Community group holds discussion on affordable Fairfax housing

Members of the Fairfax community gathered Monday evening for a discussion on affordable housing options available to lower-income residents.

The discussion was hosted by Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement as a way to raise awareness on an issue they believe is critical for the future of the City of Fairfax.

In attendance were Mayor Scott Silverthorne, as well as City Councilmembers David Meyers and Michael DeMarco.

Reverend Henry Brinton of the Fairfax Presbyterian Church opened the discussion, explaining to the congregation that the purpose of the meeting was to “take a step forward in the City on the issue of affordable housing.”

“What we want to see tonight are our elected officials making a commitment to explore the use of both public and nonprofit land for affordable housing,” Brinton said. “We also are looking for our leaders to move forward towards a commitment to pass and preserve affordable housing guidelines, so that as developers come into this city they will see that we have a commitment together to preserve affordable housing here and that their redevelopments will be contingent upon providing affordable housing.”

Following Brinton, Dennis Kelfala gave testimonial on the importance of affordable housing in the area. Kelfala grew up in Sierra Leone in West Africa and migrated to Fairfax three years ago. He currently works at the Fairfax Nursing Center and lives in the Oak Knoll apartment complex with his family. The Oak Knoll complex was recently bought out, with plans to redevelop it in the next few years into more expensive Class A units, causing residents like Kelfala to have to begin looking at other living options – some potentially outside the City of Fairfax.

“I want to appeal, on behalf of all the residents of Oak Knoll, that the decision-makers think of our situation and make something available for low-income people like us,” Kelfala said. “And also to make affordable housing a priority for us who are coming from far away to be part of [the American Dream].”

Robert Bainum, president of the Fairfax Nursing Center, also testified on behalf of low-income residents and employees like Kelfala.

Rev Scott Sammler-Michael, pastor at Accotink Unitarian Universalist Church, then asked Mayor Silverthorne and the City Council members to pledge to three points on affordable housing.

All three committed to learning how public and nonprofit land can be used for affordable housing. They each also committed to ensuring that affordable housing guidelines for developers are included in the City’s development approval process. However, when asked about whether or not they would agree to ensure an exact number of affordable residences, Mayor Silverthorne stopped short of a full commitment.

“One of the projects that we just approved, Fairfax Circle, we got a moderate amount of affordable housing as part of that,” Silverthorne said. “Really, we dropped the ball as a City. We need to hold firm to our own policy guidelines when it comes to affordable housing. I think all of us on the City Council made a mistake by succumbing to the pressure of doing less at Fairfax Circle than we should have.”

Councilman DeMarco had more to say on the subject. He conveyed the need to focus on three main population groups, especially students.

“I will commit to guidelines and policies that support the creation of affordable housing for seniors, workforce, and students,” DeMarco said.

Photo Credit: Amy Rose