Toasting Affordable Housing on the Pike

by ARLnow.com October 6, 2010 at 6:57 pm 2,366 37 Comments

At a fundraiser last night at Clarendon Ballroom, the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing touted its major accomplishments from the past year. Among them: the completion of the Columbia Grove apartments, the purchase and planned renovation of the Buchanan Gardens apartments, and the just-announced deal to build 122 units of affordable housing behind the planned Arlington Mill Community Center.

What did those accomplishments have in common? They’re all along the Columbia Pike corridor.

APAH’s focus on the Pike reflects the county’s focus on preserving affordable housing and diversity along the Pike. With the area’s revitalization well-underway, the Pike’s 3,000 aging but affordable market rate apartments will inevitably be renovated, demolished or will simply get more expensive, forcing many lower-income families out.

“Affordable housing is one of our most important policy goals and one of the most difficult policy challenges,” said County Board Vice Chairman Chris Zimmerman. He called the Arlington Mill apartment deal “a good additional step” to achieving the county’s goal of increasing the Pike’s current stock of about 1,000 dedicated affordable housing units nearly five-fold in a span of 30 years.

One problem with that goal is the potential cost. The county simply doesn’t have the money to buy or build that many apartments. That, says APAH President Nina Janopaul, is why creative dealmaking is key to the Pike’s affordable housing future.

“The economics of this deal are great,” she said. “I think they have pioneered a new model of using existing vacant public land to turn it into affordable housing… by giving away that land initially, we have an opportunity to access other funding sources.”

But public land along the Pike is limited. Those 122 units at Arlington Mill will take up all the remaining county land on the site. Future affordable housing gains will likely be achieved in large part through density transfers — letting developers build taller buildings in exchange for footing the bill for a set number of affordable housing units.

If all works out, the county’s subsidy for the Arlington Mill apartments — aside from the land — could be zero. In fact, APAH’s proposal calls for making lease payments to the county. The $30 million in development costs are expected to be financed largely with low-income housing tax credits from the state.

Construction on the apartments is expected to begin in 2012 and wrap up by the end of 2013.

  • NorthAdams

    So we are going to spend $245,000 for units in South Arlington? You can buy existing stock for much less than that. Check out MLS. or craigslist.

    • O.C.

      The units are affordable in perpetuity, NorthAdams. In. Per. Pe. Tu. I. Ty. That is, long after the gentrification coming to Columbia Pike.

      • Frenchy B


      • NorthAdams

        so what does this do for people buying and home ownership??

    • HousingFan

      The total development cost for the project ($30 million) is not wildly different than for many other residential projects of similar size and scale — whether or not they’re market-rate or affordable units. As mentioned already, the units will be committed at affordable levels for the long term.

      As is also common practice in affordable housing, the units would be rented at levels based on qualifying tenant income levels, and not on the total development costs per se. Amortized over the life of the building, and taking into consideration maintenance over time, $245,000 per unit is a pretty good deal.

      The federal government offers the referenced tax credit financing (through the states) to allow these kinds of projects to get built all over the country. I don’t know all the specifics of this deal, but it sounds very promising thus far.

    • John Snyder

      What do you mean “we”? Arlington is not paying for the building, APAH is. The financing comes through federal and state programs that give the lenders tax credits. The loans are paid back like any other rental apartment building, from the rent.

  • Piker

    Enough of the affordable housing. Give vouchers to the low income families to rent market apartments. All these affordable housing projects to is compete with private industry. It’s reasonable in business to not expect the government to come into a neighborhood and not open a subsidized, competing business.

  • BoredHouseWife

    “It’s Expected in business to expect the government to hand out subsidies.”

  • Let’s Be Free

    Hey wait a second. I bought my place for less than what these abodes will cost. So it’s up to me to subsidize others? God, I wish Chris Zimmerman would find some way to assuage his conscience for his gifts to developers other than reaching into my pocket.

