Over the objections of members of their appointed Affordable Housing Policy Task Force, the Falls Church City Council united behind conciliatory revisions made by Councilman Phil Duncan to unanimously adopt a new affordable housing policy document for the City Monday night.
The adopted version made two major changes to the version crafted by the task force and recommended to the Council: 1. it identified a preference for “scattered units” of affordable housing embedded in new projects, for example, over the stand-alone affordable housing structure and, 2. it removed any specific annual dollar amount or goal from the document’s language.
Frustrated members of the task force urged the Council to reject the policy statement if it did not specify an annual funding goal, saying there is no way anyone would want to enter into a partnership with the City to develop new affordable housing if the City had no funds to bring to the conversation. The task force had recommended the City policy be to dedicate a penny on the real estate tax rate, or about $300,000 annually, as a goal for the City’s commitment to the process.
A monetary commitment, task force member Ron Brousseau insisted, is essential for leveraging resources and attracting partners, either neighboring jurisdictions or developers, and signalling the seriousness of the City’s commitment. Without that “you can erase any possibility of reaching affordable housing goals,” he said.
The view was also expressed by task force members Ed Novak, a developer, Don Brough and Julio Idrobo.
Idrobo presented the results of a survey done by the group showing a level of interest and need for affordable housing among persons employed in the City — by the City, the Schools and the private sector — far in excess of the modest goals of the policy statement. He noted the high percentage of employees who are forced by the lack of affordable housing in the City, to live either at least five miles away, or face an hour commute to their jobs here.
Of the City’s 3,647 total employees, he calculated, sixty percent live outside the City. This represents a threat to local City business in terms of their ability to retain a quality workforce.
“We can’t sit with our partners with nothing in our pockets,” he said, and stressed that the City needs to make it clear it is open to any kind of housing.
Novak emailed the following to the News-Press after the meeting: “Based on the City’s analysis, an affordable housing unit costs a developer about $170,000. The contribution that task force members asked the City to consider was $300,000 a year, less than the equivalent of two units of developer contribution spread over the entire taxpayer base of the City. The four affordable units at the Byron, for example, were spread over 86 buyers of market rate condos. That is the equivalent to over $10,000 per new resident or household to pay for affordable units that are supposedly a benefit to the entire City.”
(Excerpts of the comments at Monday’s meeting by Novak, Brousseau and Idrobo are published elsewhere in this edition).
On the matter of including an annual dollar amount in the policy statement, Council member Ron Peppe said, “Whatever recommendation we make, if there isn’t money attached to it, it won’t happen.”
Mayor Nader Baroukh said that putting a dollar amount in the policy statement sets that amount ahead of the overall process for developing an annual budget and it therefore was not a good idea.
Duncan’s revised statement focused on identifying a wider range of potential recipients of affordable housing in the City, to include work force and seniors aging in place. He crafted it, he said, after a phone conversation with Vice Mayor David Snyder, who called the revised version “a step forward.”