In what portends to be another vitriolic battle over public housing in Fairfax County, residents of the West Springfield area have accused county housing officials of ignoring the potential impact a proposed housing project could have on the area's "general quality of life."
Under the current proposal, 34 single-family, three- and four-bedroom houses would be built at Hillside and Center roads. The project, to be funded with federal money, would cost about $3.2 million and would be the county's first public housing cooperative.
The proposal has provided exasperated reactions from both sides -- residents opposed to the plan and housing officials who believe the plan should be apaproved.
Deidre Coyne, community liaison for the county Housing and Community Development Department, contends that the arguments against the project, known as the Coventry development, are symptomatic of the general opposition to public housing in Fairfax.
"We're damned if we do and damned if we don't," said Coyne. "I've been in this business for six years and it's really a very similar scenario. We're hearing the same objections, only the names and faces have changed.
"Either the houses are too large, or too small. They're too nice or not nice enough . . . If we went into a neighborhood and the people said we couldn't have chosen a better spot, I would wonder if I was still dealing with reality."
Citing poor transportation, unfair tax burdens and overcrowded schools, area residentss complain that the housing authority has been deaf to specific objections about the Coventry development. The West Springfield Civic Association recently voted to oppose the project.
"I don't think any cause should dbe so sacrosanct, so preordained by God, that one group of people feel they can sacrifice the rights of another group of people," said resident John Betz at a recent civic association meeting. Betz, who was asked by the association to look into the housing project, said he did not necessaraily oppose all subsidized housing, but added that in this case the housing authority has not substantiated it claims that the project was needed.
County officials disputedd that contention. Single-family homes in the county average $93,500 and, according to county records, there are more than 1,700 county residents on the waiting list for public housing. Housing officials said the waiting list represented only a fraction of the residents who could qualify for subsidized housing. Under current income limitations, a family of four making $19,450 or less would be eligle to apply. Since 1971, the number of subsidized housing units in Fairfax has increased 135 percent, or from 1,990 units to 4,687, according to the Metropolital Council of Government.
Need or no need, many residents near the Coventry development said they object not only to the specific proposal but to the general concept of publicly funded housing in Fairfax County.
Said civic association President Dwight Comstock, "The way I was brought up, if you wanted something you worked and saved for it . . . When I came to Washington I rented an apartment for $80 a month, now that apartment would run for three times that much, but incomes are also three times as high . . . Personally, I don't see that it's any harder to buy a house today than it was 10 to 15 years ago."
Deidre Coyne contends that manyof the residents' objections to public housing are based on the fear that the people who live in the projects will be somewhat less civilized than their neighbors.
"What a lot people don't realize is that a large majority of the people in these projects will have jobs and goto work and will live just like everybody else . . ."
"They may not be rising young professionals and may never make a nice GS-14 plus salary, but they are decent people who have responsible jobs and want to be a part of the community. The only difference between them and their neighbors is income."
Not all residents objected to the project.
"It makes sense to me," said Jack Bartley, a member of the civic association who lives less than a mile from the proposed site. "Certainly in our area we don't have much of a share of pupblic housing. We can easily accommodate 34 units. If funds are available and there are peop people in the county who are in need, we should take advantage of the money and provide the housing."
The project is scheduled to come before the county planning commission Feb. 12 and the Board of Supervisosrs Feb. 23.