FILE - Virginia State Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon

State Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon (front) 

(The Center Square) – Legislation requiring large residential dwelling units to provide affordable housing options if they are constructed near a Metrorail station in northern Virginia will garner more discussion in a Virginia Housing Commission work group.

Senate Bill 638, sponsored by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon, would require at least 10 percent of new residential dwelling units in a building six stories or higher to be affordable housing if it is constructed within a half-mile of a Metrorail station.

During a commission meeting Friday, Surovell said most apartment buildings close to the rail stations do not have affordable housing options. Those with low income only have options farther from the rail lines and generally only can access public transportation via bus. Although the bus routes go to some of the rail stations, he said it is inconvenient for people who need to use the rail lines to travel to work.

Surovell said Fairfax County, which he represents, does not have any high rises with affordable housing near a metro rail station, which is a common problem throughout northern Virginia. The metro rail system serves the District of Columbia metro area with four lines that go into Virginia and two that go into Fairfax County. The silver line, which extends to Reston, in Fairfax County, already has begun construction to expand farther into Virginia. A proposed expansion of the blue line, which goes through Alexandria and into Springfield, may be expanded into Prince William County.

Christopher Sigler, the assistant county attorney for Fairfax County, spoke against the proposed mandate in the bill, warning it could force the county to deny applications and could lead to lawsuits. Zoning rules are generally handled by local governments, and Sigler said that’s the best way to approach these issues because local officials understand the local land better than the General Assembly.

Affordable housing is defined in the bill as any unit that can be afforded by a household income that is no greater than 50 percent of the area’s median household income. Surovell said he came to this number because he wanted this to be applicable to the lower working class and those with income below the working class.

Sen. Marcus Simon, D-Falls Church, urged additional discussion of the bill to scientifically determine how the bill should classify affordable housing. If the state is going to force localities to provide these services, he said lawmakers cannot simply make up data.

The working group will continue discussion about the bill and how affordable housing would be defined before it heads to the full commission.

Staff Reporter

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and West Virginia for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.