A Fairfax County taxpayers group went to court yesterday in an effort to stop the county from issuing bonds that would help finance low- and moderate-income housing unless the authority specifies its plans in advance.
The legal challenge, which apparently has the support of John F. Herrity, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, is the first of its kind in the county and could prevent the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority from floating up to $50 million in bonds, a portion of which would be used to support subsidized housing.
Herrity was slated to testify for attorneys representing the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance, which is contesting the county bond sale. No officials were called because the case stalled over legal points. It was rescheduled for Nov. 24.
Herrity is a longtime foe of authority efforts to build subsizied housing in Fairfax, where citizen opposition to the attempt has been strong. The political controversy has increased over the last few months, as citizens successfully blocked one proposed project in Springfield and targeted the authority's proposed bond issue soon after.
Yesterday's hearing before Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Lewis H. Griffith was orginially supposed to be routine, with the court reviewing the bond proposal. If there were no objections and the court deemed the bond proposal in good order, the housing authority would then issue bonds. The bond proceeds would be lent to private developers to build housing, a portion of which must be reserved for low- and moderate-income residents.
But three lawyers, Steve Armstrong, representing the alliance, and Connie Parks and Gus T. Hampilos, representing themselves, argued that the housing authority's plans were unclear. The lawyers asked Griffith to let them question county officials about their housing plans before the court certified the bonds as being in good order.
Housing authority lawyers argued that under the law they were not required to specify housing plans until the bonds were validated by the court. They said taxpayers have several opportunities to object during later administrative proceedings.
There are currently 500 public housing units and several thousand other units indirectly subsidized by the state or federal government in affluent Fairfax County, which has a population of 596,900. Lawyers for the housing authority said they viewed the court challenge as a continuation of past opposition to subsidized housing.
"It was very clear the defendant's motives in (questioning) the (housing) commissioners were not pure," said Richard Goldman, a private lawyer hired by the housing authority. "The questions were simply designed to annoy, embarass and harass these witnesses."