More than we realize, many of us likely know a friend or colleague who may struggle with long-term housing instability. Increases in the cost of housing in the DC metropolitan area routinely outpace increases in wages. In Fairfax County, specifically — one of the wealthiest counties in the United States — approximately 18% of households have income levels of $50,000 or less, which is over $20,000 short of the annual income needed to afford the county’s average monthly rent.
For almost 50 years, Good Shepherd Housing (GSH) has been serving the housing needs of Northern Virginia families and individuals. Today, the organization oversees 100+ affordable housing units and, since the start of the pandemic, has distributed over $5 million in rental relief and utility assistance.
The core of their service area is Richmond Highway, where many households spend 50% or more of their monthly income on rent, leaving little money for food, transportation, childcare or healthcare needs. Enormous redevelopment has also been underway, rapidly increasing rents on both newly constructed housing and existing affordable units.
In response, GSH launched The Campaign for Colchester in 2018, its largest capital campaign to date, purchasing 30 units in the Colchester community to ensure that affordable housing units in the neighborhood remain available.
But providing physical access to affordable housing is only one component of their model. Just as there is no such thing as a “typical” homeless person or family, GSH recognizes that affordable housing by itself is not enough. Each individual experiencing homelessness has their own story and set of challenges, which means that what they need to become self-sufficient and stable in their homes is unique.
For example, Heather approached GSH because she was finding it particularly difficult to secure affordable housing that was also wheelchair-accessible for her 11-year-old daughter with disabilities. Though they were approved for a housing choice voucher that allowed them to move into such a home, Heather was not able to cover the security deposit and prorated first month’s rent on her fixed income. GSH offered them $3,000 to cover these moving costs, ensuring they can settle comfortably and safely into their new home.
Heather’s story is just one of more than 500 families and individuals GSH supports every year, 83% of whom are families with children. Including The Campaign for Colchester, they have secured 97 housing units for lower-income families over the last five years, in addition to providing residents with financial literacy and skills training, higher education planning, and other resources through partnerships with neighboring organizations.
“Our vision is to provide the support and resources they need to achieve individual success,” said Chris Reddick, a board member with GSH. “It’s been very successful.”
Still, there is much more than can be done. By one estimate, Northern Virginia needs 66,000 more housing units to address the area’s housing insecurity. Housing prices, too, aren’t staying the same. “The dollars don’t go as far as they used to,” Reddick shared, noting that GSH is trying to maintain their purchasing power.
To cover expenses related to the expansion of their housing inventory, they have a new reach goal to raise a total of $3.5 million by June 30, 2023 — $400,000 above what has already been raised. You can learn more about, and support, their work to reduce homelessness and enable self-sufficiency among working families, senior citizens, and residents with disabilities in the Alexandria area of Fairfax County.