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Virginia Journal of Education

A Towering Achievement

Association retirees in Fairfax are the driving force behind Tysons Towers, a rent-assisted retirement community.

By Dennis Joseph Pfennig

Retirement can offer former educators a number of options: Some return to the classroom as substitutes or even full-time instructors or support staff; some find new jobs, either full- or part-time; some devote their lives to the care of loved ones; some travel; many volunteer in their communities. Not too many oversee the operation a six-story, rent-assisted retirement community complete with a management company, business center, library, fitness center, and full-time activities director.

But that’s what nine former educators do, seven members of the Fairfax Education Association (FEA)-Retired Council and two members of the Virginia Education Association-Retired Council. Through their years of hard work, about 300 Northern Virginia seniors, all 62 or older, are today happily settled in Tysons Towers.

Some forty years ago, FEA leaders had several ideas for the future betterment of both members and the overall community, and so established a credit union and a supplemental retirement program. Then they set their sights on building a retirement housing property where members could live in old age. Since FEA obviously didn’t have funds on hand for such a multi-million-dollar project, it enlisted the help of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD embraced the idea, but stipulated that residency could not be limited to FEA members.

So the nonprofit Fairfax Education Association-Retirement Housing Corporation (FEA-RHC) was formed in 1973 and set about searching for property on which to build a 274-unit rental housing community. Tysons Towers is the result, today governed by FEA-RHC and the Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA). HUD, through VHDA, provides Section 8 rental assistance payments. Tenants may not have income exceeding $49,150, if single, and $56,150, if a couple.

The only current connection between FEA and FEA-RHC is that nine of the corporation’s 11 board members must be FEA members; the other two are tenants. I currently serve as president, with Mimi Dash as vice-president and Karen Beasley as secretary.

Tysons Towers has a full-time staff which includes managers and maintenance engineers, along with several part-time office workers.

We’ve been very busy in the last year, as our contract with HUD was due to expire. Taking the necessary steps for a new one involved hiring attorneys, an outside consultant, an architect, a general contractor, and others to guide us through the bureaucratic maze. When it was all over, we’d signed for a $19 million federal loan that will upgrade our building and ensure rent subsidies for the next 20 years. Tenants will continue to pay 30 percent of their rent; the federal government provides the other 70 percent.
VEA-Retired members on the board include Larry Armentrop, John Duncan, Kathy Davis, Walt Mika (former VEA President), Cheryl Perry, Dash, Beasley, and myself. We serve alongside Kitty Reip, our still-employed FEA Board member, and the two tenant representatives. All are dedicated to preserving affordable housing for seniors in NOVA, and it’s been a very rewarding way to pass our retirement years.

Dr. Pfennig, a member of the VEA Board of Directors and the VEA-Retired Council, has been associated with Tysons Towers since 1995.  For more information on the project, visit


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