The Fields Apartments on Ellison Street in Falls Church are among the few affordable apartments for low income families in the area. Many of those who live there do not have another place they can move to because of the lower pricing but tenants have reported issues.
The Falls Church Housing Commission met with tenants from the complex earlier this month to discuss the issues and potential solutions. Some of the issues mentioned included mold, mice and problems with landlords.
The property was recently taken over by new management, which was left with the remaining unsolved issues from the previous staff.
At the Housing Commission Meeting on October 12, there was a debriefing of the meeting with tenants.
City Council member Debbie Hiscott stated that many of the tenants told her that it was the first meeting they had been a part of and were happy to have someone willing to listen to their problems and help address them.
Emma Calvert of the management company that recently took over the property, told the Commission, “If there have been issues that have been present for a long period of time, we’re working to address those and have addressed several things already. Our plan is to continue to work with residents as long as they’re making us aware and willing to work with us through some of these issues.”
However, Calvert was not present at the meeting with the tenants. She stated that in order to fix these issues she would have to hear from the residents in order to know what apartment was having the issue.
Housing Commission member Pete Davis noted that if he were the one in charge of a complex and heard complaints of mold, he would proactively reach out to everyone in order to try and solve the issue as quickly as possible. Calvert seemed to disagree, saying it would be easier for management to know exactly which apartments have complaints.
It was also brought up that many tenants had previously felt uncomfortable coming forward with issues such as mold complaints due to the way problems had been addressed in the past, including threats of eviction. Davis made a promise to keep a close watch and make sure residents feel safe and protected.
Regarding the issue of mold, any reports are legally required to be looked at within five days but tenants have been left with mold in their apartments much longer than that. Complaints of mice, floors peeling, water issues and more were brought up during the Commission’s meeting with tenants.
“In terms of proactive outreach, we threw this meeting together in two weeks by putting out flyers and knocking on doors,” said Joshua Shokoor, Chair of the Housing Commission. “I think at the very least, the property managers who understand the units and the residents who live there could do the same thing in terms of letting them know that we are aware of the issues and to please feel free to come forward.”
While many promises were made by management at the meeting earlier this month, it is unclear if they have been met yet or not.
Council Member Letty Hardi commented that “the Housing Commission did an excellent job facilitating the community meeting. Besides the immediate maintenance issues, it was apparent that residents have been frustrated and haven’t gotten the previous management to take action. I’m glad the city stepped in and brought the parties together to make sure their voices were heard. We’ll need to stay on this even after the current issues are resolved.”
Kettler, the management company of the building, will be invited to an upcoming City Council meeting to give an update on progress made.
Karl Polzer from the Center on Capital and Social Equity told the News-Press “Falls Church and Northern Virginia are among the wealthiest places in the country. Political leaders here tend to focus on real estate and business development and growing the revenue base. As reflected by the gubernatorial campaigns’ responses to our questionnaire on specific plans to help struggling families, the needs of low-income workers are not a priority for them – even though these voters make up a large part of the population.
He added, “Elected officials here respond most to monied interests including high-income residents whose property is appreciating in value. Unfortunately, as the price of housing rises faster than wages, fewer people who provide services in Falls Church can afford to live here. They include essential workers and many young adults raised here entering the workforce. Many young people can’t afford local rents and end up living in their parents’ basements. The rising cost of living makes it harder for many middle-income people including teachers to live here as well. Affordable housing is especially needed for people with disabilities and suffering from serious mental illnesses.”
He said “a one bedroom apartment here is estimated to cost about $16,000 to $20,000 a year. That’s unaffordable for workers like waiters and home health workers making $25,000 a year – especially if they are single parents. According to economists at MIT, a ‘living wage’ in Fairfax County covering the needs of a single parent with one child would be $38.77 an hour. That’s more than $80,000 a year!”
The current conditions at the Fields Apartments put residents at risk and unfortunately many of them do not have any other options to find affordable housing.