From Annandale and North Springfield to GMU and Fairfax Station, the Braddock District is right in the middle of Fairfax County. Republican supervisor John Cook is retiring, and two Democrats want to take his place: James Walkinshaw and Irma Corado.
The Greater Greater Washington Elections Committee posed some questions to these candidates, along with other races in 10 Northern Virginia primary elections for General Assembly, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, and Commonwealth’s Attorney.
The Elections Committee will be deciding whether to make endorsements in the primaries, which we’ll do if there is a clear best candidate in our opinion. To figure that out, we’ll look at the questionnaire responses, but also, we’d like to hear from you. Do you have context we should understand about some of these answers? Other information? You can give us your feedback using this form.
The primary is June 11. You can see all of the races, and the responses we’ve posted so far, at our 2019 primary election page.
Who do you think has the hardest time finding housing that’s affordable to them in Fairfax County, and what steps do you plan to take to address that need?
James Walkinshaw: 70,000 Fairfax residents have a disability and we know that people with disabilities are more likely to have low incomes. They are searching for what can too often be a needle in a haystack — housing that is both affordable and has the accessibility they need to live comfortably and with dignity. Those 70,000 residents are having the hardest time finding affordable housing. Elderly Fairfax residents also face real challenges finding affordable housing in Fairfax County. They are more likely to live on fixed incomes and are disproportionately impacted by increases in housing costs. Finally, working class and lower income households earning less than the median income are struggling to find affordable housing. In Braddock District, you need to earn $64,000 to comfortably afford the average market rate one-bedroom apartment. Yet thousands of families are earning less, oftentimes far less. In our region, like the nation, these families are more likely to Black and Hispanic. These challenges are, of course, intersectional. People of color dealing with a disability or who are elderly face layered barriers in accessing affordable housing and our solutions must recognize that.
I support the recommendations of the Affordable Housing Resources Panel, including restoring and expanding the Penny for Affordable Housing fund started under Gerry Connolly from the current $.005 to $.015 with one penny dedicated to constructing new affordable housing and a half penny dedicated to preserving existing housing. We also need to continue efforts to increase density and build more housing units in parts of Fairfax that are served by Metro.
Irma Corado: I believe that when those of us in our communities who have been most under-served do well and thrive, then we all do. Efforts to address the need for affordable housing must center those in our communities who struggle the most to afford and maintain housing in Fairfax County, including low-income and working class community members, people facing systemic housing challenges, people with disabilities, and aging community members. In the hundreds of weekly conversations my all-volunteer team and I have with Braddock District residents, we hear people’s recurrent concerns regarding housing.
With an average 2-bedroom apartment rent in Fairfax County currently at over $1,800 and many workers in the County who do not make a living wage, people are struggling to make ends meet. This means that people who work in Fairfax County and cannot afford to live here are displaced further outside the beltway towards Prince William County, Manassas, and Dumfries, further exacerbating regional traffic congestion, our roadways, and harm to our environment. This is why I believe the fight for housing for all must go hand in hand with the commitment to pay our workers a living wage so that our workers can afford to live locally and invest in our communities.
I also believe we must acknowledge that many institutional systems and practices at play make it disproportionately harder for already marginalized communities to house themselves, including undocumented people and people who have been formerly incarcerated. We must create opportunities of housing for all to ensure that people, including immigrants and returning citizens, who may not qualify for certain programs or are often discriminated against have the opportunities to thrive as well.
This also means we need to take a holistic equitable approach to housing by recognizing how these issues are compounded by race and mental health. Particularly because black and brown people and people with mental disability in Fairfax County are disproportionately criminalized, leading to the cyclical struggles of housing and poverty. These issues need to be addressed on every level - by ending the criminalization of black, brown, and poor people and people with disabilities, and meaningfully investing in our community members. Additionally, people with disabilities have limited housing options that adequately meet their needs and seniors struggle to invest in homes to age in place. Furthermore, Fairfax County needs to prioritize housing by restoring the Penny for Affordable Housing fund and creating partnerships with nonprofits and the private sector to invest in, create, and preserve affordable housing solutions that work for all.
Would you champion increasing housing diversity in parts of the county which have fewer lower-income residents than the entire county and Washington region as a whole? Why or why not?
James Walkinshaw: Yes. At Braddock Elementary School in Annandale, more than 80% of the children are receiving free or reduced lunch. At an elementary school just a few miles away, also located in the Braddock District, only 9% of children are receiving free or reduced lunch. Despite the heroic efforts of administrators, teachers, parents, and students at a school like Braddock Elementary, that level of socio-economic inequality has an impact on student performance and life outcomes. I’m pleased that there are two multi-family development projects currently being considered in Braddock District that will each include an affordable component, increasing housing socio-economic diversity, and racial diversity.
