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Amazon and Arlington County to finance purchase of Columbia Pike apartment complex

The Barcroft Apartments, a 1,334-unit, market-affordable apartment complex along Columbia Pike (via Google Maps)

Arlington County and Amazon intend to loan hundreds of millions of dollars to an unnamed affordable housing provider to purchase a Columbia Pike apartment complex.

The Barcroft Apartments, at 1130 S. George Mason Drive, is the largest market-rate-affordable apartment community in Arlington, and county officials say they have to act quickly to ensure it stays affordable for current residents.

The sale is set to be finalized before the end of the month. On Tuesday, Arlington County Board members are slated to review the proposed 35-year, $150 million loan agreement. The unnamed buyer and Amazon representatives will be present.

If Board members approve the agreement, the Barcroft Apartments will remain affordable to residents earning up to 60% of the area median income — or $77,400 for a family of four — for 99 years.

“This is really a once-in-a-generation opportunity for our community to preserve the largest neighborhood of affordable housing units in the county for the next century,” said County Manager Mark Schwartz during Saturday’s County Board meeting. “We’re excited to be a part of this effort at Barcroft and to be working to ensure that the current residents will be able to stay in their homes and have safe and affordable housing for the foreseeable future.”

More than 1,330 units, built between 1939 and 1953, make up the 60-acre Barcroft Apartments complex, Schwartz said. These units have remained affordable to families earning up to 60% of the area median income without local, state or federal affordability or income requirements.

The buyer has said it does not plan to turn out current residents after the sale. It will also pledge to not raise rents for current residents for at least a year, Schwartz said. After that, rent will increase by no more than 3% per year up to 60% of area median income levels.

The new owners “are interested in making additional investments in the property, adding amenities, making property upgrades and taking other steps to improve residents’ overall living environment at Barcroft,” he said.

“This is the single biggest step we can take to preserve affordability in Arlington — certainly over the last five years and perhaps over the next decade,” County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said.

It is also a swift move for county government, says Vice-Chair Katie Cristol.

“This is unconventional for the county to act as quickly, and for the Board to act as quickly, as we have, but the future of so many of our valued neighbors in those 1,300-plus units are very much at stake and require quick action,” she said.

The news will be well-received among residents, who have been renting month-to-month “without knowing what’s happening next” while this process has unfolded, says County Board member Takis Karantonis.

“They should also know that they’re part of any visioning of Barcroft going ahead,” he said. “This is not happening without them — this is just the beginning of involving them.”

Amazon’s contribution comes after it purchased and donated land to Arlington to develop additional affordable housing in several parts of the county. The tech company previously launched a $2 billion Housing Equity Fund to create and preserve affordable housing in its three primary footholds — the Seattle area, Nashville and Arlington — amid concerns that its presence will displace low-income residents.

Arlington County took a similar, smaller-scale step about 14 years ago, when it struck a deal with a housing developer to preserve affordable housing in the Buckingham neighborhood, near Ballston.

The county purchased one complex — built at the same time as the Barcroft Apartments — for $32 million, preserving 140 units as affordable to those earning 60% or less of the area’s median income. It also ensured that two complexes kept below-market-rate apartments after being redeveloped.

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