Yesterday, I received the “Herrity Report” from my friend, Springfield Supervisor Pat Herrity. I found the section on school construction/renovation vs. county owned rent control housing very interesting and informative. I’ve copied that portion of the email below for your viewing. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact my office.
Beginning the Discussion on Priorities – School Construction/Renovation or County Owned Rent Control Housing?
At yesterday’s Board of Supervisors’ meeting, I proposed redirecting developers’ $3 per square foot contribution for buying rent-controlled housing units into a trust fund to pay for public school renovation and construction. This proposal would have resulted in millions of dollars being used to fund our critical needs of school construction and renovations. Unfortunately, my proposal failed on an 8-2 vote with myself and Supervisor Michael Frey supporting it. While I am disappointed that it did not pass, I am encouraged that many of my colleagues on the Board agreed that we should have a conversation regarding County spending priorities. There is a proposal making its way through staff that would require contributions per square foot for all non-residential development for the purchase of rent controlled subsidized housing County-wide that will provide a forum for these discussions.
Since taking office in 2008, I have been an advocate for addressing our school construction and renovation needs. For instance, I was the first to propose raising the school bond limit to $155M, where it is today. As Herrity Report readers are aware, I have proposed several innovative solutions to address some of FCPS’s capital improvement needs (see here)and this is another such proposal. In addition to school capital requirements we also have significant county capital improvements that will compete for our scarce capital dollars. I am looking forward to engaging in a discussion over our priorities for developer contributions and whether they should go toward funding for school construction and renovation, or the purchase of more rent-controlled housing units.
FCPS’s current capital needs are over $870 million for the next five years, and nearly $1.8 billion over the next ten years. The current bond capacity granted to FCPS, $155 million per year, is insufficient to meet this need. However, it would be very dangerous to our financial health to increase this capacity as some have suggested. There are other creative ways to meet this need and we should pursue them, but they will not completely close the gap. For me it is clear that using these funds to close the gap outweighs the purchase of additional rent control units in terms of priorities.
At the same time as our school renovation and construction need has ballooned into billions of dollars, the number of rent-controlled units on the county has also grown significantly:
- Today, there are more people in subsidized housing units in Fairfax County than in the entire Town of Vienna. There are also more people in County subsidized housing than in 15 cities, 39 counties, and 186 towns in Virginia.
- From 2004-2013 the number of units owned by the Redevelopment and Housing Authority has increased 43% (2,626 to 3,758). As a result the Fairfax County government is one of the largest landlords in the County.
- From 2005-2013 the proportion of subsidized housing units to non-subsidized housing units increased by 32%. In other words, the volume of subsidized housing units is growing much quicker than the volume of non-subsidized housing units.
- From 2007-2013 the percentage of the population living in subsidized housing units increased by 25% (14,908-18,649). Simply put, in the last 5 years the number of people in subsidized housing grew 150% faster than our overall population.
These numbers do not include any of the recently approved additions to these numbers – a 20% rent-controlled housing requirement in Tysons along with a $3 per square foot non-residential contribution to subsidized housing, the mandate for 80% of all RSUs to be rent-controlled as discussed below, the Residences at the Government Center, and many other projects in the works. While I firmly believe in and support projects that provide housing for those that cannot provide for themselves – the disabled, the homeless, the elderly – I do not and cannot support subsidized rent-controlled housing for people that have reasonably viable housing options. As you can tell from the statistics above, the growth in subsidized rent-controlled housing in Fairfax County has been staggering over the last several years. There is no answer when I ask – how much is enough?
With many competing priorities and dwindling financial resources, the Board needs to have a serious discussion about what our priorities are, where they fall in relation to each other and how we move forward to address these pressing issues. Because resources are scarce, we cannot fund everything as we would like and need to make tough decisions on what our priorities are. I am of the belief that meeting our critical infrastructure needs, especially those of our public schools, will bring us a much bigger return on our investment than continuing to amass a stock of County-owned and rent-controlled housing units, especially for people that have other housing options.