Op-Ed: We Need To Ensure Fellowship House’s Future

Lake Anne Fellowship HouseThis is an op-ed from Connie Hartke of Reston Citizens Association. Lake Anne Fellowship House had recently planned a redevelopment project. That recently fell through, and the affordable senior housing faces an uncertain future.

RCA feels it is urgent that the greater Reston community understands the implications of development on one of our Reston Comprehensive Plan 10 Planning Principles, which is “housing provided for all ages and incomes.”[1] Our community support is needed to ensure that land owners and potential developers respect and honor our Plan.

Who Lives at Lake Anne Fellowship House (LAFH): Folks 62 or older on limited fixed incomes and those of any age with a qualifying disability and income. A good description is at fellowshipsquare.org/fsf/who-are-we.

Who owns it: Fellowship Square Foundation (FSF), a non-profit provider of affordable housing for the elderly and disabled in the DC metropolitan area. They own and operate LAFH, Reston’s Hunters Woods Fellowship House and two others.

The FSF website does not currently post a mission statement, but we find this on page 5 of their 2013 annual report:

“We specialize in financially fragile residents. We celebrate that we make a difference in their lives and the life of the community they live in.”

The original purpose of the Foundation according to its founder Dr. John Scherzer, told to the RCA on March 13, 1970:

“The purpose of the Foundation as set forth in our Charter is to sponsor adequate retirement facilities for lower and middle income people who must depend for their livelihood upon the fixed income from civil service retirement and/or Social Security.”[2]

How LAFH Came to Be: In 1970, FSF purchased the land that LAFH sits on for $138,000. On this property at the corner of North Shore Drive and Village Road two adjoining buildings were built with HUD and VHDA[3] loans.

What LAFH is not: It is not an assisted living or skilled nursing facility. Although it is not ADA compliant by current standards, LAFH remains accessible for the majority of current and potential residents. As the founder of FSF said in the briefing to the RCA in 1970: “All our plans have been focused upon the features of comfort and convenience for people . . . who are active, self-sufficient and independent.”[4] LAFH today still fulfills this need.

Why should you care? Because this could be you, your sibling, parent, best friend. Medical bills are the No. 1 cause of bankruptcy[5] in the United States. Retirement planning can quickly go awry and one can be left with little more than Social Security income to live on. Let our Fairfax County staff and government know that you support the Reston Comprehensive Planning Principle for “housing provided for all ages and incomes.”

Know someone who might want to live there? Get on the waiting list now. When you call or stop by, do not be deterred if told “no vacancies.” This is what RCA Board member Connie Hartke was told. Sources indicate there are approximately 30 of the 124 “market rate” apartments vacant.[6]  When Connie pressed that she was inquiring for a market rate (unsubsidized) apartment (monthly rental of $483 – $803), she was told there is a 4-5 month waiting list. One apartment that has been vacant for over 10 years was just rented. It seems the waiting list might move along if more of the vacant apartments are made available.

Several of us in the Reston Citizens Association (RCA) have friends who live at Lake Anne Fellowship House (LAFH) and we have visited the buildings and their apartments. What we find is comfortable, clean and quite adequate for many.

What does the future hold for LAFH? RCA will be following developments closely since we believe that just as in 1970, Reston still cherishes the “proposal to make the limited-income elderly a planned part of the social structure of the new community envisioned by Mr. Simon . . .”[7]

When FSF teamed with a developer not experienced in the affordable housing market, residents were frightened. They wrote a letter to FSF which has been signed by 183 (71 percent) of the residents. [8] They are a community, and they are part of our Reston community.

Sources:

[1] Staff, DPZ. WorkingDraft (Strawman) of Reston Master Plan (n.d.): n. page 11 in print, page 14 online. Web.

[2] Erickson, Jack. A Mission to Serve: The Life of John A. Scherzer and the Birth of Fellowship Square Foundation. Reston, VA: RedBrick, 1989. 54. Print.

[3] VHDA = Virginia Housing Development Authority. This mortgage will be paid off in 2016. At that time, the current rental assistance program can be converted to Section 8 assistance.

[4] Erickson, Jack. A Mission to Serve: The Life of John A. Scherzer and the Birth of Fellowship Square Foundation. Reston, VA: RedBrick, 1989. 54. Print.

[5] LaMontagne, Christina. “Medical Bankruptcy Accounts for Majority of Personal Bankruptcies” NerdWallet Health, 26 Mar. 2014. Web. 17 Oct. 2014.

[6] FSF 2013Annual Report, pages 17 and 19

[7] Erickson, Jack. A Mission to Serve: The Life of John A. Scherzer and the Birth of Fellowship Square Foundation. Reston, VA: RedBrick, 1989. 58. Print.

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