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After Plan Falls Apart, Fellowship House Seeks Solution

by Karen Goff October 3, 2014 at 11:00 am 4 Comments

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

  • Constance (Connie) Hartke

    I am disappointed this article references so much old information. It has come to light in the past few months that the situation is not as dire as the former board member/developer would want us all to think. The Reston Citizens Association looks forward to progress in keeping with Reston’s goals of housing for all and in keeping with the following written by LAFH residents:

    VALUES OF OUR GROUP ON BEHALF OF THE RESIDENTS OF LAKE ANNE FELLOWSHIP HOUSE

    1. The residents need and are entitled* to have input into the process and recognition that we are not senile; we need and want to be part of any proposed redevelopment and not be treated like animals in a zoo.
    *(per HUD regulations)

    2. Since we are the “objects” of the mission of the Fellowship Foundation, we, low
    income seniors, should be consulted about our opinions concerning our futures.

    3. We are a community unique in its makeup; multi-cultural and united. We care about one-another and look out for one-another.

    4. We appreciate that this real estate is valuable, but we feel that the Fellowship
    Foundation needs to think “outside the box” and consider all of the wealthy corporations, churches, etc. that now are part of Reston.

    5. Reston is a unique place in the United States and throughout the world! People have visited from all over the world to study it! The Fellowship Foundation should continue to
    honor the vision of Dr. Scherzer, as well as the successful principles of Robert Simon on which Reston was founded..

    • Karen Goff

      Thanks, Connie. The Lake Anne Fellowship House management did not make me aware of the residents’ mission statement. I will follow up in an another story. Can you email me the contact info for the person in charge of that? Thanks.

      • Constance (Connie) Hartke

        I’ll be in touch next week.

  • Andy Dufresne

    Rock poet at arms, Ted Nugent, has done a decent job defending the 2nd Amendment.

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