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McLean body backs Fairfax's effort on 'workforce housing'

Change would revise income levels for properties to be sold

McLean Citizens Association board members approved a letter June 5 in support of a proposed Fairfax County comprehensive-plan amendment for policies and programs related to for-sale workforce-dwelling units (WDUs).

The Board of Supervisors in December 2023 authorized consideration of such an amendment, based on recommendations from the WDU For-Sale Policy Task Force.

That group recommended lowering the WDU program’s income tiers to between 70 and 100 percent of area median income (AMI), down from the current range of 80 to 120 percent, and expanding the policy’s availability to new parts of the county. (The Washington metropolitan area’s AMI for a family of four is about $155,000 per year.)

MCA’s letter to Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay (D) and other county officials signaled the association’s support of the amendment’s objectives to increase WDU affordability, boost availability of family-sized units (three bedrooms or more) and expand the program’s applicability to sites planned for mixed-use and residential development with eight or more dwelling units per acre.

“The market for family-sized WDUs is far greater than the market for either studios or one-bedroom units, which have been most commonly offered in proffers to meet [developers’] WDU requirements,” said Robert Perito, chairman of MCA’s Planning and Zoning Committee. “Offering larger units will make it easier to sell the WDUs that are available.”

MCA backed the county’s proposal to replace the top WDU bracket, which serves those earning up to 120 percent of AMI, with a category for people making up to 70 percent.

“In its effort to increase the availability of affordable family-sized units, it struck a workable balance between affordability and project feasibility,” the letter stated about the proposed amendment. “Staff’s thoughtful expansion of the WDU program beyond designated mixed-use centers to those with similar density is a further reasonable step toward increased access to affordable homeownership.”

An analysis by county staff and consultants discovered that for-sale WDUs aimed at higher income brackets tended to hew closely to the price of market-rate units of similar size and stay on the market far longer than the market-rate properties, necessitating price reductions or other sales incentives.

“As a result, developers have begun, on their own, to offer units based on 70 percent of AMI,” Perito said. “They have found a ready market for these units.”

The task force determined that households earning up to 100 percent of AMI had a smaller choice of price-appropriate units (i.e., costing about 30 percent or less of annual household income), relative to those earning more money.

The proposed comprehensive-plan amendment would keep the county’s current requirement that 12 percent of for-sale residential units be provided as WDUs. The new policy would revise the distribution of those units to 4 percent each for households making up to 70, 80 and 100 percent of AMI.

MCA’s letter also supported limiting Tysons developers’ contributions of money to the Housing Trust Fund or land, in lieu of providing WDUs.

“Cash contributions should only be accepted from a developer proposing to build in Tysons if the developer can show that the provision of WDUs is not feasible,” the letter read.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission will discuss the for-sale WDU plan amendment at a June 12 public hearing and the Board of Supervisors will hold a July 16 hearing on the matter.