Local Commentary

Editorial: Another Affordable Housing Rebuff

There were only four of the seven members present Monday night, but the unanimous vote by the Falls Church City Council to override a recommendation by the Falls Church Housing Corporation to allow further consideration for deployment of affordable housing funds revealed that Council attitudes have not changed on this contentious matter.

It was on Thursday, July 29, 2010 that the Council decided to withhold funding from the proposed Wilden Senior Apartments project in a move that killed what had culminated over a decade of frustrations and delays in the Housing Corporation’s attempt to fulfill its Council-mandated goal of increasing affordable housing units.

The following Wednesday, August 4, a contingent from the Housing Corporation visited the office of the News-Press to announce that The Wilden was dead. Millions in carefully-handled federal subsidies suddenly evaporated at that moment, and the City is now left with $283,000 in its affordable housing fund.

Monday the Council voted to put those relatively paltry funds to use in a “First Time Home Buyers Program” (FTHP) plan that would help qualifying first-time home buyers with their down payments. The numbers varied in comments by Council members Monday, but it was indicated that the plan could help three, four or maybe five prospective home buyers.

Steve Sprague of the Housing Corporation and the City’s Affordable Housing Fund Committee (AHFC) presented the unanimous recommendation of the AHFC to defer the Council’s vote on its proposed home buyers plan until the adoption in May of an updated City Affordable Housing Policy.

Sprague said that the FTHP plan was being rushed, without the usual public input and vetting associated with such policies. This is especially true given the long-standing contentious debate over affordable housing in the City. Something as simple as whether or not the fund should be used to assist rental, instead of home purchase, use have been the subject of a series of community forums the AHFC has held and intends to hold in crafting an update of the City’s policy.

It is easy to give lip service to affordable housing, as we’ve seen over the past decade, while in fact undermining efforts to provide it. Monday’s vote was another such case. There is a distinct prejudice in well-heeled Falls Church against the kind of economic, and other forms of, diversity that, for example, offering assistance for rental, instead of buyer, use of the funds might encourage.

The home buyer plan, after all, makes funds available for those with incomes significantly higher (120 percent) than the area median income, inclining toward those far more likely to be “like us” rich folk who make up most of the City.

Unfortunately, such policies are probably more popular than not among voters in Falls Church, so that the two members on the Council seeking re-election in May and supported the home buyer plan will probably benefit from their votes Monday. But that’s not right.