Fairfax County leaders discuss idea to turn vacant office spaces into homeless shelters

Fairfax County leaders have a plan to solve two problems at once: vacant office spaces and homelessness.

The Board of Supervisors will look at zoning changes to convert unused space into possible homeless shelters.

The dynamics of work have changed since the pandemic began meaning lots of office space is empty. That's definitely the case in Fairfax County where the website CommercialCafe estimates the office vacancy rate to be around 15 percent.

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The county touts itself as the second-largest suburban office market in the U.S. 

A number that has been on the decline is the percentage of homeless residents. The county says it's not a crisis and the number of homeless people has dropped 22 percent in the last 10 years, but there are still people living with homelessness.

The county hopes to generate additional resources to help get them to what Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay calls "self-sufficiency."

In short, the county will consider zoning changes to make it easier to convert unused offices into shelters. McKay tells FOX 5 he recognizes this could be controversial, but adds it’ll be a deliberative and studied process in Fairfax County.

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"There would be criteria associated," says McKay. "Just because you see an office building doesn’t mean the county would approve it being used as shelter space."

If zoning changes are eventually approved, a non-profit would most likely partner with the owner of an office space to convert it into a place to help those experiencing homelessness with the county involved in the process along the way.

The county says it likely won’t start considering this until next summer, and public hearings would be part of the process.