Irma Corado: Yes, I am committed to fostering communities that value the diverse backgrounds and experiences of all our neighbors. From the day to day value of knowing people outside our own lived experiences, to the long-term social and economic benefits of housing diversity, I believe housing diversity is a key step to reducing income and wealth disparities in our county. Recognizing the long history of inequity in housing, including racial discrimination which continues to this day in both the public and private sector and the long-time prioritization of housing development for more affluent people, our communities have for too long sustained remnants of historical housing and consequently school segregation. I am committed to bringing a new day to Fairfax County. Housing diversity gives low-income communities access to more equitable education opportunities and economic stability, providing key positive contributors to students and community success in the long-term. It is also important to acknowledge that the historical lack of housing diversity has created a dual housing market in Fairfax County, largely driven by 150 years of housing discrimination against Black people and continued today through racist lending practices and self-segregation. It’s important to advocate to increase diverse housing in order to truly leave segregation behind and provide a housing market that works for everyone regardless of race and class.
How do you reconcile the need to provide housing affordability in the parts of your district with good transit with some other people’s stated desire to slow development?
James Walkinshaw: Each development application needs to be considered on its own merits, but with an understanding that our region faces a severe housing shortage. There will never be a perfect location in Fairfax County to build affordable housing, but we must work to address neighborhood concerns and build neighborhood support on a project-by-project basis.
Irma Corado: The urgent priority of providing access to affordable housing for all should not be in competition with our goals for good transit. What our volunteers and I have heard while talking to Braddock residents isn’t necessarily that people are against development, but rather they want responsible development that is proactive in mitigating increased community challenges, such as increased traffic, cars cutting through neighborhoods, and environmental impacts. We developing we need to ensure we’re being smart and focusing on mixed-use projects that emphasis safe pedestrian, bicycle, and public transport solutions. Another important factor is ensuring that developments near metro stations prioritize affordable housing so that workers have accessible commuting options too, while limiting additional cars on the road.
Additionally, we cannot continue to develop for the sake of developers’ interests. Fairfax County has beautiful pockets of neighborhoods where low-income communities have settled and we must preserve these areas rather than uproot them in an effort to “revitalize” them and in turn gentrifying communities. Gentrification historically brings forced displacement to communities of color, and Northern Virginia and Fairfax County are no different. We need to preserve the few affordable housing units we have in the county, especially those that are a haven for communities of color and immigrants while working to expand to at least 5,000 units more of affordable housing that advocates have recommended.
Fairfax County has been pushing for walkable, transit-accessible communities to meet demand and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. Would you continue this trend, and where in your district would you emphasize this? If not, why not?
James Walkinshaw: Yes, we’ve seen incredible success through the work of Gerry Connolly, Chairman Bulova, Supervisor Jeff Mckay, and others in creating successful transit-oriented communities in Tysons, Merrifield, and Springfield. We should continue to lead the region in pursuing that model.
My efforts will focus on making the Fairfax Center area near the Fairfax County Government Center and Fair Oaks mall a true suburban center that is walkable and served by transit. A key catalyst will be progress on transit in the I-66 median, a corridor that is planned for eventual Metrorail extension. I would like to study the feasibility of Bus Rapid Transit as a short or medium-term solution providing connection to the Vienna Metro station.
While most of central Annandale is in the Mason district, thousands of Braddock District residents live there. I will work with Mason Distrist Supervisor Penny Gross to create a more pedestrian-friendly environment and establish a public gathering space to build community, host festivals, and give opportunities to showcase the incredible cultural diversity of the Annandale community. We also must pursue a south-north transit option connecting Springfield, Annandale, and Tysons. As commuting patterns continue to shift from West-East to South-North, we need to ensure that driving is not the only choice people have.
Irma Corado: Yes, I fully support the County’s push for walkable, transit-accessible communities. My current neighborhood, Heritage Woods in Annandale, is an example of a walkable community. Several multi-family units surround a small shopping center where you can find a pharmacy, grocery store, laundromat, and other commercial necessities. We need to preserve lively and diverse areas like these in Braddock and work to identify opportunities to bring housing diversity to portions in Braddock District that don’t currently have variant housing options available, though we must do so with the input of existing neighborhoods in the area and with pedestrian safety in mind along with seeking to prioritize opportunities along existing public transportation routes.
What are the top three transportation priorities you have for your district? Tell us why and the revenue source (including any new revenue sources you’d champion).
