News

Affordable Housing Dominates F.C. City’s Special Election Season

Around 24 percent of registered voters in the City of Falls Church have already cast their ballots ahead of this November’s election. (Photo: News-Press)

Who would have thought that the need for expanding affordable housing would be the Number 1 issue in this fall’s Falls Church City Council special election? The Little City, long known for its deference to well-to-do single family homes, is now having its political conversation dominated by concerns for lower income families and the rapid evaporation of housing options for them.

The volume of that issue began being raised on the F.C. City Council, led by Council member Letty Hardi, in the last year. But with the special election this fall to fill the seat vacated by the death of Dan Sze, the three vying candidates have all been focused on the need for more affordable housing.

As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, still over a month out from the Nov. 3 national election day, a whopping 24 percent of registered voters in the City of Falls Church have already cast their votes by showing up at City Hall to vote in person, or by mailing in their ballots.

Out of concern for the Covid-19 pandemic and out of concern for the importance of the presidential election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, plus new laws out of Richmond this year that allow for “no excuse” absentee voting for the first time account for the heavy advance turnout, a trend true not only throughout Virginia, but also all across the U.S.

Here, the ballots, including those already cast, include the local race to fill a vacant seat on the Falls Church City Council. Three candidates qualified for the ballot last month to fill a vacancy for a single year caused by the death of Councilman Dan Sze in July.

Debbie Hiscott, Joshua Sharif Shokoor and Simone Pass Tucker are all engaged in robust campaigns, having fully participated in two online forums sponsored by local civic organizations and a series of one-on-one interviews with another.

The first event was hosted by the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce two weeks ago and the second by the Village Preservation and Improvement Society and the F.C. chapter of the League of Women Voters last week. The last two Sunday afternoons, the Citizens for a Better City have broadcast interviews with two of the three candidates — Hiscott a week ago Sunday and Shokoor last Sunday. This coming Sunday at 5 p.m. a third interview is scheduled to air on a Zoom online channel with Pass Tucker.

Also, this week’s edition of the News-Press includes statements from each of the candidates, the publication date moved up by the News-Press due to the heavy turnout of voting in advance.

Hiscott is running as the favorite because of her eight year history as the head of the Falls Church Education Foundation (FCEF) which has corralled the support of parents of the 2,600 students in the Falls Church Public School System and their allies in the community.

Hiscott has grown the FCEF into one of the community’s most vibrant and activist organizations with two annual events (except for this year because of the pandemic) such that is running mostly on the strength of her organizing skills and experience with community building.

In her statement published this week, she appeals to her greater experience, writing, “Given the complexities of today’s difficult and urgent issues, including health concerns, racial disparities and economic pressures, it is critically important that we elect someone able to immediately get to work on Nov. 4. There is no time for an extended learning curve.”

While her statement published in today’s News-Press makes no mention of affordable housing, per se, in the candidate forums hosted by the various civic groups, she made multiple references to affordable housing as a component of advancing diversity and equality in the community, including support for “auxiliary dwelling units,” also known as “granny flats,” that can be built in the backyards of existing single family homes and offered as low-cost housing if not for “granny,” then for anyone seeking a low-cost housing option.

Shokoor gets credit for putting affordable housing in the forefront of the campaign as a lifelong F.C. resident, living his whole life in the affordable Winter Hill complex. Winter Hill was originally called Tyler Gardens and was built in the late 1940s for GI Loan veterans of World War II. The units were converted to condos in the early 1970s when the name was changed to Winter Hill.

For years, local leaders dismissed the complex as a source of significant school aged children because of the small size of the individual units. Nonetheless, because of the relative affordability of the units, families have found ways to squeeze themselves into them, as Shokoor’s did in the early 1980s.

Shokoor’s passion for affordable housing, he writes, derives from his experience growing up in Falls Church. “As a second generation American, from a lower income background, raised by a single mother, I know that others who share a similar story as me often do not have access to the same opportunities I was provided,” he writes, leading to his affordable housing activism that included his authorship of the City’s officially-adopted “Affordable Living Policy” as a member of the Housing Commission.

Like Shokoor, Pass Tucker is a lifelong City of F.C. resident and graduate of George Mason High School who has made environmental concerns and inclusivity central priorities along with affordable housing. “My values of inclusivity and small-town strength have been shaped by years of political activism and a deep love for my hometown of Falls Church,” they write, saying their mission is “to make the Little City a warm and welcoming place for people of all backgrounds, identities, ethnicities and income levels.”

“As a young, Jewish member of the LGBTQ+ community I know what it feels like to be unrepresented,” they write. “I hope to be a voice for those in Falls Church who don’t yet have a seat at the table.”

All three candidates have stated that they are “running 14-month campaigns,” with the special election this fall to fill a vacant seat for only one year before it is up again in the fall of 2021 for a full four-year term along with three other Council seats that will be up then.