Local Commentary

Editorial: The Need for Affordable Housing

The City of Falls Church’s Housing and Human Services office has issued a call for public response to a survey on the issues and needs pertaining for affordable housing in the City.

This is a very important first step to re-engage an issue in this City which has historically been among its thorniest but that simply can’t be put off any longer.

As the City grows through economic development, with hundreds of new dwelling units now in the pipeline over and above what’s been added here in the last two decades, it becomes a matter of vital interest to all of us that our steps forward do not rule out or turn our collective backs on the need for a healthy percentage of housing products to be, according to government standards, affordable.

This is not the same thing as low-income or subsidized housing. This is centered on the need for persons gainfully employed in this region to be able to afford to live here, and not so far into the rural areas that we risk losing an indispensable component of our labor force. We’re not talking just service jobs, but full time salaried positions for, as an example, school teachers and firefighters.

“Affordable” means that 30 percent of less of annual incomes in a household go to paying for housing. This used to be a universal standard for housing, in general, but in this area the price of homes have exploded to the point that many households are paying more than 30 percent of their even substantial incomes on housing. This holds even as the City continues to boast the highest average household income of any jurisdiction in the U.S.

Currently the City has a policy that all new applications by developers for construction of large-scale projects with strong residential components to include at least six percent of their units as affordable, and with some of the latest projects being considered for approval — such as the revised Founder’s Row 4.3 acres at the northeast intersection of W. Broad and N. West Streets — the affordable units are being offered in perpetuity, and not only for a limited number of years.

Aside from this, however, the volume of affordable housing units that are needed here far outweigh what’s now becoming available. On the contrary, a subsidy keeping housing units affordable at The Fields, a residential rental property behind the Taco Bell on W. Broad, is due to expire, and out-of-area owners of another property, the Merrill House off East Broad, are mulling renovations that could significantly drive up the unit rental costs there.

As Falls Church becomes an urban community, the social responsibility of its leadership to ensure a strong component of affordable housing is a necessity. We trust our officials will be up for this task, confronting whatever prejudices can be counted on to push back against such an effort.