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The Need For Affordable Housing

reprinted with permission of 
Housing and Community Services of Northern Virginia
newsletter - August 2000

  • In Fairfax County's most recent and extensive resource which identified service needs - the 1996 Human Services Community Conditions: Selected Trends In Service Utilization and Demand (hereafter referred to as the Community Conditions report) - the Department of Housing and Community Development estimated that “the potential demand for affordable housing for households earning less than $20,000 exceeds the County's supply by almost 15,000 units. The gap between demand and supply for moderate income households (earning $44,000 - $51,500) could be 21,000 units."
  • The United Way of the National Capital Area’s 1998 Community Needs Report identified that 3.6% of the county's 944,508 residents (1997 population estimate) live at or below the poverty level ($16,050 annually for a family of 4).
  • Fairfax County estimates that 12,600 families are living below the poverty level. The Department of Family Services (DFS), in the same Community Conditions report stated, “for lower income families, the threat of eviction is a constant reality, particularly when a crisis, such as illness or a sudden loss of income, occurs."
  • The Community Conditions report found that “41,300 households (or 1 in every 8 households) ran out of money for basic needs at least once during the past year. Of this group, an estimated 15,400 households ran out of money for basic needs, such as rent or mortgage, utilities, food or medicine, three or more times during the year."
  • Many individuals in Fairfax County are a paycheck away from losing their homes. Without the necessary services and support to help individuals and families during these times of crisis, situations become dire and can result in loss of existing housing, increased stress, mental health issues, strained family relationships, and a turn to illegal and less ethical alternatives for survival.
  • Many factors contribute to homelessness.  However, the roots of homelessness seem to lie in a lack of affordable housing and a constantly increasing cost of living. In 1998, the average monthly rent for a one bedroom apartment increased by 4.9% to $849, the largest increase in 9 years. Rent for a two bedroom apartment unit increased by more than 6% to nearly $900. Using generally accepted guidelines that “affordable housing" is no more than 30% of income, a person would have to earn $17.00 per hour to afford a two bedroom apartment unit. That is more than 3 times minimum wage.
  • Statistics provided by the Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) identify in October 1998, there were 5,000 households on waiting lists for Section 8 and public housing and an additional 3,000 applications were taken in January 1999 (at that time, a record number of applications).
  • HCD also reports an annual return rate for Section 8 Vouchers of 15-20% (approximate 375-500 vouchers). This Section 8 voucher return generally results from a number of factors including landlord reluctance to rent units to people with Section 8 vouchers in a rental market that allows for their selectivity of tenants, a restricted number of available rental units, a voucher holders poor credit and/or employment history, and the voucher holder not fully understanding all considerations involved with locating and securing a rental unit. Voucher return also occurs during tenancy when a voucher holder is unable to resolve issues involving good household management practices and unresolved issues with landlord, neighbors, and the community at large.
  • Many families lack the basic skills to manage their limited resources and often fall behind in their rent or utility payments. People in these situations not only face the embarrassment of becoming homeless, but also have severely damaged credit, which makes it even harder to re-establish housing and financial independence. Conversations with Fairfax County based apartment complex managers reveal that because it is a “landlords rental market," they feel no obligation to risk renting to families with a history of credit issues or who might damage the apartment units. A rent/sublet program offered by another community based organization in Fairfax County verifies this statement and currently maintains a waiting list of 20 families with the average wait to enter the program at 4 months. This type of waiting list reinforces the need for such a program.
  • In 1990, the United States census reported that 19 percent of Fairfax County's residents spoke, at home, a language other than English. Current projections estimate that number to be as high as 30%. Housing and Community Services of Northern Virginias (HCSNV) experience shows that multi-cultural households have numerous and complicated housing and support needs including, but not limited to, affordable and reliable child care, financial assistance for basic needs, transportation, English as Second Language classes, understanding and accessing the human/social services system, job skills training, and counseling for mental, emotional or behavioral problems. These complex needs are due in part to lack of competency in the English language, cultural barriers, and lower levels of education and work skills. This places multi-cultural households at a distinct disadvantage in finding and maintaining affordable, stable housing, employment, and other support services.
  • The County's Department of Systems Management Regional Managers have identified the need for intensive case management, a service which, through regular contact and support, would assist vulnerable populations to attain housing and maintain self-sufficiency.It has been our direct experience that a clients ability to achieve and maintain self-sufficiency is directly related to the support rendered by a caseworker. The more contact and support, the longer the period of self-sufficiency will be.
  • Earlier this year, in its annual report to the Board of Supervisors, the County's Homeless Oversight Committee, through a survey conducted on January 26, 2000, identified 2,013 people as being homeless in Fairfax County. This number represents an increase of 12.5% from the previous year (1,789 people). Just as alarming is that the number of people identified as being homeless does not account for the large number of families and individuals at risk of homelessness who are living two to three families under one roof.
  • The County anticipates losing between 500 and 700 units of subsidized housing each year.
  • The average rent for a two bedroom apartment is $900 (requiring a household to attain a minimum annual income of $36,000 for this rent to be “affordable").
  • 6.5% of county households have an annual income of less that $25,000. The resulting conclusion is that Homelessness and affordable housing in Fairfax County are major and ongoing concerns for everyone!


  • More affordable housing units (on the open market)
  • Housing that can be or remain subsidized
  • Ways to transition the “minimum wage" to an “affordable wage"
  • Resources that strengthen self-sufficiency skills in individuals and families (through agencies such as HCSNV)
  • Transitional housing situations that offer direct support services
  • Housing situations that offer direct support services to people with mental health and substance abuse issues

* Source: Housing and Community Services of Northern Virginia newsletter - August 2000
reprinted with permission

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