Helping the Forgotten Demographic

Helping the Forgotten Demographic

Representatives from Chesterbrook Residences, Inc. talk to members of Share.

Two local organizations that are looking out for the interests of low-income residents came together for the first time.

On Thursday, May 4 representatives from Chesterbrook Residences, Inc. gave a presentation at the Share, Inc. monthly meeting, detailing the group's 5-year process of creating Fairfax County's first mixed income assisted living facility.

A groundbreaking ceremony will be held this Wednesday, May 10, at the 5-acre site, located at 2036 Westmoreland St., at the boundary of Falls Church and McLean. The building will have 97 suites and will be able to accommodate up to 109 residents. Of those units, 49 will be reserved for low income seniors whose annual income is $31,000 or less. Five units will be set aside for low income seniors whose annual income is less than $20,000, and of the remaining units, six will be leased at a below market rate, and 42 will be leased at market rate.

"We're looking to have an economically integrated group of people there," said Gerald Hopkins, President of Chesterbrook Residences, Inc. "People are living longer these days, but often their resources don't last as long as their longevity."

Chesterbrook Residences, Inc. (CRI) is a 501(c)3 non-profit, non-sectarian organization that was established in 2001. Its current members include Lewinsville and Immanuel Presbyterian Churches, Temple Rodef Shalom and the National Capital Presbytery (NCP).

Members of Share, Inc., an all volunteer organization that has operated out of McLean for the last 35 years, are all too familiar with the need for affordable housing in this area. The group runs several programs designed to help people in need of financial assistance.

Share runs its weekly food store out of McLean Baptist Church, providing its clients with free canned goods and other food staples. The organization also collects furniture donations, delivering pieces to those in need, in addition to helping needy clients during the holidays. Gerald Hopkins said that he can remember working with Share in the 1970's.

"It's very gratifying to see an organization such as this still going, but in a way it's sad because it means that we haven't taken care of our needs," said Hopkins. "They never seem to go away."

MEMBERS of Share and CRI are well aware that not everybody in McLean and Great Falls fit into the wealthy demographic that is usually associated with both communities. Both groups have made it their mission to help this segment of the population.

"People think McLean, and they don't think poor people," said Donald DiLoreto, Director of CRI. "People thing everybody is rich, but that isn't true."

The Virginia Housing and Development Authority (VHDA) is providing $11 million in bonds, and Fairfax County is providing $1.5 million in grants for Chesterbrook Residences. The County also provided $350,000 in grants and loans, and United Bank provided CRI with a $1.3 million loan for pre-development costs. This loan has already been repaid by CRI.

Last year, CRI launched its "Final Mile" campaign to raise the $1.12 million required to construct the project and carry it through to completion. Thus far, CRI has been able to raise $860,000.

At the Share meeting, Hopkins described the many unexpected obstacles that CRI had to face over the last five years. In addition to dealing with complicated county housing rules, the group also had to handle a fair amount of citizen opposition to the project. Both Hopkins and DiLoreto say that this was the hardest part of the process.

"We feel that we have a good development that we're offering to the community, we feel like we're doing something good, and so to have people stand up and voice opposition, well I still haven't gotten over the anguish I feel in my gut when I find out that people are opposed to it," said Hopkins.

DiLoreto echoed Hopkins' sentiments, and said that while he understands that change can be upsetting to people, he feels very strongly that people need to "think beyond their front door."

"The elderly aren't asking for this," said DiLoreto. "They're kind of quietly accepting things, and they shouldn't have to. How do you teach a sense of obligation? These are people right in our backyard and there is no shame to that."

CRI HAD TO accommodate several seemingly extraneous building requirements, due to the fact that current housing laws are outdated.

"When the laws were written there was no such thing as assisted living," said Hopkins. "Most housing laws were written in the 70's."

Subsidies are only available for housing facilities, not for assisted living facilities. Subsequently, CRI must equip each unit with a kitchen, despite the fact that kitchens are not considered to be safe in assisted living facilities.

"It's a crazy world, and things don't make sense, but you learn to live with it and suspend your rationale for a while," said Hopkins.

Victor Kimm, President of Share, Inc., said that members of Share were a "little overwhelmed," by the amount of work that CRI has had to put into this project.

"It sounded like three people with a bucket went to bail out the ocean and succeeded," said Kimm.

Kimm said that Share will definitely be looking into "future opportunities for cooperation" with CRI, and that Share members certainly commend the group's unfailing commitment to realizing its goal.

"Each year at the end of the year, we provide grants to other non-profits serving our kind of clientele, and I think this year a number of us have expressed a desire to make room for Chesterbrook," said Kimm.