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Sharply Divided F.C. Council Votes 4-3 to ‘Prefer’ Scattered Housing Policy

A four-vote majority on a sharply-divided Falls Church City Council tonight approved, 4-3, a modification to a new draft affordable housing policy that signals to the entire region that the City “prefers” a “scattered site” approach to new affordable housing units. The modification was introduced into the motion to send the draft policy off to a series of local boards and commissions for review, and it caused Councilman Ron Peppe, who opposed the modification, to suggest that the Council “is telling the public what they have to think before we put it out there.”

The “scattered site” approach involves inducing developers of new projects to provide up to six percent of their residential units as “affordable,” in exchange for zoning modifications and other benefits from the City. It specifically does not include the idea of a free-standing affordable housing structure, which three of the Council members adamantly opposed when it was last on the table in 2010. All three, Mayor Nader Baroukh and Council members Johannah Barry and Ira Kaylin, were strident opponents of the F.C. Housing Corporation’s 66-unit senior housing plan in the summer of 2010, and they led the charge to introduce the new language into tonight’s motion.

Vice Mayor David Snyder went along with the three on the new language — even though he voted for the senior housing project in July 2010, because, he said, it still allows for that option. The new wording read, “It is important to consider all options for increasing the supply of affordable housing in the City. The preferred strategy is to develop committed affordable housing that is inclusionary and distributed within developments and throughout the City.”

Councilman Phil Duncan took issue with the new language, noting that such a scattered approach delivered only 41 affordable units among five large scale mixed use projects built-in F.C. since 2000, making the approach in sharp contrast to the new policy’s stated goal of 150 new affordable units in 10 years.

Doing the math, he said, the City would have to commit to 2,500 new residential units in the next 10 years (beyond projects already in the pipeline) to reach the policy’s goal that way. “Why prefer an approach that won’t take us where we say we want to go?,” he asked. “The model that is ‘preferred’ is not a model that will work.”

Duncan’s request for a follow-up comment was not granted by Mayor Baroukh, who moved the matter to a vote.

Duncan, Peppe and David Tartar voted “no” to the new ‘preferred’ language, and Baroukh, Snyder, Barry and Kaylin voted ‘yes.’