By Carey Averbook
Hanh Hoang has lived in her one-bedroom unit in the City of Falls Church with her husband, Quy, since 2006. As low-income seniors, Hanh, 72, and Quy, 79, chose Winter Hill Apartments because of its affordability, the activities and services offered and the large Vietnamese community.
Falls Church Housing Corporation (FCHC), a Virginia Community Development Corporation and affiliate of the NHP Foundation has addressed Falls Church City’s gap in affordable housing for seniors and individuals with disabilities since 1981. The organization bought Winter Hill Apartments in 1984 and has managed the property and services ever since. The apartment community has 83 units and 91 residents with an average age of 75 years.
The City has seen an increase in demand for housing and in the price of land in recent years. Both renters and homeowners have been affected by the changing prices of properties and affordable housing is disappearing. This primarily prohibits seniors, young professionals and families from affording housing in Falls Church City. According to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines, a household is considered cost burdened when over 30 percent of their monthly income goes toward rent or mortgage. According to the Census Bureau, in 2015, 31 percent of all Falls Church City households, 40 percent of renters and 25 percent of homeowners were cost burdened. Even if an individual owns their home and has paid off their mortgage, many can’t afford the property taxes. The increase in housing costs outpaced the increase in incomes and resulted in a gap between available housing and what people can afford.
Nancy Vincent, Director of Human Services for Falls Church, said, “It is important for the city and community to have older residents to be stably housed. It benefits the whole community because it creates an environment of inclusivity.”
Winter Hall apartments has been a way for seniors to remain part of the community as they age and their incomes go down. Over 50 percent of the residents are Asian and mostly Vietnamese. Residents walk around the tree-lined neighborhood and take care of the vegetable gardens when the season is right. FCHC works with residents to offer activities including healthy breakfasts, yoga, monthly lunches with a speaker and discussion and classes.
“Winter Hill is not just helping residents, but all seniors in Falls Church by facilitating a sense of community, which allows these individuals to interact more with other residents of Falls Church because they are more confident,” said Josh Shokoor, a Data and Communications analyst with the NHP Foundation.
Winter Hill Apartments offers smartphone and iPhone classes with about fifteen people per class and one or two volunteer teachers who are also Vietnamese seniors and encourage the students to not fear touching the new technology. “Residents asked to learn how to use smartphones because their kids give them the phones, but don’t have the patience to teach them how to use them,” said Dong Bui, the resident services coordinator.
The classes are offered to Winter Hill and broader Falls Church residents in Vietnamese. Hanh said that she likes the classes because she uses her mind and learns as she ages, which helps to prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia. As a result of the computer classes, she is able to communicate with her daughters via email and “maybe now over texting,” she said, after taking a smartphone class.
Thomas Vaccaro, the Executive Director and COO of FCHC, said FCHC’s mission is to provide affordable housing. However, that is not something that FCHC is able to do within the City of Falls Church at the moment since obtaining property is very difficult due to high land values and competition for limited space. Consequently, FCHC has decided that it’s even more important to work with the city and funds a summer internship since 2015. The funds pay for a summer intern to work with Falls Church and the Department of Housing and Human Services. This internship has led to increased data collection and research to identify the housing gaps and needs.
In addition to offering affordable housing and activities for Falls Church residents, Winter Hill apartments rents office space at a nominal price to CASA Virginia, a local organization working with Americorps and the Latinx immigrant community.
Immigration specialist, Javier Galindo, said, “It’s magnificent. We’re very grateful to be able to be here because it allows us to offer better services to the community.”
FCHC works with the City of Falls Church to improve the quality of life for its citizens, particularly for some of the more vulnerable residents including seniors, individuals with disabilities, and immigrants with varying legal statuses.
Shokoor said, “We might not be able to provide more affordable housing, but we’ll do whatever we can to try to benefit the city and try to make it more viable for all people.”
Hanh added, “I feel happy to live here and very safe being here.”