Final Blow to Affordable Housing in F.C.? Council Withdraws $2 Million

Larger Budget Fears Drive 3-2 Vote to Take Back Designated Funding

Citing fears associated with tight budget constraints, a three-member majority at a Falls Church City Council meeting with two members absent Monday voted 3-2 to take back $2 million it had previously provided to help bring new affordable housing to the City.

Mayor Nader Baroukh was joined by newly-elected Council members Johannah Barry and Ira Kaylin to defund the City’s affordable housing efforts. With Ron Peppe and Lawrence Webb absent, those three’s votes to defund outweighed the two votes from former Mayor Robin Gardner and Vice Mayor David Snyder.

The move came just six weeks after the same Council in a similar split vote declined to provide its dedicated resources in a sufficiently timely manner to launch a major senior affordable housing project known as The Wilden that would have also included construction of an all-commercial office building and ample parking to supplement future development in the downtown section of the City.

Observers felt that had all seven members been present Monday, the defunding would have still prevailed, 4-3, based on past voting records.

The vote was taken as perhaps a final blow to the past decade of extraordinary efforts to bring significant new affordable housing to the City. The tireless efforts of the Falls Church Housing Corporation, operating under a mandate from the City and in the context of official Council pronouncements in favor of bringing new affordable housing,  persisted for the better part of the last 10 years, repeatedly running afoul of neighborhood protests and cold feet on the Council.

This spring, the most potentially effective project yet won the support of the Council, as it involved leveraging a $2 million loan from the City with federal stimulus money and other resources for the construction of a 66 unit project, The Wilden. But the election in May brought onto the Council two new members who turned the Council’s sentiment the other way.

While Baroukh was the only Council member to oppose The Wilden in the vote last spring, he was joined by Kaylin and Barry and a newly-recruited ally, Webb, to block the effort by the Housing Corporation to meet a strict deadline at the beginning of August to qualify for indispensable federal tax credits.

This Monday, Baroukh, Barry and Kaylin all insisted they remain committed to the concept of affordable housing, even while voting to remove the designated funding for it originally voted into in 2007 and included in subsequent, including the current, City Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) budgets.

Their vote followed the recommendation of City Manager Wyatt Shields, who reversed an earlier opinion, saying in an Aug. 31 memo to the Council, “I think it is appropriate for the City to take time to reevaluate its affordable housing strategy.”

He added, “It is very unlikely that any funds would be expended in the current year, and the re-evaluation of the strategy should be driven by a new look at the data, needs and resources.”

However, the three Council members who voted to defund were more focused on what they called the “dire” (Barry) and “extremely dire” (Kaylin) condition of the City’s fiscal matters, “not an optimistic picture to say the least” (Baroukh). Baroukh suggested the discussion begin at the Council’s retreat the end of the month “to discuss what’s doable on this.”

Barry and Kaylin also repeated the identical phrase, saying, “We are not turning our back on affordable housing.”

Snyder failed in his effort Monday to amend the motion to keep the $2 million designated for affordable housing, noting that $2 million for 66 senior housing units at The Wilden had represented, until the Council killed the deal, “a huge leverage.”

Michelle Krocker, executive director of the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance, had alerted the Council to a Washington, D.C. Council of Governments (COG) report indicating that between 2005 and 2015, the affordable housing needs in Falls Church will be for 1,163 new units. But in the first three years, she noted, only 60 had been provided.