At Last, Work Starts on Mixed-Income Senior Housing

By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 11, 2006

No one expected it to take this long, but five years after planning began, builders have broken ground on Fairfax County's first mixed-income assisted living facility, in Falls Church.

Chesterbrook Residences, scheduled to open in the summer of 2007, addresses what officials say is a pressing need: housing for those who want to stay in the area as they age but can't afford market-rate assisted living facilities. The building will have 85 one-bedroom and 12 two-bedroom units, more than half set aside for low-income residents.

Those involved in the project say, however, that the amount of time and effort needed to win approval for a building for only 109 residents shows how difficult it will be to create enough such housing to meet the demand. In addition to bureaucratic hurdles, the project had to overcome opposition from neighbors who, project sponsors say, didn't want subsidized housing next door.

"I thought I knew what set neighborhoods off and thought this was a no-brainer. This isn't mansions coming right up to the road. It's going to be little old ladies who make no noise and almost never drive," said Jane Edmondson, president of a coalition of homeowners groups in the Lewinsville Road corridor and a leader of the project. "I'm sure this will be one of those things where, once it's done, people will say, 'What was all the fuss about?' "

The $13.6 million building will be off Westmoreland Street on five acres owned by the National Capital Presbytery, behind the Chesterbrook Taiwanese Presbyterian Church. The Virginia Housing Development Authority is providing the bulk of the financing, with $11 million in bonds, and Fairfax County is contributing $1.8 million in grants and loans. An additional $860,000 has been raised by the three congregations sponsoring the project: Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Lewinsville Presbyterian Church and Temple Rodef Shalom.

Forty-nine units will be set aside for low-income residents who qualify for Section 8 vouchers, with five of those reserved for the very lowest-income seniors who qualify for Virginia's auxiliary grant program. An additional six units will be rented at a below-market rate, about $2,500 to $2,800 per month, which would include food and other services. The remaining 42 will be rented at market rate, from $4,100 to $6,100 per month, depending on the unit's size and the number of residents per unit. There are 95 people on the waiting list.

County officials had hoped the facility could take 150 or more residents, but a building that large would have required a change in the county's comprehensive plan for the site, which would have drawn out the process further. As it was, the project had to overcome criticism from neighbors who complained about the loss of the open land, potential storm water problems, possible noise from ambulances and having a large building in their sightline.

Edmondson said most concerns were overstated. She said she anticipated few ambulances and expected that the building would not be visible from the road. She said the project would include "more landscaping than Augusta National" golf course. The project is being built at a time when officials in Fairfax are warning about the demands of a rapidly aging population. The proportion of those 65 and older is expected to double in Northern Virginia by 2030.

Michael Crescenzo, the project's development consultant, said the area needed to take into account this growing older population, low-income or not.

"The way people thought about it originally was, 'Well, people in Fairfax are affluent; they don't need this.' But it's not really about income. It's a societal need: What do you do with your elderly parents?" he said. "People are living so much longer, and they may need a little assistance, but they don't need a nursing home, which is not such a nice place to be. This is the bridge."

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