Local Commentary

Editorial: Complicated Housing Plan

Coming to the decisive vote by the Falls Church City Council this Monday, we continue to firmly support the admittedly-somewhat-unwieldy “City Center South Apartments” affordable housing plan of the Falls Church Housing Corporation (FCHC).

There is a crying need for affordable housing in this immediate area, where a rollback in housing values is not expected to be severe and, as a result, the bulk of new jobs will require affordable options for its workforce. This is compounded by the fact that existing housing stock considered affordable is rapidly disappearing in Falls Church, due to renovations, upgrades and, in some cases, demolition of older properties.

As this past Monday’s long and complicated discussion at a work session of the Council demonstrated, there are many “moving parts” to the proposal that had some at the meeting clearly distressed. Council member David Snyder and Planning Commission Vice Chair John D. Lawrence submitted letters to the editor to the News-Press articulating their concerns (see elsewhere, this edition). We, too, have ours. For us, concerns are two-fold.

The first involves providing a $2 million interest-free loan transferred from the City through the FCHC to a private developer who has agreed to participate in the project by constructing a new building that will include structured parking. The loan will enable the developer, Thomas Sawner, to purchase and renovate two adjacent buildings, which will bring new tax revenues to the City.

But the loan for up to one year is interest-free, and the City will absorb its carrying cost of about $100,000. It is also conceded by FCHC officials that the net impact of this element of the plan on the parking available to the City Center South Apartments will remain at 137, allowing only for more flexibility and less shared-parking arrangements.

Our second concern involves “phase two” of the plan, which would come after the 174 units are completed in the new apartment building at 360 S. Washington St.

Eighty-three senior citizens currently residing in FCHC-owned apartments in the Winter Hill development would be encouraged to move into the new building, enabling the FCHC to renovate the Winter Hill units and sell them at affordable rates to first-time home buyers.

The FCHC needs the revenues from these sales to cover $5 million of the cost of the City Center South Apartments construction, while the market value of the improved four acres of FCHC-owned Winter Hill property is indicated at $12 million. The FCHC says it won’t sell, but do the renovations, itself. Still, there are no binding commitments on the Winter Hill part of the plan.

These concerns do not justify killing the plan, or delaying it, which would be tantamount to killing it. We support it strongly, but do hope more clarity on these matters can be provided prior to Monday’s vote.