Towards the end of the longest single Falls Church City Council meeting over the course of the 17-and-a-half-year history of the Falls Church News-Press, Councilman Dan Maller struck the just the right chord for the majority that approved construction of 174 affordable housing units in the City’s downtown.
“I want to live in a city that wants to do this project,” he intoned, in his final statement before the 1:20 a.m. vote on Tuesday morning. Mayor Robin Gardner added before the vote, “I want to wake up in the morning with a happy heart that I did the right thing.”
Indeed, both the comments and the vote by the Council reflected a generosity of spirit that is all too rare in the current overall economic climate, much less in the political debate over matters of fiscal impact in general. But as others also said in the course of the six-hour meeting, the considerable subsidy the City will be providing for the project is not merely a gift, but an investment in Falls Church’s long-term sustaintability and quality of life for years to come.
Amidst an area undergoing a profound demographic shift, with an influx of Asian and Hispanic populations, Falls Church’s Council took a conscious action to welcome families with incomes ranging from 30% to 60% of the regional median average income. That involves, for families of four, incomes ranging from $29,000 to $59,000. While not “low income housing,” affordable housing permits school teachers, firefighters, retail clerks, health care assistants and newspaper reporters to live in Falls Church, serving as an incentive that helps local businesses and the school system recruit the best employees. That desired outcome also reduces “carbon footprints,” as employees can walk or bike to their jobs. The policy welcomes “income diversity” to the City, countervailing what Councilman Hal Lippman referred to as the City’s tendency toward becoming a “gated community” of the rich.
Yes, the project will cost taxpayers money, but the projection of three cents on the tax rate, or $1 million a year, is a “worst case scenario,” and does not take into account new tax revenues coming from collateral commercial development that will result (namely, Thomas Sawner’s considerable upgrade of two adjacent commercial buildings). But this project was not about the money. City taxpayers also subsidize the City’s public school system, whether they have children attending the local schools or not, and this community has always recognized the virtue and social benefit of that. To also subsidize affordable housing, to a vastly smaller degree, reflects a similar core community value.
Falls Church taxpayers can thank its City Council for prudent development policies the last eight years that will insulate them from the kind of draconian budget cuts neighboring Fairfax County now faces. Likewise, they can thank their Council for having a good heart.