Local Commentary

Editorial: Highlighting New Housing Options

Once again, the City of Falls Church is in a very visible and complimentary spotlight as its ‘Railroad Cottages’ age-restricted residential cluster project has been elevated to the entire region and its most influential developers and land use managers. As the story on Page One of this edition details, the project won an important category in the Urban Land Institute’s annual “Trends Awards” recognition of innovations in housing development that were closely scrutinized by the best and most capable players in the D.C. metropolitan area.

This is an important opening gambit, as it were, as the City’s leaders are indicating they’re readying a major push to address the housing shortage issue as it impacts City residents. Although no resources were added in the just-approved operating budget for the coming fiscal year, it has been urged by Council members Letty Hardi and Phil Duncan that “affordable housing,” which the City’s Human Resources Advisory Council has recommended by calling it “affordable living,” cannot be ignored any longer.

The City has a woeful record on this matter, despite lip service to the contrary. Since a vote was taken in the summer of 2010 to dash a carefully-crafted senior affordable housing project, the City has not only shown no progress, but withdrew funds earmarked for affordable housing development.

The ‘Railroad Cottages’ do not represent “affordable housing” by almost any measure, but they do represent an alternative housing option that represents a cost savings for senior citizens, age 55 and up, looking to downsize their lifestyles from large free-standing single family homes to something more reasonable and suitable to “empty nester” and senior status. They represent something that will permit them to “age in place” in their new homes, including with easy access to the full array of City commercial and retail services, for many years.

As such, they help to illustrate the existence of what is a wide array of options to address the diverse needs for housing of the emerging population of the region. They include the plans by the developers of the West End project to include as many as 200 so-called “micro units” at that site, which will offer more affordable options for young adults attending or coming out of university educations with proximate access to a full array of retail services as well as public transit.

Like the ‘Railroad Cottages,’ the development of a meaningful number of ‘micro units’ represents a cutting-edge trend that could light the way for the region.

In these cases so far, it is clear that a cooperative role of the City has been key. If the City moves forward from here to pass new measures which will not only allow for, but actively incentivize, construction of auxiliary housing options on existing residential properties it will not only serve the City’s interests in providing necessary diverse housing options, but will again serve the City taking a leadership role addressing the housing crisis facing the region.