The complaint had a familiar ring. Ann Williams said she was worried that publicly subsidized housing planned for her Fairfax County neighborhood would lower property values.
"We are tired of being imposed on by the county," Williams declared at a public hearing, "and we will fight this project to the end."
Usually the speaker who makes that complaint is white and lives in a comfortable, middle-class neighborhood.
Williams is a moderate-income black, as were more than 25 other citizens who either testified or came to lend their support to the opposition to the project at Monday night's hearing. They live in a mixed-income community -- Wolftrap, between Vienna and Tyson's Corner -- that includes aging, cinderblock cottages and sprucedup Victorian houses with gingerbread trim.
To Fairfax County's Department of Housing and Community Development, its Wolftrap project, to be called Briarcliff, seemed to answer all the objections that have been raised against publicly supported housing.
Its size would not be overwhelming. There would only be 30 units, and its density -- less than 2 1/2 dwellings per acre -- would be far less than that of a nearby town house cluster.
Only 30 percent of Briarcliff's residents would be low-income (earning less than $11,250 annually). The other 70 percent could make up to $18,000 annually (assuming a family of four).
As the biggest selling point of all, the housing authority persuaded a private developer -- Rich-Lab Enterprises -- to come into the project as developer of an adjacent parcel of land. Rich-Lab would build 26 $80,000 houses -- evidence, the housing authority thought, that subsidized housing does not scare away more expensive development.
Williams and her neighbors, both black and white, found no reassurances in the housing authority's novel proposal.
"In my opinion," Williams told the County Board of Supervisors, "when something like this (low-and moderate-income housing) comes to a neighborhood, adjoining properties are lowered in value."
Supervisor Warren I. Cikins (D-Mount Vernon) asked her: "Where has that happened?"
"Look it up," she said.
"Nowhere in Fairfax County has that ever happened," Cikins said.
"Look it up," was the reply, "just look it up."
What the hearing showed, to the dismay of Briarcliff's supporters on the Board of Supervisors, was that blacks as well as whites, moderate-income people as well as the affluent, can get emotionally exercised about subsidized housing.
"I don't know what you do," said Supervisor James M. Scott (D-Providence), whose district includes Wolftrap and who has labored long and hard to win community support for Briarcliff. In the face of the opposition at the hearing Monday night, Scott asked for and got a deferral of the application.
"Maybe I'm an eternal optimist," Scott told the hearing, "but I always want to see if people can get together before the board takes action."
To Kay Holland, who heads the Saunders B. Moon Housing Development Corp., which is bringing a variety of subsidized housing to the black community of Gum Springs, part of the problem is language.
"Call it affordable housing," she said. "We've got to stop using that name 'public housing' or 'subsidized housing' -- it's a stigma."
Joining the Wolftrap community in opposing Briarcliff was the Fairfax Countywide Black Citizens Association. Robert L. Secundy, president of the group, said: "The problem is that hardly anyone wants subsidized rental units near them. They want private ownership."
As is true throughout most of metropolitan Washington, there is a shortage of rental units -- subsidized or conventional. The vacancy rate in Fairfax is less than 2 percent.
Board Chairman John F. Herrity claimed during Monday night's hearing that the housing authority was concentrating on building rental units, but figures presented by deputy housing director Charles J. Billand indicated otherwise.
In the past two years. the authority has built or planned 457 owner-occupied units and about 600 rental units.
What will happen to Briarcliff will depend on whether its supporters can ease the powerful apprehensions in Wolftrap. The arguments for the project will have to persuade residents like Neportia Williams, Ann Williams' aunt and neighbor, who appeared to be speaking for many of her neighbors when she said:
"I don't feel we are discriminating against anyone in particular. We are trying to protect our neighborhood. We are looking out for our own first."