Impact of Fairfax’s High Rental Costs and Low Income

Validity of the point-in-time count

Part of an ongoing series.

Eviction court is Friday in Fairfax County. Some county residents who are living on the edge cannot keep up with the area’s high rental costs, given their low incomes and eviction proceedings are underway. It is causing immense stress for families and individuals and fractures their dreams.

In Fairfax County District Court, if the tenant does not comply with the 5-day nonpayment notice, the landlord brings proof of the notice to the General District Court to obtain a Summons for Unlawful Detainer, which is a civil claim for eviction. The landlord and the tenant will appear in court.

Joe Fay, the executive director of the nonprofit FACETS in Fairfax County, said that on the Friday morning before Thanksgiving, 319 cases were on the docket in Fairfax County Court for eviction. Most individuals who appear in landlord/tenant court do not have an attorney representing them, and the process can be confusing.

County residents are stuck in cycles of poverty with this year’s elevated inflation and rising household debt. 

“There are a few things that you have to pay for if you cut to the bone,” Fay said on Tuesday, Nov. 21. “You need to eat, a place to sleep, and the power and water on. … And there are other things if you are trying to work. You have to figure out child care, which has become a challenge. If you are on public transportation, you take the bus,” he said.

FACETS is one of the “largest social safety nets for our most vulnerable and marginalized neighbors, providing emergency shelter, life-saving services, and assistance in securing housing for neighbors in need,” according to its website.

In 2023, Fairfax County has 64.7 percent higher Fair Market Rents for 2-bedroom housing at $1,838 than the average of Virginia at $1,116, according Virginia Fair Market Rents, Virginia Fair Market Rents rated Fairfax County the most expensive jurisdiction to live in out of the 133 counties in Virginia.

“Thirty percent AMI [area median income] for a family of four in Fairfax County is $45,200,” Fay said. At the $15 an hour minimum wage, that would be a yearly salary of around $30,000. You will not rent a $2,000-a-month apartment in the county,” Fay said.


FACETS’s programs offer basic needs assistance and comprehensive case management, along with an emergency pantry and a hot meals program for people who are experiencing homelessness. The organization’s Changing Lives Campaign raises flexible funds to provide emergency response to people in need. This emergency financial assistance includes help with rent, utilities, medical bills, transportation, childcare, and other urgent needs that can be a tipping point for a crisis that could push people into homelessness. During the winter, FACETS operates a hypothermia prevention and response program in partnership with Fairfax County and 34 faith communities.

On April 12, 2023, Leah Tenorio, Director of Hispanic Ministry and Community Outreach at Good Shepherd Catholic Church testified at the Fairfax County Budget Hearing about evictions and their heavy cost. Tenorio is in charge of the Emergency Assistance Program taking calls and walk-in requests mostly for rent and utilities. Tenorio was surprised at how many callers had court notices, eviction notices and/or unlawful detainers. She said that people who called for rent assistance were short $150 on their rent and that they were issued a notice on day six of the month that they must  appear in court.  “They are being charged additional fines, fees and penalties – all of which we end up helping to pay – which takes away funds that could have helped another family,” Tenorio said.

The collective noun “the homeless,” is dehumanizing. It can create negative stereotypes and stigma. In day-to-day life, people, including policymakers and advocates, have used the word “homeless” as a noun for years. Instead use construction like “people without housing,” states the newest Associated Press Stylebook. Other variations are “those struggling with homelessness” or “people experiencing homelessness.”

So who are the people experiencing homelessness? Some are individuals and families who sleep on the couches of friends and family, saying it is just temporary. Other individuals experiencing homelessness may be sleeping in tents and vehicles. Living in automobiles parked in a public right-of-way is illegal, according to Fairfax County Police, adding another element of uncertainty.

There were 1,310 people experiencing homelessness in Fairfax County on a single night in January, according to the 2023 point-in-time count. There are limitations to a point-in-time count, though, as it cannot reach all people who are experiencing homelessness in the community.

Officials in Seattle, Washington, released a report  in December 2021 questioning the point-in-time counts claiming they undercount the number of people without housing in their area. Seattle officials developed what they believe is a more accurate way of counting individuals who are unhoused than the federal count. ”Integrating data from systems beyond those focused on homeless response enables better estimates of homelessness,” states the report.

Compared to the 11,700 people counted under the federal Point in Time Count method for one night in January, Seattle officials say they estimate more than 40,800 people experienced homelessness in Seattle “at some point in the year."