Local Commentary

Editorial: Who Can Afford It?

Admittedly, there are a lot of moving parts in the plan by the Falls Church Housing Corporation, teaming with Homestretch, Inc., and the City of Falls Church to hopefully bring 174 new affordable housing units to the center of Falls Church.

There is also the complicating matter of unbending early deadlines, compelled by the need to secure significant tax credits for the project from the state.

All of these are in the mix for the Falls Church City Council this coming week as it intends to vote on the ambitious project by Monday. A second work session this week was slated for last night, following a lengthy Planning Commission deliberation last Monday. The Planning Commission, with only four members present, was unable to recommend in favor of the project, being deadlocked at 2-2 in its vote.

There are a few factors to bear in mind as the Council begins the closing phase of its decisive consideration of the plan.

First, the City of Falls Church has a long-standing commitment to providing affordable housing, and almost no one in its government, or in the community, disagrees with the notion. This is a very expensive area in which to live, no matter how much the cost of housing may decline, and many essential elements of our labor force cannot afford to live here. This region has also become racially and ethnically diverse, increasing the demand for affordable housing. Embracing this diversity is also a stated, and at least publicly unchallenged, goal of the City.

Second, there is an unforgiving timetable involved in a project like this, driven by application deadlines imposed by the Virginia Housing Development Authority. An application for VHDA-sponsored tax credits worth between $12 and $16 million has to be buttoned up, with its many requirements, and submitted by January 1. Delaying action beyond Monday will kill the project for the coming year, and subject it to many invariables, including higher construction costs and deadlines on the affordable housing proffer from City Center developer Atlantic Realty, that could make it untenable in future years.

Third, this is going to cost the City money. In addition to an up-front $2 million out of its affordable housing fund (that’s already there), it is estimated in a “worst case scenario” that annual costs could be the equivalent of $1 million through a combination of new school costs, tax waivers for residents and debt service. Such a “worst case” could tack about three cents onto the real estate tax rate. But taxpayers, through their government, at all levels in this land, have a fundamental responsibility to provide for the general welfare of the public, and that includes putting roofs over people’s heads when they can.

Many gainfully employed and/or deserving citizens cannot afford to live in Falls Church, but the City can afford to change that. The bottom line is this: they can’t afford it; the City can.