the highway to protect our pedestrians, to create parks, to bring high quality transit, and to protect people’s jobs.

It’s long past due that we get investment in that highway and we can do it while protecting the people who live here as our number one priority. That’s why I’ve embraced the housing plan for no net loss of units.

I wrote the budget guidance in the Fairfax County budget for next year, not to talk about the penny fund for affordable housing, but to demand the County executive include it in his budget next year. I wrote the language, I support it, I stand behind it.

A follow-up question specifically asked candidates if they support VOICE’s proposed multi-million dollar funding increase for affordable housing.

Yes, as I mentioned, I’ve supported the housing resourcing plan. I’ve supported the $60 million over the next four years, I absolutely support that.

With regard to reaching $120 million over the next 10 years, I hope we’re spending far more than that over the next 10 years in combined sources.

I do think looking 10 years out, at this point, it’s a little difficult to commit to the $100 million per year for the next 12 years, but I think we need to be well above that.

As chairman, not only do we need to get to $60 million, we’ll exceed that in the first five years, and we’ll do it by building partnerships with people.

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