Local Commentary

Editoral: Yet Another Study?

The Falls Church City Council is expected to vote to pay a Washington, D.C., consulting firm $150,000 to study what’s for sale in Falls Church that could be preserved for affordable housing. This presents a problem on a number of levels.

First, nothing has changed since a year ago when an assessment by the City’s Housing and Human Services division indicated that every single one of the 718 dwelling units in the 2.2 square mile Falls Church was “at risk” of losing relatively affordable status by either being torn down or renovated for sale as pricey condominiums. If anything, the process is still underway, even if the condo market has temporarily softened. Developers are still looking at renovating units to jack up prices throughout this area, even if it is to offer them as rentals for the time being instead of condos. We already know the parameters of this.

Second, a so-called “study” by an outside agency that doesn’t know Falls Church, and which therefore must stumble around town trying to learn things that most civic leaders in this civically-active community already know seems unproductive. Moreover, it could set the process back by tipping off the City’s intentions to prospective targets, thereby risking an artificial driving up of prices. A spokesman for the firm the City wishes to retain for the study, the only firm that bid for the job, said at a City Council work session Monday that the solution to tipping folks off would be to, essentially, skulk around town in a low-profile manner. When he said that, a number of eyes turned to the reporter from the News-Press sitting right behind him, knowing that doing anything in a “low-key manner” would be hard to pull off in Falls Church.  It was an almost comic moment, but underscored the problem.

Third, some Council members discussing this matter Monday were troubled by the initial reports how long it would take the $150,000 investment into a “study” to produce a useful product. They have a right to be. The market is moving very swiftly and in unpredictable ways. The City already knows all the properties that are currently “at risk” of being converted out of affordable status. Again, they were named, one by one, in the report from City Hall a year ago.

What’s missing in all this is an appropriate sense of urgency and commitment to the task at hand. The Council knows that all the heartburn it experienced over its differences with affordable housing advocates in the recent past derived not from those advocates, but from the pressures of the wealthy residential neighborhoods of this community against allowing affordable housing in. It would be disingenuous of the Council to misdirect its frustration in this regard, which is why we question, again, the efficacy of yet another “study” that functionally not only stalls the process, but tips off developers to move their properties out of any price the City might afford.