    • John Snyder

      Arlington is not going to spend $245K per unit, APAH, a private non-profit will. The $30M construction cost will be financed by loans and paid back by the renters through their rent. The people making the loans get a tax break from the Commonwealth of Virginia on the interest they earn. And while you are invoking God, read the Gospel of Matthew. God has some pretty specific instructions on “subsidizing” others.

      • NorthAdams

        Arlington upzoned the land. WHo owns that? Arlington. Without Arlington upzoning the land this would not be possible. So then we have a right to challenge the finances. Sure APAH owns the units, but they could go and buy units in other buildings for less and OWN those too.
        APAH and AHC keep people in the renter-hell cycle and keeps people from owning. These are units that will never sell and thus never increase the inventory of available housing to be purchased and when the invneotry goes up the prices come down thus making ownership more affordable.

  • RestonRunner86

    “With the area’s revitalization well-underway, the Pike’s 3,000 aging but affordable market rate apartments will inevitably be renovated, demolished or will simply get more expensive, forcing many lower-income families out.”

    This is EXACTLY what I was forewarning you people about in other threads in which I was vehemently railed against with my credibility coming into question. I was told by several snarky people, to paraphrase, “Here’s a 1-BR in your price range on the Pike. See what a little research can do? Now shut up, go away, and don’t let the door…” Here’s the thing. Those units can and WILL appreciate tremendously in value, leading to a significant rent increase that would have eventually priced me (and others who aren’t high-earners yet aren’t impoverished) out. In a decade once the trolley is operational and gentrification is in full swing, those $1,100/month 1-BR units will be $1,500/month (in today’s dollars). I bet at one point there were affordable 1-BR market-rate units in Clarendon of all places. Now? Not so much. This is what I was warning about when I claimed that Arlington would eventually become just like Manhattan—a playground for the affluent, subsidized bread crumbs for the less-fortunate, and the vast majority of the middle-class ending up in Queens or Paramus. Ditto here. We’ll have entitled 20-something yuppies sponging off their well-to-do parents, struggling families living in subsidized housing, and then the middle-class backbone of the community will end up relegated to a poorly-planend slum like Fairfax County.

    I’ve decided to stop arguing points I’ll never have any clout with and am instead in the process of securing a transfer to another city. I’ll be curious to see if my prediction for an Arlington of the “rich or poor” comes true in the future, though, and I’m sure it will. By that time I’ll be a homeowner in my new city.

    • PikeHoo

      Lady/Dude, you need to get used to the fact of life that you can’t afford to live anywhere you want. Every town has it’s unaffordable part and DC isn’t any different than anywhere else. Be happy that you have a roof over your head, food on the table, and computer to browse arlnow.com on.

    • david

      I’m not sure if your intent is to get people to feel sorry for you but I’m really confused by your sense of entitlement. Why do you feel you deserve a place in Arlington? You really need to follow the same path that I and lots of people currently in their early 20’s followed. For example, after school I slummed it in group homes in Arlington until I had enough saved to purchase a small studio in Courthouse, I then sold it and upgraded to a condo in Clarendon, I then sold that and upgraded to a house in Arlington. Everything isn’t handed to you immediately after graduation; it takes time, patience and a little bit of luck.

      Best of luck in your new city and update us where you land (seriously – i’m not being sarcastic).

    • I really don’t see a problem with the gentrification of Arlington in general and the Pike in particular. I want my neighborhood to get better. I want the property values to go up. Arlington is where you move when you grow up and don’t want to send your kids to school in the District. I agree with Hoo and David, just because you want to live in Arlington, doesn’t give you the right to if you can’t afford it. No one ever said life is fair. There’s a reason it costs a lot to live here, mainly because while it’s close to the District, it isn’t the District, and because of the services and amenities available Arlington is a great place to live and I don’t see how more affordable houseing will make it any better.

  • PikeHoo

    Does anyone else find it funny that the APAH had their event to celebrate their affordable housing gains made in South Arlington at a venue in North Arlington? Maybe sad instead of funny?

    • Mothership

      Adding insult to injury, the Free Clinic gala is permanently located in Tysons Corner, while P. Brennan’s is more than half empty, time and again.

