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F.C. Council Poised to Strike Blow for Affordable Housing




Final OK Set on 174 New Units In Monday Vote

The biggest blow yet in the City of Falls Church on behalf of affordable housing will be delivered by the F.C. City Council this Monday when it is expected to approve a complex array of policies that will allow the projected 174-unit City Center South Apartments effort to move ahead.

The project is a combined effort of the Falls Church Housing Corporation (FCHC), Homestretch, Inc., the City of Falls Church and a late addition, developer Thomas Sawner.

If approved Monday, and subsequently qualified for state tax credits, it will involve the demolition of three buildings at 350 and 360 S. Washington St., and the construction of two new ones. One will house offices of the FCHC and Homestretch, a non-profit providing services to transition homeless families into homes, below 174 affordable housing rental apartments.

The other, owned jointly by Sawner and the FCHC, will including a parking structure to accommodate parking needs for the adjacent apartment units, below office buildings.

Collateral components of the plan involve the lending for one year of $2 million of City dollars, through the FCHC, to Sawner to enable his purchase of two other buildings in the immediate area that he plans to renovate as commercial office space.

The money would go to Sawner, in exchange for his cooperation in jointly owning one of the two new buildings and putting structured parking there, on an interest-free basis for a year, with the FCHC responsible for the carrying cost of the loan, about $100,000, at the end of the year.

The use of the $2 million will revert back to the FCHC to be used, in addition to $4.5 million promised from Atlantic Realty as an affordable housing proffer for last spring’s approval of its $317-million City Center project, to build the City Center South Apartments.

The final phase of the complex process would involve the transfer of 83 senior citizens currently living in FCHC-owned housing in the Winter Hill area into the new apartment building. The units they’re currently in would then be renovated by the FCHC and sold as affordable homes to first-time home buyers.

With the value of the renovated homes on four non-contiguous acres in Winter Hill put at about $12 million, the FCHC would use $5 million as the final financing piece of its Center Center South Apartment construction.

Part of the remainder would go to maintaining a long-term loan from the City, which according to the FCHC Executive Director Carol Jackson is a necessary component of qualifying the project for tax credits from the Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA) next spring.

The unusual timing of the Council’s vote this Monday (the Council usually does not make major policy decisions during August, when many citizens are away on vacations) is driven by the requirements of applying for the VHDA credits, which are worth between $12 and $16 million to the FCHC for its $35 million development project.

The FCHC needs enough time to complete the application process by Jan. 1, Jackson has explained. She said that, in hopes of winning Council approval this Monday, she went ahead in the spring to commission the on-going work of the design architects, because of the time required to be ready.

At last Monday’s Council work session, FCHC Board chair Dr. Steve Rogers noted the acute need for new affordable housing in Falls Church. He said that since 1995, while only 16 new units of affordable housing have been added, 200 were lost since 2002, and another 500 will be lost in the next few years.

The new project would provide housing for employees at the new retail businesses in the City Center Project, and would include persons mostly earning between 30 and 60 percent of the regional median annual income.

They would pay up to 30 percent of their salaries for rent, with the remainder to be subsidized by federal Housing and Urban Development programs.

Mary Hickey, who is now the FCHC’s project manager at Winter Hill, said that moving seniors there into a new apartment building would improve their quality of life substantially.

The Council’s reaction at the work session was mixed. With Vice Mayor Hal Lippman absent, Mayor Robin Gardner, Councilmen Dan Maller and Dan Sze spoke in favor, and Councilmen David Snyder and Nader Barkouh had major concerns. Councilman Lawrence Webb said he was “not comfortable with this yet.”

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