Yet another talented and dedicated woman has advanced in a leadership role in the City of Falls Church. Last week, the News-Press profiled the outstanding contributions of Deputy City Manager Cindy Mester. This week features long-time City staffer Dana Lewis.
Beginning this Tuesday, Lewis took over as the Director of Housing and Human Services following Nancy Vincent’s retirement. Lewis has worked for the city for over 15 years.
City Manager Wyatt Shields had nothing but positive things to say when announcing her promotion.
“Dana has been a positive leader for the Department for over 15 years and a recognized City wide leader for many of these years as well,” said Shields. “Some of the attributes that stand out for me after many conversations with people in the community and on City staff is her knowledge and experience with City programs, her ideas on how to grow these services and broaden their reach, her dedication and commitment to the people we serve, and her positive and collaborative leadership style. The latter attribute has been particularly important the past 20 months as HHS staff have been constantly challenged to develop new solutions for emergency assistance to people most severely impacted by the pandemic, and have been right at the front of the City’s response to this crisis.”
Lewis began her career with the City as part of the Department of Human Services 16 years ago as a Senior Housing Specialist and served as the Deputy Director of the Department of Housing and Human Services before her promotion.
“I’ve been working in the community for a long time and I really feel like I’m a part of Falls Church. I love my job,” said Lewis in an interview with the News-Press.
Affordable housing is just one of the major projects that Lewis will be handling in her new position. After speaking with Cindy Mester in last week’s edition and Lewis this week, it can be seen that making more options for affordable housing is one of the top priorities for City staff.. Lewis announced at the meeting of the Economic Development Authority Tuesday that she will be seeking a development specialist to help her department carry out its affordable housing mission.
The City received grants from Virginia Housing and Amazon last year to help turn these visions into reality as Northern Virginia remains an expensive place to live.
The community impact grant from Virginia Housing helped to bring out a consultant to help the City detail their goals for affordable housing. After making a plan, the City has been able to begin acting on these goals.
One of the Amazon grants is to help create homeownership opportunities within the City. According to Lewis, this means “working with the NHP Foundation, [the City] is going to purchase units in the City, rehab them to sell at an affordable price.”
The second Amazon grant will be used to “set up an acquisition strike fund” which will allow the City to purchase units at Virginia Village to rehab and keep at an affordable price.
“We are going to be able to purchase units to keep them affordable as that’s one of the few remaining market-rate affordable rentals in the City and we want to keep them that way,” said Lewis. “We’ll do the necessary work to rehab them and keep them up to date. Our long-term goal is to eventually assemble those units so we can create a larger number of affordable units. We want to preserve the units that are there and eventually create more.”
When it comes to affordable housing, there are different levels of income to be considered. In Falls Church, very low income is considered to be 30 percent or under of area median income, which includes Housing Choice Voucher clients, with an income of $27,090 or less. Low income includes those who are eligible for City Committed Affordable Units with an income of $45,150 or less. Those considered to be at the mid-level are eligible for the Affordable Dwelling Unit (ADU) program and have an income of $54,180 or less. Those making between $72,240 and $99,330 may qualify for some ADUs and will be included in the new Amazon Homeownership Program.
The City currently has six committed four-plex ADU properties, with two additional complexes expected to be added in the future, for a total of 86 units currently. There is currently a waitlist for ADUs with people in different priority levels. Priority one includes those who live or work in the City and are elderly and/or disabled. Priority two includes those who live and/or work in the city. Priority three includes those with no relation to the City. Over 100 people currently sit on the waitlist.
Lewis stated that she plans to preserve the affordable housing units that the City currently has and work to improve them, stating that the issues at the Fields apartments are some of her biggest priorities.
“We’re working together to try to improve the conditions there and work to create a plan for what to do when the tax credits expire in 2027. When those credits expire we want to make sure that the over 90 residents who live there remain in the City because they’re very important to us,” said Lewis about the work being done at the Fields Apartments.
Increasing community engagement is another priority high on Lewis’ list. This means working to ensure that citizens’ voices are heard and their input is taken into account when making decisions that will affect them directly.
Additionally, Lewis will be working with Aurora House, a residential counseling center for girls aged 16 — 21 in the City that offers both short and long-term community-based treatment to girls from Falls Church and the surrounding area. This is a program that is directly at the intersection of both housing and human services.
Finally, Lewis wants to continue to work to meet the needs of the City’s more vulnerable populations— something that has been a top priority since the pandemic began. This included helping people to pay their rent, buy food and much more. As the pandemic continues, this will remain a priority.