F.C. Council Still Squabbling Over Affordable Housing Policy

The Falls Church City Council ended its discussion on the adoption of a new Affordable Housing Policy split and far from agreed on whether or not the policy should discourage the use of free-standing affordable residential housing structures as part of a strategy mix to achieve modest affordable housing goals for the City in the next 10 years. The dispute harkened back to the July 2010 decision by the Council to deny bridge funds for the Wilden Senior Affordable Housing project then that killed the project and the 66 senior affordable housing units that it would have provided.

Nothing has changed in the posture of three members of the current Council who voted to deny the critical funds in the summer of 2010, as the action clearly reopened wounds by at least one on the Council, Vice Mayor David Snyder, who voted for it and passionately denounced its demise tonight. Language in the new policy that would designate a “preference” for adding to affordable housing stock by including elements of it in new mixed-use structures “substantiates a serious mistake of killing of the Wilden,” he intoned. “I want no part of that.”

Aligning with Snyder’s position was Councilman Phil Duncan, who came onto the Council last summer and was not part of the infamous 2010 vote, favoring neutral wording on the types of housing units so as not to deter a developer who may potentially seek to build a residential structure with affordably priced residential units.

But Mayor Nader Baroukh and Council members Johannah Barry and Ira Kaylin came back with some of the same arguments they used in 2010 to kill the Wilden. Kaylin said a free-standing affordable structure could not be built without major subsidies from the City, and that these are not the economic times to be doing that. They all also argued that there would be a “stigma” attached to persons residing in an affordably-priced free standing building.

Duncan and Snyder both disputed that notion, calling the “stigma” argument a “conjured up” notion to justify killing the Wilden.

Craig Cheney, co-chair of the Affordable Housing Work Group that developed a draft of a new policy, said his group’s goal was to “maintain maximum flexibility” as to types of housing.

The group’s draft policy calls for retaining the City’s 455 affordable housing units (already down from the 716 in the City is recently as 2007), and to add 150 new units by 2022 (an average of 150 per year).

Duncan commented that, in the face of these goals, how discouraging free-standing buildings could possibly result in the achievement of the goals. With all the next mixed use projects in the City, since 1997 there have been only 28 new affordable housing units included, while the stock of existing affordable housing declined from by 261 from 716 to 455.

The Council also disagreed on the importance of affordable housing for business development and retention in the City, with Kaylin leading the argument for transferring the affordable housing burden to Falls Church’s larger neighboring jurisdictions.