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A New Grand Plan for 200 Affordable Homes

A major initiative for 200 new affordable housing units in the heart of the City of Falls Church’s city center redevelopment area has been pieced together by the Falls Church Housing Corporation. It includes a robust commercial component constituting 51% of the overall project.

The ambitious proposal has the agreement of all the property owners that control five cookie-cutter office buildings built in the late 1970s on three acres on the southeast side of the intersection of Annandale Road and S. Maple.

Under the plan, four of the five buildings, all but the recently-renovated PRS building, would be demolished. In their place, three new structures would be built.

One five-story building would have ground-floor retail and four floors of office space.

One seven-story building would have retail on the ground floor and 200 apartments above. Half of them would be for “permanent affordable housing” and the other half dedicated to those with up to 60% of the median household income in the area, qualifying them as what’s become known as “workforce housing” amenable for teachers and municipal employees.

The third building would be a five-story, modern-design and aesthetically-pleasing self-storage facility, similar to one now operative in the Clarendon section of Arlington.

All the housing in the project would qualify for tax credits under the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program run by the Commonwealth.

“We need some special approvals from the City government, but this will cost nothing to City taxpayers beyond the $2 million the City Council has already committed to affordable housing here,” said Carol Jackson, executive director of the Falls Church Housing Corporation.

Land use, special exception, Comprehensive Plan amendment and zoning amendment OKs will be needed to clear the path for the project, the most aggressive and massive yet designed to meet the City’s urgent affordable housing needs.

With over 700 units in the City that are currently “affordable” all slated for either demolition or conversion to pricier units, the lack of affordable housing here has been called a “crisis” more than once at City Hall. There are many accounts of businesses whose employees cannot afford to live near Falls Church, and of children of long-time Falls Church families who come home from college to find they can’t afford to live in their home town with the salaries they earn from their first jobs.

The City Council has reiterated its commitment to addressing the problem, including in the form of the $2 million allocated in this year’s budget. But it will require Council backbone against what promises to be some noisy opposition from some citizen quarters to follow through on that commitment.

Affordable housing advocates hope the Council will perform better in this case than in the case of the star-crossed plan for a senior housing project by the City’s West End Park that died a death of a thousand cuts imposed by the Council. That was under pressure from neighbors who wanted the park expanded, instead.

Jackson said she hopes to bring the new plan before the City Council at a work session in mid-August, and that if it meets with a favorable initial reaction, her group would begin to file formal applications in September.

With the plan calling for 51% commercial use, it would mark a 290% increase over the current commercial activity on the site. Its advocates call it “the positive rebirth of tired 1970s properties.”
It will have an “emphasis on building forms to achieve contextual design for walkable and livable streets, welcoming a new ‘neighborhood,’ as in buildings that address the street, a mix of building heights, none above 75 feet, to balance the City Center, the re-shaping of an ‘old school’ office park with vitally needed multi-modal housing options,” supporters put into an initial statement.

The actual building addresses involved are 350, 360 and 370 S. Washington and 500 and 510 Annandale Road.