The maximum income for a family of four to be eligible for the 44 public housing rental townhouses proposed for Western Fairfax County by the county's housing authority is $19,450, not $21,000, as reported in the Virginia Weekly Dec. 25. The incorrect figure was supplied by the county's Department of Housing and Community Development. The $21,000 maximum applies to another housing subsidy plan.
The flyer came to the point bluntly: "We need your body.Help us to fill to overflowing the Board Room at the Massey Building. Please bring yourself, spouse, friends and neighbors."
It worked. Last week the hastily formed West Fairfax County Citizens Association brought in more than 200 persons to register a protest against public housing at a hearing before the Fairfax Board of Supervisors.
The supervisors had already endorsed the project, which would involve 44 subsidized rental townhouses in the Centerville area near Rte. 29-211 and I-66. But the association, which was formed after the supervisors' decision, was fighting to persuade the board to reverse its approval.
The supervisors refused to re-open the issue, however, and the subsidized units -- the only public housing in Western Fairfax -- will go forward.
Supporters of subsidized housing for Fairfax's low-and moderate-income residents won a victory. But, like some earlier victories, it had an unsettling quality.
The scene at last week's hearing has been reenacted many times when the issue of subsidized housing had come up for a vote. It is no secret that such projects have no broad constituency in the county -- or at least one that speaks as loudly as the well-organized critics.
The 200 or so western Fairfax residents who came to last week's hearing seemed to be genuinely concerned that 44 subsidized units would, in the words of one of their leaders, "threaten" and even "destroy" prevailing lifestyles. If they feel that way, what kind of reception are the tenants of the subsidized townhouses likely to get when they move in?
Consider the feelings of Christopher Bertrand, president of the association. He said in an interview that the rental units would "destroy the quality of life" in Center Heights, a small subdivision of 22 single-family houses on three- and-four-acre lots.
Other leaders of the West Fairfax Association also expressed some revealing preceptions of such housing.
For example, one speaker, Glenn R. Schlarman, said the project should not be built because there is no public transportation and occupants of the subsidized housing don't have cars. "They can't get to and from work, so they can't earn money to pay rent," Schlarman told the supervisors.
But is it reasonable to assume that the tenants would be literally marooned, with no transportation to work, shopping and other services?
Deirdre C. Coyne of Fairfax's Housing and Community Development Project said a recent survey by one of the local housing authorities found 80 percent of the low- and moderate-income residents did own automobiles.
"They may not be new cars," she said, "but they run and get people to and from work. People will forego entertainment to have a car. It's a fact of life."
As for the "threat" to middle-class lifestyles, Coyne said most of the tenants of the Townhouses proposed for western Fairfax would be working families; few of them would be on welfare.
West Fairfax Association speakers referred repeatedly to "poor" and "underprivileged" families being in their midst. But how poor, and how underprivileged? A family of four could earn as much as $21,000 per year and still qualify for a rental subsidy.
Some of the worst fears about public housing seem to be based on old, long-scrapped programs that gave a bad name to the whole effort to provide decent housing for people who couldn't afford it. But in recent years, under federal mandate, subsidized housing residents have a much wider range of incomes. And there are tougher criteria for tenant selection.
In an effort to diffuse opposition to subsidized housing, the Fairfax housing authority has been concentrating on projects of 50 or fewer dwellings. Yet even this scaling down has not eased the fears.
The county has many success stories in subsidized housing. But the most successful projects are those that don't call attention to themselves -- that blend into the surrounding communities so well that many people don't even know they exist.Thus for all their success, their story doesn't get told. Fears are not answered with facts.
Contrary to fears, subsidized housing projects have not lowered property values. Nor have they discouraged private builders from putting up expensive houses across the street. These are facts that can be ascertained by checking property assessment books and the records of new building projects.
Supervisor Marie B. Travesky (R. -- Springfield), whose district has produced some of the most vocal opposition to subsidized housing (including the Western Fairfax project), said, "We need a more effective education process. Ministers tell me they support subsidized housing, but they say they don't tell parishioners that."
Maybe they ought to. Maybe other supporters of subsidized housing ought to bring some of the facts to fearful residents who see a spectre. And maybe the housing authority ought to take apprehensive members of the Western Fairfax County Citizens Association on a tour of the subsidized projects that have already been built and are part of the suburban landscape in Fairfax County.
Then maybe there would be a constituency for subsidized housing in Fairfax County.