County board devotes more Covid relief funds to affordable housing

Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing’s proposed Dominion Square project in Tysons, which is being partly funded by Covid relief money (via KGD Architecture/Fairfax County)

Fairfax County has now committed $45 million of the COVID-19 relief funds it received from the federal government to supporting affordable housing projects.

The Board of Supervisors approved the latest allocation of $15 million at its meeting last Tuesday (Dec. 6), and more could be on the way next year, if the board opts to dip into a reserve fund to further its goal of creating 10,000 more affordable units by 2034.

Only Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity voted against the joint board matter sponsored by Chairman Jeff McKay and Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust.

“While we’ve been through and used a lot of these funds for emergency purposes, part of recovery is a recognition of the need for affordable housing and how lack of affordable housing played a role sadly and unfortunately in the health outcomes of people who could not find safe and effective affordable housing,” McKay said. “So, I’m happy that we’re able to use this…to help keep up the momentum that we have in producing that goal of 10,000 affordable units.”

Citing a recent memo from County Executive Bryan Hill, McKay and Foust said in their board matter that the county has “a robust current pipeline of affordable housing development projects which clearly demonstrates the need for significant capital funding in the coming years.”

In his memo dated Nov. 4, Hill reported that the board had dedicated $30 million of the $220 million it received from the American Rescue Plan Act’s Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) program to affordable housing production.

Signed into law in March 2021, the federal stimulus package created the SLFRF program to assist localities in responding to and recovering from the pandemic. The money can be used to replace lost public revenue, address the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19, provide bonuses for government workers, and improve water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

Prior to last week’s vote, all of the funds that Fairfax County designated for affordable housing had been committed to specific projects — with $10 million and $19 million, respectively, going to the planned Dominion Square and Somos developments in Tysons.

Hill recommended that the board devote an additional $15 million to affordable housing, noting that ARPA set a Dec. 31, 2026 deadline for spending affordable housing loans financed with Covid relief money.

“Our ongoing investment of local and federal dollars continue to be essential toward achieving our affordable housing goals,” he said, calling the proposal an “effective use of the one-time ARPA resources.”

In addition to approving Hill’s recommendation, the board matter by Foust and McKay suggested that the county consider allocating a portion of a general fund coronavirus pandemic reserve fund to affordable housing as a third-quarter adjustment to its current fiscal year 2023 budget.

As of Nov. 18, the county had $50 million in unallocated ARPA funding, though after last week’s vote, that has gone down to $35 million. There is also $21.3 million left in the pandemic reserve, which has been used to provide basic needs assistance for residents and some relief grants for businesses.

“Based on the current trajectory of the pandemic, the one-time nature of this reserve, and an existing balance remaining in the County’s ARPA allocation for other priorities, I believe that this reserve may be a useful resource for affordable housing,” Foust said in the board matter. “It is also important to note that since these are local funds, these dollars would provide maximum flexibility for Housing staff as they make resourcing decisions for affordable housing development.”

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