Local Commentary

Editorial: Taking On the Housing ‘Crisis’

Paul Stoddard, the City of Falls Church’s talented and personable director of its Department of Planning, recounted a short parable to the meeting of the City’s Planning Commission Monday night. It was the true story of a consultant’s effort to assist a jurisdiction in developing new policies to encourage and enable more use of bicycles by its population.

When the consultant interviewed members of the community to ask about whether they would be open to some new initiatives, the response she got was that, yes, the citizens would love it, but City Hall would never go for it. Then when the consultant talked to the staff at City Hall, she got the predictable response, “Yes, we’d love to do it, but the citizens would never go for it.”

The moral of the story, we presume, involves two things: better communication between City Hall and the public, on the one hand, and a resolve to do the right thing, on the other.

This situation needs to be applied to the issue of affordable housing and efforts to encourage keeping a diverse population in the city, including the elderly and lower income folks. Among other things, the City needs to face up to the fact that it is behind the region in its practical absorption rates of racial and ethnic minorities as reflected in demographic data pertaining to population makeup trends.

The City is getting less white, but at a slower pace than its neighbors. Of course, the relatively small size of the City always tends to skew the significance of such data. The City and its 15,000 residents simply should not be equated with Fairfax County and its 1.3 million or Arlington and its 220,000. Still, the City’s leaders hold solidly to values that welcome diversity in all its forms, and where that gets a little tougher than mere lip service comes when the issues of funding for programs that will encourage that diversity come up. Or don’t.

It needs to be underscored that what we have in this region, including in Falls Church, is a housing shortage “crisis.” It means that the market here, as booming as it is and will become, is not succeeding by itself in providing a mix of housing and living options for its total workforce to participate in the benefits and opportunities that it is seeking here.

In short, while our regional jurisdictions, including Falls Church, are doing good job with education and infrastructure, transportation is lagging, health services are better, but the one area that remains the most problematic is shelter.

The City needs aggressive reform in its ordinances in order to incentivize the construction of lower priced housing units, period. Incentives in the City code currently favor the consolidation of residential lots and the construction of large, expensive homes. Wealthier people, of course, like this.

But the good of the City and its population requires something else.