The nonprofit Fellowship Square broke ground on a renovation of its Hunters Woods Fellowship House in Reston on Feb. 27.
Located on Colts Neck Road, the Hunters Woods Fellowship House consists of 225 apartments that currently house about 300 individuals who are all 62 or older and live on fixed incomes of approximately $12,000 a year.
The renovation is necessary to upgrade the aging building and preserve affordable housing that is becoming increasingly valuable as Fairfax County’s population gets older and housing costs rise, Fellowship Square communications consultant Shelly Ducker says.
“These are really people who are low on resources,” Ducker said. “...It is impossible to find housing in the county that would be secure and not sort of be in a transient situation. So, at this point, this is not expanding the senior housing, but we’re preserving what we have for the next 40 years.”
Originally built in 1979, the Hunters Woods Fellowship House has gotten some minor upgrades over the past four decades, but Fellowship Square leaders decided about two years ago that the property needs a more substantial makeover to fully address heating and roofing issues and meet modern standards for energy efficiency and disability accommodations.
As part of the renovation, 12 apartments will be reconfigured to be wheelchair-accessible in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the nonprofit is working with its hired architect team to build amenities for visually-impaired and hearing-impaired residents in some units.
The project also involves replacing the building’s roof, modernizing the heating and cooling system, updating the exterior and landscaping, installing new flooring, finishes, and lighting, and making energy efficiency-related improvements.
While the overall footprint of the building will not change, the new interior and exterior design will include a new entrance and lobby area with both indoor and outdoor patio seating, a new media room with games, a television, and computers, and more flexible communal and social gathering spaces that can be used for both large and small-group activities.
Upgrading the facility’s common areas is crucial to accommodate the programs and classes offered at Hunters Woods and encourage a sense of community to counter the feelings of isolation that many older adults experience, according to Fellowship Square.
A resident of Hunters Woods for the past two years, Shida Chen, 76, says she is looking forward to the expanded game room and social spaces so she can play ping pong and bingo, while fellow resident Cuc Ly, 79, says the renovation will be most welcome for practical upgrades to areas like the laundry rooms and dining room.
85-year-old Sadie Macklemore, who has been at Hunters Woods for 20-plus years, and 77-year-old Pat Byrd, who has lived at Hunters Woods for more than a decade, are both most excited to see the new outdoor patio seating, which will enable residents to spend more time outside.
“The new seating area outside will get us outside in fresh air, visiting with our neighbors,” Byrd said. “I think that will be a wonderful thing.”
The renovation will unfold in phases over three years with the initial work focused on currently vacant units to minimize its impact on residents, who will remain in the building throughout the process.
“There’s going to be some moving around, but nobody is going to be displaced out of the building,” Ducker said.
The $12 million project is expected to be finished in 2022 and is being funded with a refinancing loan that Fellowship Square obtained through the U.S. Federal Housing Administration, which connected the nonprofit with the lender CBRE Group, Inc.
Insured through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the loan totals $24.8 million. Fellowship Square plans to use the funds left over from the Hunters Woods renovation to invest in other future projects, potentially including new affordable housing sites.
The Hunters Woods Fellowship House is one of four affordable housing complexes for seniors that Fellowship Square operates in the Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., region.
The renovation is happening concurrently with the nonprofit’s ongoing redevelopment of its Lake Anne Fellowship House on North Shore Drive in Reston.
With an anticipated completion date of 2023, the $84 million redevelopment project will replace all 240 units in the two existing Lake Anne facilities with a new eight-story, 200,000 square-foot apartment building and 36 market-rate townhouses, according to plans approved by the Fairfax Board of Supervisors on Oct. 16, 2018.
Founded in 1960 with the mission of providing affordable housing and services for older adults, Fellowship Square also operates the Lake Ridge Fellowship House in Woodbridge and the Largo Landing Fellowship House in Upper Marlboro, Md.
The nonprofit offers 670 apartments in all that house roughly 830 residents.
Maintaining and adding affordable housing for seniors is becoming an increasingly urgent task as Fairfax County residents get older and development continues to drive up the housing market, according to Fellowship Square CEO Christy Zeitz.
Fairfax County’s median home value currently sits at $576,553, a 4.8 percent increase over this time last year, and they are projected to rise another 4.1 percent next year, according to the real estate database Zillow.
The Fairfax County Communitywide Housing Strategic Plan published in 2018 found that the average rent in the county increased 17 percent between 2010 and 2015 with home prices going up anywhere from 15 to 27 percent depending on the type of housing, but the average household income increased by just 10 percent over that same period with many low-wage workers seeing no gains.
Assembled by the Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development and the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, the report determined that households with at least one person who is 75 or older represent the second greatest need for more affordable housing behind small-family households and singles, since elderly adults often rely on fixed incomes.
According to Fairfax County’s 2019 demographic report, 13.4 percent of all county residents are 65 or older, and that number is projected to go up to 17.7 percent by 2035.
The Communitywide Housing Strategic Plan estimated that 22.8 percent of households 65 and older will be low-income in 2032.
The plan called for approximately 15,000 additional homes affordable to households earning up to 60 percent of the area’s median income in the next 15 years, but Fairfax County is aiming for the more modest goal of producing a minimum of 5,000 new affordable homes recommended by an affordable housing resources panel that delivered a report to the Board of Supervisors on Mar. 12, 2019.
Created by the Board of Supervisors in July 2018 to build off of the housing strategic plan, the panel recommended that the board commit to maintaining Fairfax County’s affordable housing stock in addition to adding new units by preserving or replacing as many of the county’s existing 9,500 market-affordable units as possible.
The Board of Supervisors voted on Mar. 10 to advertise a real estate tax rate of $1.18 per $100 of assessed value for the Fairfax County Fiscal Year 2021 budget, which will be adopted on May 5.
The three-cent increase over the current tax rate is intended to give the county an additional cent for its affordable housing penny fund as well as two cents to fund other priorities.
“Affordable housing, especially for our lower-income older adults, is one of my top priorities, as well as a countywide priority for the Board of Supervisors,” Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said. “This initiative to preserve and upgrade Hunters Woods Fellowship House…is a critical investment in the greater Reston community and an important contribution to housing solutions in our region.”