A Fairfax County agency is expected to abandon its three-year effort to build public housing in a West Springfield suburb, marking what some county supervisors say is a retreat from building low-income projects in affluent neighborhoods.
The semi-autonomous Fairfax housing authority, bowing to strong pressure from the Board of Supervisors and Rep. Stanford E. Parris, will divert funds from the controversial Coventry project to the politically more palatable purchase of apartments in Annandale Terrace, officials said yesterday. A developer is converting the 244 apartments there to condominiums, threatening low-income tenants with eviction.
Several supervisors said the switch, which the authority is expected to approve at its next meeting, should initiate a policy of preserving apartments typical of Fairfax's densely-populated eastern neighborhoods instead of forcing low-income projects into resistant subdivisions in the developing outer county. Coventry was intended as a development of 30 single-family homes in a neighborhood of single-family homes and townhouses.
A majority of the supervisors, including Board Chairman John F. Herrity, have insisted that Coventry be scrapped. "There won't be any money appropriated next fiscal year unless they cooperate this fiscal year," Herrity said yesterday.
Herrity also said the board, which gives the authority most of its operating fund, must exercise closer control over it.
Supervisor James M. Scott, the authority's most consistent supporter on the board, said the county should not retreat from its commitment to disperse low-income housing throughout the county. He also questioned whether the authority will be able to transfer federal funds intended for Coventry to Annandale Terrace.
"Are we going to lose 34 or more units for people who desperately need it in Fairfax County?" asked Scott. "That's the real outrage."
Supervisors Marie Travesky, whose district includes the Coventry site, and Audrey Moore, whose district includes Annandale Terrace, both said it makes more sense to buy apartments, at $31,650 each, than build the proposed homes, whose minimum $85,000 price tag inflamed Coventry opponents. "We felt we were helping more people this way," Travesky said.
Coventry ran into trouble last summer, when neighborhood opponents enlisted the support of 8th District Republican Parris. He convinced federal housing officials to stall funding long enough to discourage the proposed Coventry developer.
Fairfax housing officials, vowing to develop the site themselves, bought the 11.5 acre site at Hillside and Center Roads anyway. HUD, however, continued to withhold the $3 million needed to build the project.
Last month the supervisors, few of whom were enthusiastic about Coventry, were angered when the authority declared it did not have $1.4 million to purchase 45 apartments at Annandale Terrace. The board wants to rent homes to poor and elderly tenants who cannot afford to buy there.
"The housing authority was out to spite the community by rushing out to buy this thing, and now they were finding themselves short where they really need it, which is buying apartments going condo," Travesky said.
Last month the board urged the authority to sell the Coventry site and use the proceeds as a down payment at Annandale Terrace. The supervisors also asked Parris to convince HUD that Fairfax should be allowed to use the Coventry $3 million at Annandale Terrace or a similar project in the county.
Parris supported the request, and a spokesman for him said yesterday a HUD decision is expected next week.
Scott said that only the $445,000 may ultimately be salvaged from the federal fund earmarked for Coventry. "All this stuff about transferability is just stuff at this point," he said. "There is no commitment. What's going to happen is that over $2.5 million in housing funds will be lost to the county because of all these delays."
Housing authority officials, who discussed the issue behind closed doors Tuesday night, would comment only in general terms this week, but county officials said the authority had agreed in principle to their request.
"There's no question that there is a real priority for us to get out there and buy as many condo units as we can to preserve as much of the stock as we can," said housing director Walter D. Webdale. "But at the same time, if there is money for new construction, the need is so great we should take advantage of that also."