Another dangerous step onto the slippery slope of fiscal panic was taken by the Falls Church City Council Monday night when it voted 3-2 to strip the Falls Church Housing Corporation of the $2 million it had earlier provided to assist in bringing new affordable housing to the Little City.
The action was taken amid concerns for the fragile state of the City’s fiscal affairs, heightened by the latest court decision by a three-judge panel of the State Supreme Court to demand the City refund to its water system $2.2 million taken from that water fund earlier as a “return on investment” to support the City’s operating budget.
Mayor Baroukh and Council members Kaylin and Barry made loud noises that the move was not because they opposed affordable housing as a goal for Falls Church, but because of the current dire straits. In so doing, they followed the recommendation of City Manager Shields.
We are the first to acknowledge the difficult times facing the City, and with the shortfalls in the budget exacerbated by the (still being appealed) court ruling, the burden is a tough one on the City’s taxpayers, especially as efforts to maintain the quality of the school system strain resources to the limit.
However, it should not be a time for City Hall to panic and abandon its core values, such as the critical need to expand affordable housing.
It has been pointed out repeatedly that the debt burden held by the City is among the lowest in the Commonwealth, and less than half the national average for public jurisdictions (1.2 percent of the budget compared to the national average of 2.8 percent). The City has a cushion of access to credit that is the envy of almost everywhere else.
Moreover, the City and its surrounding area is beginning a recovery, thanks in part to the impact of the massive federal economic revitalization effort at putting the Metro “Rail to Dulles” on a fast track for completion many years ahead of schedule.
The Council ignored the significance of the fact that, even in the current bad economy, the F.C. Housing Corporation and its allies were able to leverage the City’s $2 million to construct a new affordable housing structure with over 50 units to house the elderly. That leveraging went up in smoke when the Council declined to provide access to the $2 million in the timely manner needed in July, and the Council completed its dismantling with Monday’s vote.
When the only real losers are the needy, this is predictable.
There is no doubt that prudent use of debt can, if needed, see the City through this difficult time, but there is also no doubt that nationally such a course of action faces unprecedented resistance from the political right wing on all levels. Falls Church, as “above partisanship” as it imagines itself to be, is not immune.