2024-07-15 8:50 PM

Unanimous Vote Supports 10+% Affordable Housing

CITY COUNCIL members talk about the groundbreaking 10 percent of affordable units committed to the Whole Foods project at Broad & Washington Street. (Screenshot: News-Press)

By a unanimous 7-0 vote Monday, the Falls Church City Council approved an historic measure ensuring that over 10 percent of all the 339 residential rental units to be built at the just-approved Broad and Washington large scale mixed use project will be offered at subsidized affordable rates.

Never before in the City or the region has such a high percentage of total units in a major project been designated as available “affordably,” which is to say at rates affordable to individuals or households earning between 40 and 80 percent of the annual median income for the region.

It marks the first concrete step to provide such housing in over a decade in Falls Church since the defeat of a measure to build a multiple-unit affordable housing project failed to win a critical Council vote in 2011.

Monday’s novel unanimous vote was capped with an “icing on the cake,” a move to add a single additional unit, at the initiative of Councilman Phil Duncan, to push the number of affordable units from 33 to 34, bringing them officially over 10 percent of the 339 total units planned for the project.

Funding to cover the cost will come from the Insight Property developers of the overall project as part of their voluntary concessions offered in exchange for the Council’s approval of zoning and other modifications required to get the project OK’d.

“Too many to name deserve a share of the credit for this big step forward for the City,” said Councilman Duncan. He cited, “Current and former members of the Housing Commission, City Housing and Human Services staff, the editorial page of the Falls Church News-Press, and past and present City Council members and Planning Commissioners who kept the fire burning for affordable housing as we worked our way through meeting multiple other needs for our citizens, including improvements at all five City schools, and at City Hall, the Library, and our parks.”

Duncan added, “We’re seen the story unfold over the years: the early 2000s vision of a downtown dedicated affordable housing building (with parking deck) on the City parking lot — promoted by former Vice Mayor (and Chamber of Commerce chair) Steve Rogers and the Falls Church Housing Corporation’s Carol Jackson — was thwarted. Then there were other similar attempts, including an affordable housing building at West End Park, and of course the Wilden proposal, which in 2011 had federal and state backing but could not clear the City Council of that day.”

He added, “But after many years and much persistent hard work by many, the vision of a truly bold effort on affordable housing finally finds form in the Broad and Washington mixed-use project, with fully 10 percent of the building’s 339 units designated permanently as affordable — for people whose incomes range from 40 to 80 percent of area median income.”

Duncan continued, “Helping workers in our local businesses afford to live closer to their jobs is good for economic development, and good for the environment, and it makes Falls Church a complete community, more diverse in terms of income and age. I’m grateful for the opportunity to join the Council’s unanimous vote Monday for a more caring community.”

As important as the “double digit” threshold, the City Planning Chief Jim Snyder noted, is the fact that the affordable units will remain as such in perpetuity, and not for a finite period of time, as has been the case with all the previous such designated units in other mixed-use properties.

The added units at the Broad and Washington project will be a mix of utility units and two bedroom units, the housing types most sought after by persons needing affordable housing.

Falls Church Mayor David Tarter said, “I am very excited about this project. It raises the bar for affordable housing throughout the region.”

In another development at Monday’s City Council meeting, trying to draw an equitable line between the interests of residential homeowners and struggling local businesses in the age of the pandemic, the Falls Church City Council voted to adopt a new noise ordinance by a unanimous vote, but which may be subject to modifications prior to a final approval late this month.

The key components are a 10 p.m. deadline for live music emanating from retail establishments, and a decibel level limited to 65 at a 75-foot distance for up to three daytime hours.

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