Instead of greeting the new Briarwood Trace development in Fairfax County with protests, some of the neighbors are pledging to help build four of the houses.
Those four homes will be constructed by Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia, a local chapter of the national nonprofit builder, in a partnership with Briarwood Trace builder Christopher Cos. and the county. As in all Habitat construction projects, volunteers will work alongside the low-income families that will eventually live in the homes.
Fairfax, one of the nation's wealthiest and most expensive counties, requires that developers include affordable dwelling units (ADUs) in many new projects of 50 units or more.
Briarwood Trace, under construction off Interstate 66 near the Vienna Metro Station, will consist of 87 single-family houses -- 83 "executive style" houses, at prices beginning in the $700,000s, according to the builder, plus the four Habitat houses. Those will be reserved for families that make 20 percent to 50 percent of the local median income of $85,000, or $17,000 to $42,500.
As single-family houses, the four are a rarity among Fairfax ADUs. During talks between the builder and neighborhood groups, "we had insisted when we met that the ADUs be single-family homes we ourselves would be proud to own, because the people who move in will be part of our community," said Anne Pastorkovich, vice president of the Briarwood Citizens Association.
Single-family homes, however, are generally more expensive to build than multifamily dwellings, one reason builders usually shy away from them as a way to provide the mandatory affordable homes.
Still, community insistence sparked a years-long process that eventually led to the partnership among Christopher Cos., Habitat and the county. The result is an innovative way to deal with the county's affordable housing shortage, said Karen Cleveland, executive director of the Habitat chapter. Although Habitat will build the houses, Christopher Cos. is providing the land, as well as donating some labor and materials.
Gerald E. Connolly, the chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said, "It is virtually the first time where we have had this type of tripartite arrangement. It is a whole new model that I think has a lot of promise."
The partnership will build three new homes and renovate one old stone house that is on the site. These houses are smaller than the ones that are being sold at market prices, but they "will blend well with the community," said Craig Havenner, president of Fairfax-based Christopher Cos.
In Fairfax County, as throughout the rest of the region, new construction often brings strident opposition from existing residents, a situation that those in favor of development deride as NIMBY-ism, or the not-in-my-back-yard syndrome.
"In this case, with Habitat being involved, there is a 180-degree turn in perspective and attitude," Havenner said.
He said, "The surrounding neighbors were at the groundbreaking and they were ready to roll up their sleeves."
Connolly said, "What is also so impressive is how welcoming the community was. This is an in-fill development in an existing neighborhood and the neighborhood has embraced these affordable dwelling units."
Cleveland said her organization's model will allow new and old residents to interact.
"They will really truly get to know the [lower-income] families," she said. "A lot of the NIMBY-ism is ignorance. These are proud working families and they just need a little help."
According to Cleveland, the homes will cost around $160,000 each to build. The families that will own the Habitat houses must have a history of paying rent, are required to attend classes on home ownership and must be willing to put in 300 to 500 hours of "sweat equity." They will purchase their homes with small down payments and no-interest mortgages, Cleveland said.
John Lehrer, a 36-year resident of Briarwood, said: "I just think it is a wonderful thing. I know it is going to happen, and if it is going to happen -- and even though I have a bad back -- I am going to try and give them as much of my time as I can."
Now that ground has been broken and neighbors have volunteered to work at Briarwood Trace, Habitat is looking to create similar projects elsewhere. Cleveland said, "We're hoping we can partner with a lot of builders, working closely with the county to create programs that make sense for the companies."
She said, "By bringing private dollars in, I think we can come up with new programs that make sense for the builders and open up more dollars for us to build houses. We need to create more opportunities in Northern Virginia to deal with this crisis."