Public comment sought from Fairfax County residents on draft regional fair housing plan


South Fairfax County residents will have a chance March 23 to comment on a new set of goals and strategies to further fair housing in the region. The Metropolitan Washington Regional Fair Housing Plan analyzes housing patterns over time in eight metro counties and cities, including Fairfax County, and proposes seven goals to make housing more accessible. Public comment will be accepted through March 31.

The plan will be presented by county staff Thursday, March 23 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Gerry Hyland Government Center, 8350 Richmond Highway (register here). The meeting will also be shown on Zoom.

Despite efforts since the 1968 Fair Housing Act to improve the ability of minorities and others to live wherever they choose, segregation in the Washington metropolitan area has increased since 1990, and Blacks are underrepresented in Fairfax County (9.5% of the population ) compared with the region (24.8%), according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) report. It also found that the percentage of Hispanic and Asian or Pacific Islander populations has grown significantly, and the percentage of the population that is White has decreased. 

According to the COG report, the historically high-poverty area along the Route 1 corridor didn't meet the strict poverty standards of the “Racially or Ethnically Concentrated Areas of Poverty," but Lincolnia, Reston and Seven Corners did. (Credit: COG)

Pockets of poverty exist, mostly comprised of minority residents in Fairfax County and elsewhere, and those populations show lower outcomes in health, education, environmental amenities and access to jobs and transportation.

The Fair Housing Plan was coordinated by the COG and authored by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law with data collected by the Urban Institute and focus groups, and outreach conducted by the Ochoa Urban Collaborative.

Separate committees of city and county staff and of nonprofit housing and civil rights organizations met for two years to develop seven goals and numerous strategies for achieving each goal. The goals go beyond traditional fair housing practices of filing discrimination complaints to intentionally building more affordable housing, changing land use policies, encouraging minority homeownership, providing more housing for people with disabilities and making sure affordable housing is near public transit, as well as increasing fair housing education and stepping up enforcement of fair housing violations.

Based on federal and state laws, the Fairfax County Code calls for fair housing “throughout the County, to all its citizens, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, elderliness, familial status, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, status as a veteran, source of funds, or disability.” Federal law requires that jurisdictions not only handle fair housing complaints from people in these groups but also take steps to “affirmatively further” their access to housing.

An executive summary to the COG report is available in seven languages. Separate reports provide local data and propose specific actions. In the 250-page Fairfax County report, the proposed goals, strategies and actions are concentrated on pages 160-66.

Fairfax County offered comparatively fewer actions than other jurisdictions. This week, the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance (NVAHA) published a side-by-side comparison of action plans in northern Virginia as a Regional Fair Housing Matrix. NVAHA said Arlington County met the “gold standard” with its action plan, which included increasing community integration for individuals with disabilities, improving the effectiveness of existing fair housing programs and implementing policies to prevent displacement. Inclusionary zoning rules were proposed in the City of Alexandria (mandatory) and Prince William County (voluntary), and Arlington is in the process of authorizing denser “missing middle” housing throughout the county.

The Fairfax National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has called on organizations to review the Fairfax County plan and sign a petition asking county officials to commit to actions to further fair housing.

In an email accompanying the petition, Fairfax NAACP President Michelle Leete said, “Intentional historic policies such as the displacement of Black settlements, segregated school and land use policies, and racial deed covenants, have suppressed Black homeownership and prevented the building of wealth by Black families, as documented in the Virginia Commonwealth University Center on Society and Health’s recent report, Deeply Rooted. It is time for the county to take actions to remedy these discrepancies. So far, Fairfax County has proposed only two actions. We can do much better!”

After collecting public comments, COG will revise the reports and deliver them to the eight jurisdictions to formally adopt. In Fairfax County, this means a vote by the Board of Supervisors, probably in a few months.

The board could approve the COG plan without a county action plan, but it will have to come up with one eventually because it will be required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under the 1968 Fair Housing Act in order to receive federal funds for affordable housing. HUD funds are by far the biggest chunk of the Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development’s budget.

The federal government is behind schedule in developing a new rule — called Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing  under which localities will report their action plans to HUD.

Specifically, the proposed rule would require program participants to identify fair housing issues facing their communities, using both data provided by HUD and local knowledge, and then commit to taking responsive actions.

According to a HUD fact sheet, “the proposed rule is intended to empower and require program participants to meaningfully engage with their communities ... to understand their local issues and develop the goals needed to achieve integrated living patterns, overcome historic and existing patterns of segregation, reduce racial and ethnic concentrations of poverty, increase access to homeownership, and ensure realistic and truly equal access to opportunity and community assets.”

A precursor to this proposed rule was established in 2015 by the Obama Administration but repealed by the Trump Administration. After revisions based on experience with the 2015 rule, Biden Administration staff put the new version out for public comment, which is due April 10.

Thus, the new federal rule governing local reporting and the COG effort to coordinate local reporting are under public review at the same time. COG authors said they generally based the Metro report on the 2015 HUD rule.

Residents can attend the March 23 meeting or submit comments on COG goals and strategies and the Fairfax County report by March 31 here. Comments also will be accepted at; via voicemail at 202-962-3794 or TDD at 202-962-3213; or via postal mail to COG, 777 N. Capitol Street, NE, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20002, Attn: Fair Housing.

Directions on submitting public comments on the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule by April 10 can be found here.

The author is the Fairfax NAACP representative to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments' Regional Fair Housing Plan Citizen Advisory Committee and to the Fairfax County Affordable Housing Advisory Committee.

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