After Plan Falls Apart, Fellowship House Seeks Solution

Lake Anne Fellowship HouseThe Fellowship Square Foundation will regroup this fall to figure out a way forward without rebuilding the aging Lake Anne Fellowship House.

The foundation, which owns and operates the affordable senior housing across North Shore Road from Lake Anne Plaza, had worked for about a year on a plan to tear down the existing building and rebuild it on the same site, as well as build an additional building with 285 market-rate units.

But early last month, Fellowship Square notified the Fairfax County zoning officials that it was deferring the application indefinitely “due to our inability to advance our land use proposal in a manner that will produce the best possible outcome for our residents.”

Faye Codding, Fellowship Square’s Director of Community Outreach, says the group “remains committed to our mission” of providing affordable senior housing.

“We don’t have anything [to report] at this time,” she said Thursday. “The board meets in November and in January, and the board is exploring all possibilities.”

Lake Anne Fellowship House currently has 240 units for seniors, 114 of which are subsidized. The building, which was built in the early 1970s and does not meet all Americans With Disability Act standards, also has a 20 percent vacancy rate.

Former board member John Thillman pointed out some of the building’s issues in a presentation to Reston’s Planning and Zoning Committee last November. He said the two Lake Anne buildings lose about $10,000 a month.

“We’re bleeding red ink,” he said. “The main reason the rent is low is the buildings were built in 1971 and ’74. The standards used are not the same as today.”

The buildings are also in bad need of repair. The air conditioning does not work in many units, so the foundation is unable to rent those units, Thillman said. Following the 2012 Derecho in Reston, power was out in the building for several days, leaving residents without cooling, working elevators, refrigeration or the ability to cook.

Thillman said last fall the best proposal would be to tear down the existing buildings, even though there were two different mortgage holders for the six-acre property: The Department of Housing and Urban Development for the west side and the Virginia Housing Development Authority for the eastern half.

Thillman said last year the group’s other options were to keep the buildings the way they are and sell to a developer who is not required to keep seniors in mind in a few years when the mortgages are paid off , or to renovate, which would cost more than a new building.

“The bottom line is the two buildings need to come down,” he said. “We have to move forward. “We have maybe two years, maybe less,  before we go bankrupt.”

Edward Byrnes, a member of the Fellowship House Foundation board and chair of its Lake Anne Redevelopment Committee, wrote in a August letter to county officials that he still believed that foundation’s plan was a good one in spite of criticism that many low-income seniors would be displaced.

According to Byrne, there were several meetings with Fairfax County officials over the summer, but the county was not receptive to the idea of offering Section 8 housing vouchers to existing residents, which the Fellowship Foundation needed in order to progress with the zoning application.

“We still believe that our proposal for 140 permanently affordable senior housing units and 285 market-rate units is the best available means for replacing our aging residential complex and retaining affordable housing for seniors in Reston for the next 40 years,” Byrnes wrote to the county.

“We arrived at this proposal after several years of reviewing alternate solutions … In the end, we concluded that a self-help strategy of using the increased value of our land at Lake Anne Fellowship House to finance the rebuilding of our complex provided the most dependable and achievable solution. “

Byrnes also wrote that in the wake of the deal to rebuild falling apart, the foundation has lost the ability to prepay the mortgage and “access the expanded housing safety net for our current residents. “

He wrote that the foundation must now prepare a significant portion of residents for “the loss of their existing housing subsidy and, likely, their ability to pay rent.”

Wrote Byrnes:

For Fellowship Square Foundation, we will be forced to raise rents to market rates for those units that have lost their subsidy to cover the expense of operating this building.”

This is not the outcome we want, but the consequence of our inability to proceed with our redevelopment proposal. We have been criticized by the county for proposing the build only 140 affordable senior units rather than replacing the current 240 units. But, as we have stated, the value of our property is limited and that limited value can only produce  140 new, affordable senior housing units.

Ironically, by failing to support our redevelopment proposal, the community will still lose 100 affordable senior housing units. The difference is that the remaining 140 units will be aging, 40-year-old units rather than new units

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