New Affordable Housing Deal Boosts F.C. City Center Push

Atlantic to Pitch $4.3 Million for 172 New Units

Atlantic Realty’s ambitious plans for the development of a new Falls Church City Center on 5.2 acres of downtown property got a significant energy boost Monday when it was announced that a deal to include 172 affordable housing units has been added into the mix.

Former Falls Church Vice Mayor Dr. Steve Rogers, now chair of the Falls Church Housing Corporation (FCHC), told a crowded meeting of the F.C. City Council and Planning Commission Monday that Atlantic Realty, the non-profit Homestretch Inc. and the Housing Corporation had jointly crafted a deal to put up an office and residential structure adjacent the City Center designed to provide new affordable housing to 170 households. They are calling it “City Center South.”

Under the terms of the deal, property at an existing office building at 350 S. Maple that the FCHC has under contract, would be combined with the property at an adjacent building owned by Homestretch, which is dedicated to transitioning homeless people and families into permanent housing. Those two buildings would be razed and the new structure built to include new office space for Homestretch and the residential units.

Atlantic Realty would put $4.3 million into the project, equivalent to the cost of embedding 35 affordable housing units in the City Center design, as it had already proffered to the City. Atlantic Realty would also be the master developer of the City Center South. To make the whole effort go, the FCHC will be looking to some smaller additional proffers from other development projects on the drawing boards in the City.

The news redefined the public hearing on the City Center that took place at the meeting as supporters of affordable housing took effectively stole the show in their support for the new City Center package as a whole.

Proponents included the pastors of two influential area churches, the Rev. Tom Schmid of the Falls Church Presbyterian and the Rev. Davies Kirkland of the Dulin United Methodist Church, as well as members of their congregations.

Their ranks were joined by Nikki Graves Henderson, co-director of the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation, who said she and her husband Edwin Henderson “applaud Atlantic Realty,” noting the affordable housing “will serve a large number of minority families, including African-American and other racially and ethnically diverse working wage earners.” She added, “Having a diverse city will help to make and maintain the vitality and vibrancy of our community. It is also one way to insure that the workers that are the backbone of the city have a convenient and affordable place to live.”

She concluded by noting the project will be located next to her home, adding, “When it comes to projects like this one, neighborhood sentiments usually run, NIMBY, ‘Not in My Backyard.’ City Center South will be less than 100 feet from our home and we would like to go on record as saying…’Yes, Put It Next to Our Front Porch!’”

Principals of all three groups involved in the City Center South plan were present, including Rogers and Executive Director Carol Jackson of the FCHC, Davis Ross and Adam Shulman of Atlantic Realty, and Homestretch Executive Director Christopher Fay.

Fay told the meeting, “This is an incredible opportunity that may pass us by if we don’t act.”

Another public hearing will be held this coming Monday night before the Council will vote for or against a preliminary “first reading” of an ordinance granting the “special exceptions” needed for the overall City Center project.

In a FCHC written brief on the City Center South project, it was noted that all 172 projected units “will be permanently affordable to households earning 60% of our area median income, or about $40,000 per year for a one-person household.”

It notes that Falls Church lost nearly 200 affordable rental units between 2001 and 2006 and that another 650 units are “at risk” of being lost to affordability through conversions or redevelopment. Since 2001, the City has lost 60% of for-sale units affordable to households earning less than 120% of the median income.

The brief claims the project “will provide a quality living environment with rents affordable at the income level provided by 73% of the employment available in Falls Church.”

FCHC officials said they have until the end of the year to close the deal on the purchase of the office building they currently have under contract.