Local Commentary

Editorial: Affordable Housing, A Way Forward

With all the otherwise impressive and hopeful progress being made on many fronts in the City of Falls Church, the one goal that is almost universally upheld as vital for making the City’s future vibrant and diverse is stuck solidly in the mud. That is the issue of affordable housing. The crisis in this area, and it is a crisis, is only getting worse. A surprising number of our political leaders seemed gripped with a special kind of paralysis, insisting on all the things that the affluent single family home owners of Falls Church simply will never agree to.

The problem is not new. For over a decade the valiant and patient but persistent efforts of the City’s foremost affordable housing advocate, Carol Jackson, ended with a frustrating 4-3 F.C. City Council vote in the summer of 2010 to dash an extraordinary effort that included $4 million in federal funds secured by then Rep. Jim Moran to build a $17 million affordable housing building on S. Washington St. Moran commented on the failed effort then, “It’s disappointing the City Council decided against accepting federal money to expand housing opportunities for people who otherwise lack the financial resources to live in Falls Church. I can understand their aversion to taking a risk, but I’m not sure that was the principal motivation on the part of the majority.”

A bitter Jackson moved out of the City and has subsequently been elected to the City Council of Charleston, South Carolina. Meanwhile, the City has had no champion to take her place.

While the City’s Housing Commission bravely soldiers on, there’s nothing beyond lip service that the City Council has to offer since, even though there’s been a marked change in the makeup of the Council resulting, one would think, in more sympathy with the idea.

But every option bounced around, such as an ordinance to permit construction of auxiliary dwelling units (ADUs), or “granny flats” on the property of existing single family homes, is met with a flash of fear in the eyes and the insistence that City residents will never go along with it. The same with the idea for another residential building dedicated to affordable housing.

One way for the Council to move forward would be to conduct some sort of a public survey predicated on the Council’s commitment to the goal of providing a certain number of new affordable housing options, in addition to working to preserve the diminishing number of existing ones. The Council could notify the public that, as it is resolved to achieving an affordable housing goal, it is seeking the public’s input on how to best do it.

Residents could vote on a series of options, and that would provide guidance for the Council to move ahead. It would also serve to impress the public that, one way or the other, the goal will be accomplished, and that inaction is not an option.