Margaret Addai has raised five children in the Stony Brook Apartments in the Hybla Valley of southeastern Fairfax County. Over the last nine years, she has dealt with bad times and good.
These are good days. A $33 million “green” renovation of the 204-unit garden apartment complex has been completed, with new kitchens, bathrooms and appliances in all the units, solar panels and a green roof, rain barrels for the community garden, a bio-retention area to help control storm water runoff, and a new community center where residents can take classes in English as a second language, job training, financial literacy and after-school enrichment programs for students.
Addai, a Ghanaian immigrant, said one of her children was the recycling leader in her program. Another child, who has respiratory problems, has been breathing easier after the family learned to use natural cleaning products on the new cabinets and floors.
“I’m very happy today,” she told a delighted crowd of developers, bankers, government officials and housing advocates. “Your money was not wasted, and we like the changes.”
The project marks the first green renovation of affordable apartments in Fairfax County, government officials say. The complex is owned by Community Preservation and Development Corp., a District-based, not-for-profit developer of affordable housing which just earned LEED gold certification for Wheeler Terrace in Southeast D.C., the first such designation in the country for a renovated Section 8 property.
Stony Brook, just off the strip malls of Richmond Highway in Mount Vernon, is home primarily to West African immigrant families who work entry-level jobs all over the Washington area.
“These are the hardest working people you can find in Fairfax County, along the U.S. 1 corridor,” said Jeff McKay, a member of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, who represents the area. “I can’t think of anything more important we can do for people who are struggling ... than to provide decent, affordable, high-quality housing.”
The funding for the renovation of the 22-year-old complex was provided by the Virginia Housing Development Authority and Capital One Bank. The work will also cut costs; a solar hot water system reduces electric consumption by 15 percent and the new energy-efficient appliances and lighting, as well as the low-flow toilets and shower heads, are expected to decrease power and water bills.
Fourteen-year-old Deborah Asabere, a Mount Vernon High School freshman, has already seen some changes from her participation in a “Teens Growing Green” program.
“Our group was doing a recycling program, and we found our community was really trashy,” she said. The after-school class starting recycling programs, as well as picking up trash themselves. At first, their neighbors laughed, she said, but they’ve come around. “Recycling is really helpful,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., said federal money for housing is probably going to be deeply cut as a Congressional supercommittee attempts to cut the budget in the coming months, a likelihood he deplores.
“Invariably, [these developments] are transformative,” he said. “Every time there’s been a major investment in affordable housing it’s paid off. It’s contagious. It’s a major generator of economic activity. More than that, it’s an investment in people... It resets aspirations. When you’re living in a nice place, it changes your psyche. You stand a little taller.”