Local Commentary

Editorial: A Sharp Indictment Of Falls Church

The decision announced last week by the board of the Falls Church Housing Corporation to seek no support from the City of Falls Church in the next fiscal year, and to cease any new initiative efforts in the City, comes as a sharp indictment of City Hall and all those over-privileged citizens who fought against affordable housing here for the better part of the last decade.

The losers in the unhappy development are legion, but the Housing Corporation board is not among them. It will take its work outside suffocating confines of the City to where its efforts will be welcomed and the needs are more pressing.

The losers include the City, itself, condemned for the abject failure of its own officially-stated commitment to affordable housing and the ripple effects, in terms of reputation to the wider region on all levels due to its repeated refusal to follow through with numerous serious efforts by the Housing Corporation to achieve its mission.

The losers include the businesses in the City, whose pool of viable employees will not be augmented by new citizens occupying affordable units in the City. The same goes for the City government and school system, which risk the loss of talent due to the lack of adequate reasonably-priced housing.

Finally, the losers include those who need access to affordable housing, including the hundreds of senior citizens who would have had the opportunity to enjoy their lives, and spend their time, resources and creative energies in Falls Church.

Last week’s development is a prophetic judgment against the City, a blow worse to its long-term sustainability than the City’s recent loss of its water litigation to Fairfax County. In the water case, the City fought for its interests, and lost. In the affordable housing case, the City betrayed its own stated values. Patting itself on its own back for high-sounding words committing to openness and diversity, the City was indicted by last week’s judgment as hypocritical, a flake, a two-faced promise-breaker.

Of course, you will hear out of City Hall that its commitment to affordable housing continues, taking the form of requiring affordable unit components as a condition of its approvals of any new housing developments. But that approach is barely incremental compared to the need, having produced only 40 units in the last decade (with 15-year expiration dates), compared to the Housing Corporation’s stated goal, agreed to in a 2005 compact with the City, deliver a minimum of 50 new units every five years.

Moreover, the City’s stock of existing affordable housing continues to hemorrhage as older properties are bought up and redeveloped to attract higher prices.
The City Council’s killing the Housing Corporation’s latest senior housing effort in July was followed by the “final straw,” its decision to remove any affordable housing “place holder” dollars from its capital improvement budget in October. That led to the Housing Corporation’s decision last week.