Reston Connection: Opinion Page 6
October 8-14, 2014
Why do you live where you live today? Is it convenience to work or good schools? Access to attractions? Does the housing cost fit your budget?
For most people, finding the perfect home often comes down to a family’s values and priorities for the stage of life they are in, choosing what’s most important if you can’t get everything in one home.
Yet, for many families and individuals in Fairfax County, there are only hard choices and tradeoffs that no person would willingly accept for their family. To afford a 2-bedroom apartment in our area at fair market rate of $1,469 requires an annual household income of $56,480. For a minimum wage worker that equates to 132 hours of work per week. In Fairfax County, nearly 1/5 of households earn less than would be required to pay that rent without some temporary or ongoing support. Do you move out miles and add hours and cost to getting to your job? Do you sacrifice housing safety or time with your children to work two or more jobs to pay the bills? The stress on those with limited incomes or ability to earn a “housing wage” hurts everyone in our community.
Recognizing this, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors prioritized “livable, caring and affordable communities” that reflect the options families value. Despite the headline goal, we have not kept pace with housing production and preservation needed to support affordable living opportunities. Huge increases in construction and land costs have outstripped growth in household income, compounded by the reduction in government subsidies now available to bridge those gaps.
At Cornerstones, we understand the consequences for those who fall into this affordability gap and we are working on many levels to address the challenge.
Consider, the Brown family who entered the Embry Rucker shelter with their children this summer. Shaken by the reality of shelter living, they are willing to make changes. It won’t be an easy road. Mr. Brown is unemployed and never completed high school. Mrs. Brown is an administrative assistant in a Reston-based business earning $36,000. They have two elementary age children who have made friends and feel at home at a local elementary school. The Browns’ total household income means they earn too much for some benefits, but not enough to support their family. A short-term solution is a transitional housing program that emphasizes educational attainment and job training for people willing to work hard to increase earning potential in exchange for time-limited rent support.
Will the Browns’ make it? They have a lot going for them, but will still join thousands of other families in Fairfax County who are on waiting lists for housing vouchers or other affordable rental subsidies essential to surviving this chapter in their life. Long-term, the only sustainable solution requires a community investment. Cornerstones has worked in our community for more than 40 years to preserve affordable housing and give families like the Browns realistic housing options.
This month—after a long journey aided by our supporters and partners like Bozzuto, Wells Fargo, Fairfax County, Virginia Development Housing Authority, Freddie Mac and the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce Best of Reston partnership—Cornerstones will purchase and assume sole ownership responsibilities for The Apartments at North Point in Reston’s desirable North Point community. Walkable to shopping, on the bus line, and just miles from the Silver Line metro, these attractive, accessible garden style apartments are available at below market rents—expanding the choice of living and working in a community rich with opportunities for service, great schools, and access to open space and recreational opportunities.
Who are these neighbors? North Point residents include teachers, government employees, retired individuals and students, and formerly homeless families like the Browns. Annual household income for our tenants range from $15,000 to $70,000 per year.
The permanent subsidy required for Cornerstones to guarantee affordability can be as much as $25,000 per unit per year, depending on the situation of the individual tenant. As tenant income grows, so too will the amount paid towards rent and the equity we reinvest to keep homes affordable for all.
While the 100 units we own and manage are part of the solution, Fairfax County is still far short of the overall number of homes needed to support a healthy, thriving community; a minimum of 1,650 units are still needed just to meet the goals established under the 10-Year Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.
We are often asked to enumerate the benefits of our work. Every dollar spent on affordable housing production or subsidy helps revitalize family incomes, business bottom lines and government revenues. Housing recipients benefit from reduced risk of homelessness, safer neighborhoods, improved physical and mental health and raising motivated children who succeed at school and in life. The most significant short-term economic impact from housing development is on employment. Each job supported or created through affordable housing projects generates another one or more at the local level. Every $1 in rental income generates over $2 in economic activity for local economies. It all adds up.
Cornerstones is proud to be part of this equation, working locally to build thriving communities. At the same time we will engage in today’s important values conversations, talking now with the Fairfax County Economic Advisory Commission as it creates a strategic plan that recognizes the role that housing and workforce development play in economic development.
Home values are on the rise, in North Point and Fairfax County. Prioritize housing choice for your neighbors; it’s a community value we can live with.
Kerrie Wilson, CEO