Local Commentary

Editorial: Tiny Houses & Rentals for F.C.

Falls Church’s own Pete Davis, now a Harvard Law School student, will appear on the popular ABC-TV show, “Shark Tank,” this Friday night to pitch a company he and some of his fellow students set up to build and sell “tiny houses.”

The growing popularity of the concept has earned it the title of a movement, the “tiny house movement,” and the cable TV airwaves are full of discussions about it. Tiny houses, most with a footprint of less than 300 square feet, have the potential to solve a myriad of social and family problems, and we urge decision makers in Falls Church to pick up and run with the idea.

Sadly, there are some in this community who’ve already been vocal in their opposition to such an idea, ostensibly because it will bring undesirable elements into this community, which they would prefer be walled off for those who can afford to live here.

Frankly, the trend toward that outcome is still alive and well here, even though this newspaper has always been editorially averse to it. Combining residential lots to put “McMansions” on them has been going on for some time, and while growing numbers of rental apartments have introduced the prospect for some diversity in the city, it is still the fact that more affordable options are becoming more and more rare in this area.

In fact, just last week, owners of the Merrill House on E. Fairfax across from the Falls Church Episcopal came before a committee of the F.C. City Council to share their thinking about the future of that site (see story, elsewhere this issue). While the City would prefer that this rental units property remain “as is,” even as it ages and declines in quality, because its rents are relatively cheap, the owners have plans to demolish the whole thing and replace it with condos or new apartments. One of their three concepts at this early stage is to give over to the City Schools an acre for a new small school.

The problem for the City is that the owners have the by-right entitlement to demolish the building and put in something new without the need for any OK from City Hall. The school concept was thrown in, under advisement from local attorneys they retained to help them, because of the City’s well-known commitment to its schools.

But the City has another pressing need, the affordable housing one. It would be a great service to Falls Church for the Merrill House owners to offer to construct a new building filled with “micro-unit” apartments that are truly affordable, ranging from 200 to 400 square feet. Other options could also be there, but 500 “micro-units” would solve the City’s affordable housing crisis in one big swoop.

It would address the oft-repeated lament that F.C. sons and daughters going off to college can’t afford to live here upon their return.