      • PikeHoo

        I ate at P. Brennan’s a couple nights ago and I was shocked at how GOOD the food was for a bar. I hope it does well, because it’s a nice place and the service was solid too.

        • Frenchy B

          PikeHoo, I agree – P. Brennan’s does have excellent food (Starr Hill Northern Lights on tap is nice too). I do worry, though, that their menu may be a bit too esoteric – having a few more bar munchies might help.

          BTW, good username – wish I’d thought of it!

          • PikeHoo

            No doubt. I’m sure a better selection of bar apps (the usual fried selection) to share would help on the food sales side. They were pretty upscale when I would have killed for a chips and cheese.

            I know it’s English, but I’d like to see Tetley’s or a bitter ale equivalent on tap too.

      • Arlingtonian

        P. Brennan’s is delicious and cozy with good brew and food. I hope it doesn’t close, I could see some boring giant chain moving in on the big space it would leave.

        • S. Arl. resident

          I agree about the delicious food at P. Brennan’s. I am glad they decided to open on Columbia Pike. I wonder where their permanent sign is? Still tied up with the County sign administrators? We know they cannot use sidewalk chalkboards to advertise…

          • Arlingtonian

            They do have a new permanent one attached to the building … it’s pretty cool looking, one you can view easily while driving past the building, a la the Arlington Drafthouse ARLINGTON sign. I think it just went up a few days ago.

        • Thirsty

          @Arlingtonian I like P. Brennan’s but “cozy”? For a pub, it’s cavernous. It’s a beer hall! Mothership’s comment about hosting county events there is spot on.

          • PikeHoo

            True, it’s freaking huge. You almost wish they could cash in their Irish theme in October for a German beer hall or garden – in the spirit of Columbia Pike diversity, of course.

          • Arlingtonian

            “Cozy” doesn’t have to mean small … just anything that has a sense of warmth and relaxation … and that’s the way I feel after a few at P. Brennan’s. 😉

      • S. Arlington Resident

        Check your facts Mothership. The Arlington Free Clinic is located directly behind P. Brennans in the same building.

        Arlington Free Clinic
        2921 11th St. South
        Arlington, VA 22204

        • Greg

          The Gala, not the offices.

        • Katie

          Yes, I think all of us who wait for the bus in the morning have noticed our new “neighbors” sleeping on the benches and smoking in the covered bus shelter.

    • Steve

      They had the celebration blocks from the Views at Clarendon project, the impetus for lawsuit after lawsuit from local neighbors.

      • anonymous

        Unfortunately, the neighbors were shut out in the discussion about the Views. The BOARD did what they wanted to do, even changed the rules to get what they wanted. Amazing that any intelligent person would continue to vote for any member of the County Board. Throw all of them out.

  • Willy

    I seem to recall working hard and playing by the rules all of my life so I could afford to live in a nice place like Arlington with my family. I’m tired of having my taxes raised so other people can be given money so they can live here too. That is just plain not fair beyond a point, and we have passed that point. All County Board members ought to be dumped at the next possible election.

    • John Snyder

      Renters are not given money. Arlington is not paying for the project. The developer is, and the tenants are going to pay off the loan through rent, just like every other apartment building. Affordable housing developments can get cheaper financing through state and federal tax credits to the lenders, but the money still has to be paid back, and rent of the residents (who also pay taxes) is the source of the money.

      • PikeHoo

        Somewhere in Arlington, a bird chirps and a mind was just blown…

    • WithReason

      It is extreme ignorance to make the statement that because you earn more money you work harder than other people. Affordable Housing is by-and-large for working families that are essential to Arlington County and the region’s economic vitality. It’s unfortunate that some people believe others are good enough to teach their kids, wipe their children’s butts, protect their communities and build their houses, but not good enough to live in the same Metropolitan Statistical Area or live in a non-slum environment. Don’t worry, affordable housing is not a threat to your work ethos. You are not expected to share your house. You are being asked to share your county.

  • Willy

    I wish a good investigative journalist would bite deep into Arlington County government.

    • Thes

      Me too. Then people would understand how there are neither simple questions nor simple answers.


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