Under the auspices of the Falls Church Housing Commission and with two F.C. City Council members, a Planning Commissioner and director of the City’s Human Services Department present to witness, a strong contingent of tenants of the aging Broadfalls Apartments in the 700 block of West Broad Street had the opportunity to vent their frustrations with issues of security, maintenance and poor communication directly to building manager Mike Dalton at a meeting in a St. James School hall Tuesday night.
The meeting turned into a lively exchange of grievances, on the one hand, and management’s claims of its efforts to keep the 113 residential and seven ground floor retail units functional, and while some of the smaller matters may get ironed out, there is no question that rents are going to continue to rise, even as building owner Larimar, according to Dalton, has no plans for major upgrades or a renovation.
The frustrations attending the dwindling stock of affordable dwelling units in the City, and the region, were brought out in this event, even as civility ruled. Lindolfo Carballo, director of the Falls Church-based CASA de Virginia advocacy group, was the moderator, and he expended considerable energy getting every one of the 30 or so tenants present to air their concerns.
While members of the Housing Commission wrote on large sheets of butcher paper taped to the wall notations of the concerns as they were expressed, Carballo concluded by calling for tenant volunteers to form a committee to go through all the concerns and do a follow-up meeting with Dalton.
But the big issues were beyond the pale, such as rising rents and the fact the building’s’ plumbing system is very old and barely patched together. “It is an old building and a lot of the plumbing has gone bad,” Dalton conceded, but the cost of over $1 million to redo the whole system simply isn’t feasible, he said.
So, sudden cut offs of water to units will still happen, although effort can be put to advance notice to tenants when there’s time to do it, he said.
On rent increases, he said that the D.C. area is a “strong market” for rentals, and that Broadfalls is among the “best performing in our portfolio,” adding to the pressure to raise rents, and to make the units increasingly unaffordable.
A range of smaller problems included the washer unit on the third floor not working, not enough lighting in the parking lot, a broken back door to the swimming pool, inadequate provision for persons with disabilities, overcrowding in apartments, the poor location of a bike rack, disrespectful behavior of some management personnel, speeding through the parking lot, urine stench in the elevators and more.
There’s also the pet issues, with large dogs, including more than one in some units, whose owners to not pick up after in the outdoor area with lounge chairs, and a long history of feral cats that have lived on the site for many years, and that tenants will feed. The move by the management to remove the shelter for the cats and to discourage feeding is causing the cats to become more aggressive, it was noted, classifying the problem as a “safety issue.”
Council members Phil Duncan and Marybeth Connelly were present, as was Planning Commissioner Lindy Hockenberry and the City’s Human Services director Nancy Vincent. The Housing Commission members also listened intently.
But in an upscale community like the City of Falls Church, with the highest average household income in the entire U.S., seeing mostly productive and gainfully employed residents increasingly unable to afford housing even in the condition of Broadfalls, and struggling to get even basic amenities taken case of in this face-to-face with management, cries out for a redoubling of efforts at developing serious affordable housing options to accommodate growing numbers of people.