James Walkinshaw: 1. Invest in VRE capital improvements to go from the current 19,000 passenger trips per day to 25,000 passenger trips per day in the relative short term. VRE is funded by a mix of federal, state, and local funds. Given the arrival of Amazon HQ2 near the Crystal City VRE station, I will advocate for increased state funding to accommodate the new VRE riders it will bring.
2. Fund the Braddock Road Improvement project to improve traffic flow without widening and add pedestrian/bike paths with pedestrian overpasses at key locations. The total project cost is expected to by nearly $70 million. This project will require state funds, likely through a combination of NVTA funding and VDOT Smartscale funding.
3. Make progress on a transit option in the median of I-66 from Vienna Metro to Fairfax Center and beyond. Funding sources would be a combination of local, state, and federal money.
Irma Corado: As I’m informing my priorities by engagement with Braddock residents, many people have expressed interest in alleviating traffic, ensuring adequate parking for residences (particularly multi-family complexes), improving pedestrian and bike paths and working with state partners to prioritize infrastructure.
As a commuter myself I have tried multiple methods of transportation including train, bus, and carpooling. What has become clear to me through community feedback and direct experience is that it will take a combination of approaches, including public education regarding the importance of public transportation, the needs to fully fund public transport, and partnering with neighboring localities and the state in these efforts. Efforts to save costs and limit the number of cars on on the road through carpooling and/or slugging are also helpful ways to mitigate traffic issues while saving commuters money on transportation costs. As supervisor I’d work to identify more commuter parking lots and work with slug-line organizers and regional DOTs to support organization and publication of carpools and slug-lines that don’t just go into DC but also across the DMV area to alleviate congestion. I welcome community-led ideas or initiatives that may help mitigate traffic without burdening too much cost on workers commuting.
Most of Northern Virginia’s public transportation hours do not prioritize the needs of many of our workers, especially those who work times outside the rush hours of 9am-5pm. This combined with lack of access to driver’s licenses makes it difficult for undocumented people to get to work and makes accessing other needs even harder. In regional priorities,I am in favor of efforts to fund public transportation fully and I recognize that many Fairfax County residents and Braddock residents are involved in efforts advocating at the state level for driver’s licenses and as a supporter, I would ensure this is a legislative priority for the county as well. This is a state issue but I believe that Fairfax County, as a county where 1 in every 3 residents is an immigrant, should be spearheading and advocating for this as a priority in Richmond. I am also eager to partner with VDOT to increase engagement with community members and advocate with them for continued road repairs, for example conditions on Braddock Rd.
My approach to governing is much like my approach to organizing. I do not have all the solutions but together with the direction of directly impacted people (whether they be commuters, pedestrians, or people seeking to travel without fear) we can find solutions. And it will be on me and the rest of the members of the Board of Supervisors to take these community-led initiatives and develop and support them for the good of the entire county.
Fairfax County is one of the few area jurisdictions that has not adopted Vision Zero. Given the high number of people who die or are seriously injured while moving around in Fairfax, what would you advocate to ensure safety for everyone even though Fairfax DOT has to work with VDOT to make changes in Fairfax’s transportation network?
James Walkinshaw: In January of this year, 93-year old Pericles Apostolou was killed by a hit-and-run driver on Route 50 in Falls Church. This kind of tragedy should be unacceptable in Fairfax County. A goal of eliminating all traffic deaths and serious injuries should be seen as part of our One Fairfax policy. As walking is the most accessible form of transportation and low-income communities and communities of color are more likely to be the victims of pedestrian fatalities, we need to meet this issue with urgency.
In Fairfax, and other counties in Northern Virginia, we would need to partner with VDOT to adopt a Vision Zero goal or Vision Zero principles. But we can and must immediately begin to incorporate Vision Zero design and engineering standards into our Fairfax County Department of Transportation planning processes.
Irma Corado: To push for safety on our streets, I want to advocate for completed and well lit sidewalks, bike paths, and bus stops. I also believe that overpasses or underpasses are a great way to keep pedestrians safe at a large, busy intersections. Where these approaches may not be fit, I will advocate for installation of lit crosswalks to alert drivers of crossing pedestrians. I am willing to help Fairfax DOT work with VDOT to reduce the high number of people injured while advancing pragmatic solutions that bring more residents into the know of safety not only as drivers, but also as pedestrians and bicyclist. As part of Vision Zero includes components of enforcement, I would encourage approaches that are least punitive and work to ensure equity/avoid disparities. My work would include public education efforts in multiple languages to expand our collective, community knowledge of ways to keep safe. Additionally, our approach to these solutions would be informed by data of where there is risk, what languages outreach is needed in, and measuring improvement until we get to zero.