Fairfax County is hoping a change to its zoning ordinance will make it easier for nonprofit groups or other organizations to develop studio apartments for low-income people in the county.
Nothing prevents a private developer from including market rate studio or efficiency units in commercial apartment buildings now, said Donna Pesto, of the county’s Department of Planning and Zoning, “but nobody’s built it.”
The proposed zoning ordinance change is aimed at producing buildings consisting exclusively of studio apartments that are reserved for people with very low incomes.
Programs in other areas have successfully used this type of housing, paired with supportive services like financial literacy programs, job counseling and substance abuse or mental health treatment, to help bring people out of homelessness and into a more stable living situation.
The draft zoning amendment would allow up to 75 rental units on a lot. At least 70 percent of the units would be limited to residents earning less than 50 percent of area median income and the remainder would be limited to residents earning less than 70 percent of area median income.
The units would be limited to no larger than 500 square feet and must include a kitchen and bathroom.
Those wishing to build these types of facilities would need to go through the special exception approval process, which includes a hearing before the Board of Supervisors.
Getting a first look at the proposed amendment Tuesday, some board members said they are generally supportive of the concept but have some concerns about allowing these types of facilities in neighborhoods of single-family homes.
Given the county’s history of illegal boarding houses, some supervisors said they want to ensure changing the zoning code wouldn’t inadvertently make those legal.
Supervisors also had concerns about potentially allowing people to construct rental apartments in their homes.
“That’s fine in a city … [but] you can’t have these in single family residential communities,” said Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock), referring to the basement efficiency apartments that are common in many cities.
Pesto said zoning staff would review and update the draft ordinance to ensure that was not the case.
All types of residential zoning districts were included in the zoning amendment to allow institutions such as churches that are on residentially zoned land to potentially construct such facilities.
The Board of Supervisors will consider adopting the zoning amendment in late spring.