Affordable Housing Leaders Say: ‘Falls Church Doesn’t Want Us’

Housing Corporation Ceases New Efforts in F.C. City Limits

The stunning announcement by the Falls Church Housing Corporation last week to withdraw any future requests for funding support from the City of Falls Church and to redirect any efforts to achieve new affordable housing gains to projects outside the City’s limits caught everyone at F.C.’s City Halls by complete surprise.

“We have not received a single word of response” from City Hall, Carol Jackson, executive director of the Housing Corporation (FCHC) told the News-Press in an exclusive interview Tuesday.

Jackson and Dr. Steven Rogers, a long-time City resident, former Vice Mayor and Chamber of Commerce president now serving as president of the FCHC, met with the News-Press at the Starbucks by the Giant on W. Broad Tuesday afternoon. Rogers took time off from his veterinary practice across the street.

“The City has demonstrated it does not want us,” Rogers said. He referred to the most-recent developments in the FCHC’s frustrating efforts to develop new affordable housing in the City that culminated last July 29, when the City Council failed to make $2 million it had committed to a 63-unit senior affordable housing project, The Wilden, in a timely fashion to qualify for federal tax credits.

That was followed by the City Council’s decision in September to remove that $2 million as a “place holder” from its upcoming Capital Improvements budget. “That was the final straw,” he said. “It doesn’t get much louder than that,” Jackson added.

She noted that in a 2007, the last time the City’s Department of Human Services published statistics, that 267 households in the City were in need of affordable housing based on their earned income as 60 percent of less of the local area median.

“There have been no significant number of units created since that time, so it’s a big message when the Council eliminates the unfunded ‘place holder’ affordable housing line in its budget,” she said.

The FCHC, as a result of the vote of its board late last month, has now stepped away from its 2006 formal agreement with the City that includes a commitment from the City to help fund its efforts through 2035. For its part, the FCHC committed to provide a minimum of 50 new affordable units every five years.

As a result of three frustrated efforts to bring new affordable housing to Falls Church since 2000, the FCHC now turns away from any new efforts in the City (it will continue its existing operation of the Winter Hill Senior Housing) with over $4 million of its own money lost to the efforts, Rogers said.

Neighborhood opposition provided the impetus for jettisoning the FCHC’s efforts each time, Rogers said, even while they were encouraged in private meetings at City Hall to push ahead.

The demise of the Wilden Project last summer was especially painful. Extensive negotiations and partnerships occurred and the FCHC was ready to make a formal submission for federal tax credits, a step necessary for the complicated financial plan to work involving over $8 million in committed federal and state stimulus fund resources.

All the FCHC needed in late July was timely access to the $2 million the City had already committed in order to sew up the package, with a hard deadline for application looming. The City Council, in a meeting that went late into the night on July 29, failed to authorize the use of the funds, and the next day the FCHC announced the project was dead.

Now, the FCHC, having committed to the purchase of the building and property on which the new Wilden project would have gone, will have to sell the property at a significant loss, given the economic environment, in order to cover other costs and move on.

“This has been a case of ‘death by a thousand cuts,'” Rogers said of the decade-long set of frustrations the FCHC has been dealt by City Hall. “It’s how this City has killed many new developments over the years.”

Rogers noted that when he was on the City Council, the Council’s approval of first new large-scale mixed use project in the City in decades began with only his vote of support, but wound up being approved. He was then voted off the Council by a very narrow margin, and subsequently dedicated his efforts to the local Chamber of Commerce and the FCHC.

The FCHC was first advised by City Hall to pursue a new affordable housing project on City-owned land adjacent the State Theatre, in what is now a parking lot behind the Crab Shack and Argia’s Restaurant.

After a year of arduous effort, working with a commitment from City Hall to use $500,000 in federal transportation funds for new parking in a new structure, the FCHC was told to abandon the idea, due to opposition from nearby businesses.

Then the FCHC was advised by City Hall to put its new building on a park of the City-owned West End Park beneath the W&OD Trail bike bridge on West Broad. That effort through 2005 and 2006 also failed due to well-organized opposition from residential neighbors to the site.

Then, the Wilden Project plan was also launched with private promises at City Hall, the FCHC pushed ahead, winning all the necessary approvals from the City Council last March. The City Council election in June, however, profoundly changed the make-up of the Council, resulting in an effective repudiation of the earlier Council’s actions with the late July vote.