Dave Lombard has worried for years about what will happen to his oldest child, Suzanne, when he is no longer able to support her.
"All of us know that the day will come when we can't take care of our own children," said Lombard, whose daughter has Down's Syndrome. "Frankly, it's frightening. Private facilities are ruinously expensive. What are we supposed to do, just walk away?"
In 1977, unable to afford the high cost of private care and unwilling to "walk away," the Lombards joined 13 other families from Northern Virginia to establish a private group home for the handicapped that would be affordable for the middle class. They pooled their money, found a site and sought a loan from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to purchase and renovate 16 units in the Belle View condominiums on West Wakefield Drive in Fairfax County.
That's when the trouble began.
Both Fairfax County and HUD have given their approval to the project. But two factors have held up the loan for more than two years, far longer than the usual wait of less than a year for a HUD loan. First, there was opposition from the neighborhood, including at one point that of Del. Frank Medico (R-Fairfax), who owns a unit at Belle View. Then, there is the fact that it is rare for condos, rather than single-family houses, to be used as group homes.
Even HUD officials, who acknowledge that this kind of private effort is exactly what the Reagan administration has tried to encourage, call the delays "unwarranted" and "destructive."
Since the day they applied for the $1.1 million loan, members of the Hartwood Foundation, as the group of families is called, say they have experienced nothing but indifference, opposition and bureaucratic ineffectiveness in their attempt to provide an affordable group home.
"We have gone through two and a half years of nightmares with HUD," said Judy Rosen, president of the foundation. "We have done just what the Reagan administration wants us to do. We are private, family controlled, and we have devised ways of doing things better and cheaper. But there is no end to the petty obstacles they put in our way."
The foundation's goal has been to set up a group residence for handicapped and mentally retarded adults that, to a large degree, would be financially self-sufficient. In Fairfax County, there is only one private group home, and there are 240 people on the waiting list for public residences, according to the county's Redevelopment and Housing Authority.
Members of the Hartwood group say their costs would be significantly lower than the national and local averages for state-supported institutions, which range from $20,000 to $40,000 yearly. They estimate that it would cost about $13,800 to support each resident, and that less than 25 percent of that would come from public funds.
While the group waits for the money it needs to buy and renovate the units, it has paid more than $80,000 in interest to the developers -- money originally earmarked to care for handicapped and retarded residents -- to keep the units from being sold to someone else.
"It is outrageous that people of good will have organized themselves at great cost and great pain and have been treated in this fashion by HUD," said Jerry McMurray, staff director for the House subcommittee on housing and community development. "They did not provide the assistance or cooperation that is normally expected in these projects." He also blamed Medico for the delays.
Medico and HUD officials deny allegations that they have interfered with the progress of the Hartwood group home.
Medico, who went to HUD on at least one occasion to discuss whether the foundation should look elsewhere, said he is now neutral about the project. "I was concerned with the location because it was a commercial area," Medico said. "I went to HUD and talked to them about some units in Mount Vernon that were already equipped for handicapped people. I just wanted HUD to know they were available."
HUD officials, who say the loan is in its final stages, call the location -- near a shopping mall and with easy access to transportation -- "ideal."
At hearings on the project last year, Medico said he acted in his role as a state legislator, not as an owner at Belle View. But when he sent a four-page letter to John F. Herrity, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, on Sept. 4, 1984, advising him that "community residents are very alarmed about the project impact on their community and the secrecy that has shielded it from them," Medico never mentioned that he had a financial interest in Belle View.
HUD says it has encouraged the application for a housing subsidy and low-interest mortgage under section 202 of the federal housing program. But while it admits that the delays have been excessive, HUD suggests that the unique nature of the Hartwood home is at least partly to blame for that.
"We may have regulations here that cover the general run of applications, and then along comes the unusual," said I. Margaret White, manager of the D.C. area office of HUD. "If it's something unusual, we have to look at it and see how it fits into our overall structure. This required some extra work."
The HUD rules have been particularly complicated because Belle View is a condominium. The owners association, for example, has said that only owners may submit plans for renovation, but HUD has insisted that the plans be approved before Hartwood can own the units. HUD says it is waiting for final approval of renovations from the condominium owners.
Neighbors have largely supported the project, but some have complained that HUD would have the ability to foreclose on Hartwood if it failed. In that case, the agency then could do what it wanted with the units.
Some residents have voiced reservations about the extent of renovations that would be necessary.
"I have no problem with my tax money going to those who need it," said Ruth Heimburg, a resident of Belle View. "But I don't like to be duped. We can't even have hooks on our porches to hang plants, and they are punching holes in their roofs, building ramps and totally remaking the condos. We never knew about this when we moved in."
For the Hartwood families, each new delay brings more frustration. "It really makes you wonder," said Rosen. "If we can't get this off the ground, how could somebody far away, without access to Congress and HUD, do it?"