(July 4, 2018) Catherine Read interviews Gerald Poje, member of the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee in Fairfax County. As housing prices continue to climb, the ability for a low or middle-income family to afford housing in Fairfax county decreases. This advisory committee is dedicated to finding ways to increase the amount of affordable housing, while also taking into account the ability for people to live in the county throughout their entire life cycle.
Today in Fairfax County, there is a shortage of 31,000 affordable dwelling units. According to today’s statistics, a family of four pays on average $1700 per month for their housing, which requires an average family income of $70,000. There are many people in our county who do not make close to that income, and therefore cannot afford to live and work here in Fairfax. Or, alternatively, they are in a situation where they need to share a residence with other families or individuals in order to afford the rent. Poje is working with the advisory board to think outside the box, and challenge the status quo to bring forth much needed change.
Currently there are two agencies who manage work being done on affordable housing in Fairfax County. Both the Department of Housing and Community Development and the Fairfax County Redevelopment Housing Authority manage federal and state dollars that flow to the county for affordable housing, and focus on long term housing solutions for people coming out of homelessness. The advisory committee is helping to develop a strategic plan to guide their work as they plan for the future.
The strategic plan encompasses two critical phases. Over the past two years, phase one included soliciting input from community members and devising a comprehensive list of 25 low cost recommendations for the county to implement. Their goal is to integrate the community needs into a comprehensive plan that will allow the Department of Housing and Community Development and the Redevelopment Housing Authority to become more efficient, effective and strategic. They are also working with the Land Use and Zoning Boards to reimagine how some of the vacant commercial property around the county can be repurposed for the use of affordable dwelling units.
As the County works together with the business community to redesign existing spaces, Poje and the advisory board are urging them to think globally about the needs of the community, and to consider creative ideas of how to incorporate affordable housing into these newly designed spaces. Poje argues that the more people who are living and working in the community, the stronger the community will become. He strongly believes that people behave differently when they work and live in their own communities. They take more pride and are more committed to the community’s overall success.
Another key component of the committee’s work includes the consideration of those who want to stay in Fairfax County as they age. Today, there is a shortage of affordable options for those looking to retire and stay in their communities. The committee is looking to ensure that there are plenty of options for age appropriate, cost appropriate and size appropriate housing for people in all stages of their lives. This requires the ability to think ahead and imagine that the future may look different from what exists today, and to build for the changes that will be ahead.