Commentary, Local Commentary

Editorial: F.C. Must Address ‘Missing Middle’

In our glowing editorial update on the status of the City of Falls Church last week, inspired by its No. 2 in the entire U.S. rating for health outcomes, we made a passing reference to the need for affordable housing here, noting that much more needs to be done. The main public reaction to all things Falls Church that get reported in the wider media is, “That’s great, but I can’t afford to live there!”

We’ve seen more progress on taking this seriously in the last year than at any time in the last decade. Amazon, in building its second major headquarters (HQ2) just down the road, has pitched in with millions for affordable housing development with its REACH program — designating $3.8 million for the establishment of an affordable home ownership program. Also, State Sen. Dick Saslaw has come through with $1 million from the state for the City’s affordable housing efforts. Those who will be given priority in the City are those aged 62 or up or disabled, and who live or work in the Little City.

Looking to further examine the terms of a partnership with the NHP Foundation — which has an office in the region, located in Washington, D.C. — the F.C. Council determined unanimously to table a motion this Monday and to have the matter come back for its July 11 meeting. Issues of project requirements pursued primarily by Council member Caroline Lian resulted in the move to table.

There is also provision to allow some affordable housing in the City Council’s sweeping effort to revise its “T-2” transitional zoning rules that will come up again after Labor Day.

However, the City is not anywhere near doing what the Arlington County Board is exploring, which involves major changes to its residential area zoning aimed at permitting the building of more-reasonably priced multi-family buildings in an area that has been limited to single family homes for many years, as News-Press columnist Charlie Clark reported in his column here last week.

The initiative is to address the housing problem that has become known nationally as the “missing middle” issue. With single family home values soaring to over $1 million throughout this region, the need has grown drastically for more reasonably priced housing options that can enable critically needed workforce families to live anywhere near here.

This includes teachers, firefighters, police and average public service employees. It has become a very contentious issue in Arlington, with scores of citizens showing up at public meetings to weigh in, as Clark reported. It is clear to us that, despite smokescreen issues like trees and other environmental factors, the zoning change is feared most for its perceived potentially negative impact on home values, as well as for the issue of population diversity.

The Arlington board will have a work session on the subject with the county manager on July 12 and is set to take a vote in the fall. Falls Church leaders should play close attention.