Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: News of Greater Falls Church

Hard to believe, but school is back in session this week, so extra care needs to be exercised by drivers in school zones and near school bus stops in neighborhoods. My office often receives calls from horrified parents who report drivers routinely passing stopped school buses. That infraction can cost you a significant fine ($250), and a lot of embarrassment, if you are stopped by police. The delay is momentary. Aren’t our children’s lives worth it?

On Monday, the fourth annual Northern Virginia Regional Elected Leaders Summit was organized by several local Chambers of Commerce, and hosted at the George Mason University campus in Arlington. As vice chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, I joined Arlington County Council Chairman Christian Dorsey, Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson, Loudoun County Chairman Phyllis Randall, and Prince William County Chairman Corey Stewart, for a panel discussion about issues affecting local jurisdictions. Moderator Julie Carey from NBC 4 noted that, at last year’s summit, some of the discussion was dominated by the “what ifs” about the Amazon HQ2 selection process. Amazon’s choice of National Landing on the Arlington/Alexandria border last November focused some of Monday’s summit discussion about how Northern Virginia’s local jurisdictions can work together to address transportation, housing, and workforce issues.

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Household income in Northern Virginia is among the highest in the nation but, as Chairman Randall pointed out, the month-long federal government shutdown revealed that many residents are just a paycheck or two away from being unable to pay their rent/mortgage, or put adequate food on the table. Human services needs are increasing in our diverse community, especially among veterans and older residents, and that includes housing that is accessible, in addition to being affordable.

A recent Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments review noted that 320,000 additional housing units will be needed in the Metro region by 2035. A menu of housing options — apartments, condos, townhouses, single family detached – is necessary to meet that anticipated growth. In Fairfax County alone, 60,000 additional units will be needed, including 15,000 net new homes for households earning 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) and below. Under consideration for the FY 2021 budget is the possibility of allocating an additional cent from the real estate tax ($24.4 million) to support the development of new affordable housing. Currently, a half cent is allocated for this item.

Growing, attracting, and retaining workers to this region is paramount to maintain the vibrant business sector we enjoy today in Northern Virginia. While cyber-security and technology gives the region bragging rights, I pointed out that we also need to ensure that the services provided to the broader community — by health care professionals, teachers, public safety personnel, tradespeople, and clerical workers, etc. — are attractive to workers, too, with the appropriate salary levels to enable workers to live in the communities they serve. That also means better access to a workable, and walkable, transportation infrastructure, echoed by all the panelists.

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Despite the challenges outlined in the discussion, panelists and attendees agreed that we are so fortunate to live in Northern Virginia, with its broad diversity of talent, population, and opportunities. Local jurisdictions, working together, can continue to maintain and enhance Northern Virginia as a great place to live, work, play, and learn, now and into the future.

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