The City of Falls Church is about to go to the head of the line again. For all its nationally-ranked achievements in K-12 education, voter registration and turnout rates and quality of life measures, the City is about to step up with the region’s first 10 percent affordable housing goal achieved for a large-scale mixed use project.
This percentage is more than double what the City has been able to get from developers in the last two decades.
With the lack of affordable housing reaching crisis levels in the City as well as the wider region and nationally, there has been a lot more hot air devoted to the need in the last year, including here.
But this marks one of the first concrete steps taken to redress the matter, and the first time in a decade that the City has taken a real step forward.
The Council is poised to vote at its business meeting Monday to designate a total of 33 apartment units out of 330 total in the just-approved voluntary concessions component of the Insight Properties’ Broad at Washington project as “affordable,” priced in the range matching incomes from 40 to 80 percent below the area median income.
In the deal that the City negotiated with Insight prior to administering a unanimous final vote in favor of the overall project last week, most anticipated for its promise of a 55,000 square foot Whole Foods at the site, the parties agreed to a formula for Insight’s voluntary concessions (VCs) to the City to include the 10 percent affordable units option.
It involves the redeployment of VC monies away from other uses in the City and toward covering the cost of the 15 added affordable units for a total value of $2,364,135.
While that involves the repurposing of VC money originally designated to be given to the City schools ($2.3 million), stormwater fund ($20,000), library, parks and recreation ($153,000), and bike share ($20,000 a year for 30 years).
The proposed resolution the Council will vote on this Monday states that, “Due to significant investments in school and library and park facilities in recent years,” the shift involves “the reduction in cash voluntary concessions come from those areas.”
The resolution’s preamble states it is in keeping with a “Vision for Housing a Complete Community” that will “create and maintain a diverse supply of housing that supports an inclusive and welcoming community.” It adds that as the region continues to grow, the commitment 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 move is a precedent-setting one that will reverberate widely throughout the region, and could establish a new baseline bar for future projects everywhere.
While the Council may vote unanimously in favor of this on Monday, Councilman Ross Litkenhous made it clear at Monday’s meeting that credit goes primarily to his Council colleague Letty Hardi for pushing the affordable percentage up from six to 10 percent.
The new option “is far more generous than our neighbors,” Hardi confirmed Monday, and Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly said she wanted to “thank all for getting us to this point.” Hardi said she’s hopeful the same discussion will be entertained with the Founders Row’s Mill Creek developers soon.
Another critically important component of the proposed new plan is that affordable units shall remain at the affordable rate in perpetuity, and not just for a decade or so. “This is a huge thing,” the City’s Director of Economic Development Jim Snyder said. “It isn’t common.”
He said that the affordable housing initiative “is a big part of who we are as a community, and while it is hard to calculate its economic impact, it will contribute significantly to the revitalization of the downtown area. Lots of downtowns in America die because no one lives there. This helps to address that issue.”
Connelly commended remarks made by City Manager Wyatt Shields to the School Board last week focusing on the community’s “big picture,” and noting that money is not being “taken away” from the schools or library, but if approved this Monday, is redirected in favor of the City’s overall plan.
Joshua Shokoor, chair of the City’s Housing Commission, writing a guest commentary appearing elsewhere in this edition, noted that “Our City already has an affordable housing crisis. Over the past decade, the Falls Church affordable housing stock has observed an abrupt decline, from 470 units in 2012 to 283 units today. Within the next decade, this number will shrink by an additional 47 percent, or 132 units.”
The proposed mix of affordable units at the Insight project will be nine studio apartments available for applicants earning 40 percent of the “area median income” (AMI), nine two bedroom units offered to those earning 60 percent of the AMI and 15 studio units offered to persons earning 80 percent of the AMI or less.