Mildred Pelkey, a personnel secretary who earns $7,500 a year, wants a house of her own. Every weekday she leaves the house she shares in Fairfax County, drops the youngest of her three sons off at a day care center and walks a half mile to her work at Gino's regional offices on Route 50.
Pelkey is on the waiting list for subsidized housing in Fairfax, as are approximatelly 2,700 other county residents. Of that number, 1,400 would be eligbible to live in Rolling Road Estates, a controversial low-and moderate-income housing development proposed for Springfield in southern Fairfax.
Veronica Brisbois owns a spacious $100,000 split-level home opposite the wooded 35-acre site on which the 100-unit Rolling Road townhouse project would be built. She has lived there for six years with her husband Felix, a Navy Department budget analyst. They moved to the Saratonga subdivision after living in a less expensive neighborhood in the county.
The two women stand on opposite sides of a major public housing battle in Fairfax which will again come before the board of supervisors Monday. If the hotly-contested Rolling Road project is approved, the two women could become neighbors.
Pelkey is black, Brisbnois is white. And while there is now ay for officials to know how many of the 100 units would be occupied by blacks or whites, race appears to figure - often in an unspoken way - in the controversy. But the dispute also spans issues from property values to local government autonomy to the aspirations of country residents needing less expensive housing. One of the ironies of the conflict is that many of the aspirations - and worries - of the two women are similar.
"Just because I don't make as much money as those people," said house seeker Pelkey, 27, who was divorced from her husband two years ago. "I want the same things for my kids they want for theirs, like nice kids to play with the good schools. I don't want to live somewhere that my kids are going to be in alleys doing dope."
Brisbois is also concerned about neigborhood conditions, which she and many of her neigbors believe could change radically because the Rolling Road units would be rented to eligible families at 25 per cent of cost. She and her husband have spent much of their time on home improvements and landscaping. After raising five children, they plan to sell the house when they retire in about five years. She dreads "having an eyesore around the corner."
"I don't know who is going to move into that place but I think people are fighting it because they think a whole project of blaccks will come in," said Brisbois. "And I think that is how everyone feels."
According to county officials, 30 per cent of the Rolling Road Estates families would be low-income residents like Pelkey, earning less than $10,500 a year. The year would be moderate income families on a graduate basis - for example a family of four earning from $10,500 to $16,000 or a family of seven earning $19,000.
After coming close to approval for federal funding in October, the project has been in limbo pending the supervisors' decision Monday and the outccome of a lawsuit by Rolling Road residents and Fairfax Board Chairman John F. Herrity, who are trying to stop the project.
Debate new centers between residents opposed to the project and the county's Housing and Community Development Agency, which gave Rolling Road Estates its approval in November. The project's developer is Housing Affiliates Inc. of Pittsburgh, Pa.
Residents protest the development's possible encroachment on their neighborhood, while housing officials claim it is a significant move to relieve the county's low-and middle-income housing shortage. Possible new tennants have not entered the debate - perhaps because they do not know if they would be moved into the Rolling Road project.
Among specific complaints from residents are these:
Property values will decline.
Subsidized renters will not maintain their homes and an out-of-state developer will not be accountable for maintenance.
100 units are too many for one project.
Residents from the project will overcrowd existing public schools and other facilitis.
Those fighting the project estimate it will generate 300 children.
Lack of public transportation will strand project residents.
The Springfield area will have more than its share of public housing. Those against the project say there will be 392 subsidized units planned within two miles, including Rolling Road Estates and 36 existing units in the nearby Newington Station townhouse subdivision.
Defenders at the Housing and Community Development Agency say:
There is no evidence to substantiate the assertion that property values will decline if subsidized housing is nearby.
100 units are the minimum for generating enough money to support proper maintenance.
Full-time maintenance personnel will live on the property. Previous housing projects built by Housing Affiliates Inc. have successful maintenance records.
Three nearby public schools combined have enough space to absorb Rolling Road children. The agency estimates the project will generate about 150 children.
Most of the low-and moderate-income people living in Fairfax County have cars, as would most Rolling Road Estates residents. The developer also will provide shuttle transportation to public transportation on Old Keene Mull Road if needed.
Springfield will not be overloaded with public housing. Within 12 square miles there are existing, proposed or planned a total of 439 subsidized units out of 4,900 regular units.
Housing and Community Development Agency spokeswoman Deirdre Coyne summed up the defense.
"There is a clear, defined need for public housing in the country, Rolling Road residents are reacting to fear of the unknown and old that most of their arguments are based on misinterpretation of data."
Despite housing department explanations, many residents remain suspicious, fearful and anxious about the project.
"Even preachers and social workers who live here are helping pay the lawyers to stop Rolling Road Estates from goingin, after we explained what it was really going to be like," said Elizabeth McCardle of the Newington Station townhouse subdivision.
She and others raised nearly $6,000 to pay for legal fees in the residents suit against the county planning commission. The commission, they charge, violated state law by not reviewing the Rolling Road project. In that fund raiser, they asked $10 from each household in the Saratoga, Newington Stationand Chancellor Farms subdivisions, a total of some 1,300 residences. Now they are going back asking $15 from each household for a fight.
"Do you really think moderate income people will be living ther?" asked Alvin Smuzynski, a leader of the opposition who bought his home in Saratoga for $81,000 three years ago. "They (Housing and Community Development) tell us there will be firemen, teachers and policemen. I'm just not convinced."
McCardle said moderate-income people "wouldn't want to live in public housing with the stigma that is attached to it; they would pay more to live in regular housing."
One moderate-income person, who declined to permit the use of her name, disagreed. A native of Bolivia, the woman said a townhouse in Rolling Road Estates would be a welcome change for her. She earns about $10,500 as a mapmaker and shares a one-bedroom apartment with her daughter and mother:
"People need help with housing," said the diminutive, well-groomed woman who ahs supported herself and her daughter since she and her American husband were divorced three years ago. "Life here is very expensive . You have to have two jobs to save any money. After I pay for my car, for food, for ent, for medicine, there is little left for anything else. Any kind of help would maybe put me a little ahead."
The Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA) recently delayed giving final approval to Rolling Road Estates pending a decision from the Fairfax supervisors on whether to approve or disapprove the proposal. If the board declines to support the project Monday, the authroity will not clear the necessary construction funds.
The board Nov. 14, passed a resolution 5-0 against the project, but rescinded that position Nov. 21 after the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) threatened to cut off $3.7 million in annual funds if the county continued to oppose the project. The VHDA had been requested to give additional time for board consideration.
Herrity calls HUD's threat an encroachment on "local government by local elected officials," and sees the Rolling Road issue before the board of supervisors as larger than one housing project:
"Either we're going to bend to this kind of federal blackmail or stand up for local rights," he said.