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Clement Decries Further Affordable Housing Demolition in Westover

Independent Arlington County Board candidate Audrey Clement criticized the recent demolitions of more garden apartments in Westover to make way for townhomes.

Clement, a frequent candidate for public office, said the demolition of two more apartment buildings in the neighborhood shows that not enough is being done to protect affordable housing, especially as they are replaced by what she described as “luxury townhomes.”

Much of Westover is currently designated as a national historic district, but that hasn’t prevented redevelopment of some properties. Last year, crews tore down a garden apartment building and replaced it with townhouses in by-right development, meaning County Board approval was not required.

At the time, the Arlington Greens called for the Westover apartments to be designated as a local historic district, something the County Board directed staff to study last year. Since 2013, nine garden apartment buildings have been demolished, Clement said.

Clement criticized developers for razing the properties and the county for cashing in thanks to increased property taxes.

“County records indicate that the sale price of the three Westover garden apartments demolished in 2013 was $4 million,” Clement said. “The total sale price of the 20 luxury town homes that replaced them was $16.8 million dollars or more than 4 times the value of the original properties.”

An advertisement for the Arlington Row townhomes that ran on ARLnow.com earlier this year advertised the homes as being priced in the “mid-$800s.” The townhomes feature up to four bedrooms and four baths, plus private garages and “timeless brick architecture.” The first phase of the development quickly sold out.

Clement said designating the units as a local historic district is the “only way” to save the remaining apartments, but she criticized the Arlington Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board for not moving faster on a petition to do so that was submitted last year.

She added that the demolition of affordable housing units in the county causes numerous problems:

For one thing, there’s a fairness issue. A lot of longstanding, hardworking, responsible tenants are now facing long commutes as a result of displacement from Arlington County.

For another thing, there’s a public health issue. The most recent demolitions were put on hold when it was determined that both buildings were insulated with asbestos, making demolition hazardous for anyone in the nearby.

And there’s an economic issue. While the speculative prices commanded by the developers of Westover Village might be attractive to high income wage earners, they drive up assessments overall, spelling hardship and possible foreclosure for people on fixed incomes, single heads of households, and those who find themselves out of work.

In a fact sheet produced last year, the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing said it made some headway in 2016 by purchasing 68 Westover apartments in five buildings. But APAH noted that since the county adopted its Affordable Housing Master Plan in 2015, 60 apartments have been demolished for redevelopment.

Clement promised to speed up approval of historic districts to protect affordable housing if she wins a seat on the County Board in November.

“If elected, I am going to call upon AHALRB to expedite consideration of petitions for local historic designation to preserve Arlington’s remaining affordable housing and stabilize Arlington’s housing market,” Clement said.

Clement is one of three candidates on the ballot for County Board this fall, alongside Democratic nominee Erik Gutshall and fellow independent Charles McCullough II.

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