When she was 9, Alicia Plerhoples lived out of a motel room. Now she’s running for Fairfax County’s highest office.
When her father was fired from his job as a general educational development teacher, her family was evicted from their house, and tat’s how she wound up in a motel room with her parents and siblings.
Even after her family rediscovered its footing by relocating closer to relatives able to lend a hand as her parents found new jobs, Plerhoples worked throughout high school and relied heavily on financial aid for college, including student loans that she is still paying off.
Now a parent herself and a professor of law at Georgetown University, Plerhoples is running to become the next Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chair in the hopes of using the position to advocate for people who face economic challenges like the ones her family encountered, arguing that their plight too often gets overlooked in one of the nation’s wealthiest regions.
“I grew up in a family that experienced housing instability and food insecurity,” Plerhoples said. “…I’ve spent the last 14 years of my life working in areas like affordable housing, working in community economic development, because I believe so much that this shouldn’t be a problem. For a county like ours, we should be addressing these issues.”
With nearly half of Fairfax County’s current supervisors planning to retire at the end of the year, including current Chairman Sharon Bulova, the county is poised for a potentially significant shift in direction.
After initially seeking to represent Dranesville District on the Fairfax County School Board in November, Plerhoples withdrew from that race and revealed on Feb. 15 that she would run for Board of Supervisors chair instead.
“I realized that I can make a much larger impact at the chairman role, and it also fits more with what my professional skillsets are,” she said.
When kicking off her new campaign at the Vienna Community Center on Mar. 3, Plerhoples and her supporters painted her candidacy as a progressive rebuttal to a complacent establishment that has failed to take sufficient action on concerns like economic inequality and climate change.
Former House of Delegates candidate Donte Tanner, who fell 101 votes shy of unseating incumbent Del. Tim Hugo (R-40th) in 2017, expressed his support for Plerhoples as a possible new face for Virginia’s Democratic Party, which is grappling with its identity after blackface and sexual assault allegations rattled state leaders in February.
“At a time like this, we have a unique opportunity to change the conversation, to change the narrative, to actually start addressing the issues that we, as a party, have not addressed for some time now,” Tanner said when introducing Plerhoples at her campaign kick-off event.
Plerhoples says affordable housing is at the forefront of issues that Fairfax County needs to address.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted a 10-year plan to end homelessness on Mar. 31, 2008, and the county’s homeless population dropped by 47 percent, or 871 people, from 2008 to 2017, according to the county’s Fiscal Year 2019 housing blueprint.
However, more than 31,000 units are still needed to close the affordable housing gap for low and moderate-income renters, along with about 40,000 net new housing units for households earning up to 120 percent of the area median income based on projected housing needs through 2032.
The county set targets of 655 affordable housing units and 350 workforce housing units for FY 2019.
Fairfax County has preserved 3,000 affordable units since establishing Fund 30300, a penny fund for affordable housing, in 2006, but a reduction in annual funding imposed in 2010 means the fund is now receiving only a half-cent in revenue from the county’s real estate tax instead of the intended penny, according to the FY 2019 Fairfax County adopted budget.
Plerhoples says the county needs to restore the full penny allocation to its affordable housing fund.
“This is not only a values issue and an issue that I care about because of my background, but it’s also an economic issue,” Plerhoples said. “…Our businesses are a wonderful tax base for Fairfax County, but they need an accessible workforce where their employees are not driving an hour in traffic every day because they can’t afford to live here.”
Economic development and early childhood education are other top priorities for Plerhoples.
In addition to teaching at Georgetown Law, Plerhoples serves as director of the school’s Social Enterprise and Nonprofit Law Clinic, a firm that provides pro bono legal services for nonprofits, social enterprises, and small businesses in the Washington, D.C., area.
Plerhoples’s work with the clinic has made her passionate about supporting nonprofits and small businesses as crucial for economic growth.
“We tend to try to bring these Fortune 500 companies to Fairfax County, and I think that’s an incredible strength,” Plerhoples said. “It grows our tax base, but we also need to be growing our small businesses here and be innovators as well.”
During her kick-off event, Plerhoples called for Fairfax County to provide more slots for its early childhood education program, saying that improved access to education for infants and young children can help alleviate poverty.
According to the Fairfax County Office for Children, the county’s Head Start programs, which serve children up to 5 years old, can have anywhere from two to 200 children on their waitlists depending on the program location.
Plerhoples will face some strong competition in Fairfax County’s June 11 Democratic primary for Board of Supervisors chair.
Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay announced in December that he will seek to replace Bulova, who has already endorsed her colleague as a potential successor, and Fairfax County School Board at-large representative Ryan McElveen kicked off his campaign for chairman on Jan. 19.
No Republicans have declared their candidacy for the position yet.
Still, Plerhoples believes she can prevail by offering a fresh perspective that will appeal to voters who are dissatisfied with Fairfax County’s current leadership.
“I think that Fairfax County is at a crossroads right now, and we have a choice to be made,” Plerhoples said. “We can either stick with the status quo and kind of take these incremental steps that the county has been doing, or we can become a leader in areas like affordable housing and workforce housing, education, transportation, and climate change.”