F.C. Council OKs Housing Vision Based on New Affordable Options

Falls Church Assistant City Manager Cindy Mester and City Hall summer intern Peter Faragasso presented a review of the year’s Richmond legislative session and its results to the F.C. City Council Monday night. (Photo: News-Press)

“Affordable housing” dominates the new chapter of the City of Falls Church’s Comprehensive Plan update approved by the F.C. Council by a unanimous vote Monday.

The focus on improving the City’s affordable housing stock, and the encouragement of the ability for “aging in place” of existing City residents veritably dominate the new chapter, entitled, “Housing a Complete Community.”

The focus reflects swiftly-emerging regional and national trends as the nation faces what many are calling a housing “crisis” due to the swelling legions of American households who cannot afford access to existing housing because of market pressures that are inflating housing prices dramatically.

The vision statement for the new Housing chapter is weighed heavily in its focus on affordable housing.

The other chapter approved by the Council Monday for inclusion in the Comprehensive Plan was on demographics, involving a study done earlier this year that, among other things, recognizes that Falls Church is the fastest growing jurisdiction in the region of new single housing occupants.

In the Housing chapter, the vision statement at its outset is revised from the current version adopted in October 2005, stating the City’s goal as being to “create and maintain a diverse supply of housing that supports an inclusive and welcoming community. As the region continues to grow, [our goal is to] work proactively to ensure affordable housing keeps pace with population increases and is available for a range of incomes, household sizes, generations and needs.”

The following component strategies are included:

• To incentivize the maintenance and provision of more workforce, moderate and low income housing.

• To increase entry-level home ownership opportunities.

• To support aging in place.

• To revise development regulations to allow a wider variety of housing types.

• To create policies that encourage the preservation of existing housing stock and tree canopy.

• To provide housing for people with disabilities.

• To promote fair access to housing.

• To monitor regional and local housing markets to identify pressures and opportunities.

• To partner with neighboring jurisdictions, non-profits, faith groups, and regional agencies to bring more affordable housing to the City.

A summary of themes that emerged in City staff meetings with an array of City advisory boards and commissions elicited the following themes:

• The need to have more discussion on workforce housing.

• A more diverse housing stock should be encouraged (i.e. the need for missing middle and low income housing).

• Increasing the provision of opportunities to support aging in place (i.e. alternative housing options and tax relief).

A local indication of the “crisis” in housing is reflected in the chapter’s notation that while between 2000 and 2010, the population of the City grew by 9.49 percent, housing units increased by 13.06 percent. Between 2010 and 2017, the population here has grown by 20.74 percent and the number of new housing units fell to an increase of only 8.67 percent.

According to the chapter, there are currently 6,077 housing units in the City, up from 4,704 in 2002, an increase of 29.1 percent. Of the units, 50.3 percent are in multifamily buildings and 39.9 in single-family detached homes.

Since 2002, there has been a 6.4 percent increase in the number of single family detached homes (2,241 to 2,385), no change in the number of townhouse, duplex or quadplex units (at 582), and a whopping 65.3 percent increase in multifamily building units (1,881 to 3,110).

The increase in median housing price from 2010 to 2016 was considerably higher in Falls Church than in neighboring jurisdictions, and the same holds for the City’s renters.

Between 2010 and 2016, the median home price in the City rose from $641,900 to $724,000, an 11.3 percent hike. By comparison, the increase in Alexandria has been 6.9 percent, Arlington 9.0 percent and Fairfax County 1.7 percent. By contrast, for the U.S. overall, housing prices declined during the same period by 1.9 percent from $188,400 to $184,700.

During the 2012 to 2018 period, the City’s stock of affordable housing has dropped from 470 to 283, with 96 units at The Fields apartments at risk of losing its committed status by 2027 and 9 in the Read Building by 2022 and 15 in Pearson Square by 2027.

To buy a single-family detached home in Falls Church now with a median sale price of $899,500, according to the Fannie Mae Home Counselor Affordability Analyzer, the minimum income required is $226,315 annually. Condos at $400,000 require an annual income of $113,811.

For rentals, a two bedroom apartment requires a minimum annual income of $81,240, and an efficiency or studio apartment $59,600.

In the last five years, household composition has changed in the City with more people living alone (up 20 percent), more millennials (up 10 percent), more persons 55 and older (up 23.5 percent) and fewer households with children (down 5 percent). A continuation of these trends will exacerbate the need for greater diversity in housing types.

According to the chapter, “One of the City’s most needed home types is large rental apartments. The City needs more two bedroom rental homes and is severely underserved in three bedroom rental homes. The City does not have any three bedroom rental affordable housing units, making it virtually impossible for low to moderate income range families to live in the City.”

Among the actions underway to begin to address some of these needs, according to the chapter, are efforts to amend the City zoning ordinance to allow for more forms of housing, such as accessory dwelling units, also known as “granny flats,” duplexes and quadplexes. Also, an evaluation and update of parking minimums and other regulations that affect the cost of multifamily developments is underway, and the City Council recently adopted expanded opportunities for tax relief and deferrals.

Short-term recommendations in the chapter include the development of a “sustainable and renewable Affordable Housing Fund, through a mix of City, private and grant funds, including a potential increase to the meals tax, transit occupancy tax or general obligation bonds.

Long-term objectives include building a stand-alone affordable housing development, but not until after 2025.

The resolution passed by the Council to adopt the new chapters included a paragraph to specify the nature of the plan itself, which read, “The comprehensive plan is general in nature and is designed to guide and accomplish a coordinated, adjusted and harmonious development of the City which will, in accordance with present and probable future needs and resources, best promote the health, safety, morals, convenience, prosperity and general welfare of the City and its inhabitants.”