Neighbors split over approval of more affordable housing at Crystal House complex

A planned apartment complex is set to have even more affordable housing.

Speakers at an Arlington County Board meeting on Tuesday were divided in their thoughts about the Board’s unanimous vote to approve 88 units of additional affordable housing at 1900 S. Eads Street, in the Crystal City area.

Most spoke in favor of the change, which will make 743 of 844 planned units at Crystal House Apartments affordable.

Area resident Ben D’Avanzo said many of his neighbors are seeing high rent increases and struggling to make ends meet. While he said the neighborhood “wasn’t thrilled” with the original approval process for the apartment complex, D’Avanzo has since come on board with the project.

“This is something that is incredibly important to approve and I urge you to do so,” he said.

But Stacy Meyer, vice president of the Aurora Highlands Civic Association, has had no such change of heart.

She pointed out that the complex’s planned affordable units lack previously proposed amenities such as full balconies and a rooftop pool — a shift that she sees as “unfair to its future residents.”

Meyer argued the county’s approach to updating the Crystal House site plan, initially approved in 2019, circumvented additional opportunities for input. By pursuing changes to each building as separate minor site plan amendments, she said, the plans did not receive additional oversight from bodies such as the Site Plan Review Committee.

“The county appears to be working without regard to the future residents, fiscal transparency, the neighborhood income impacts or equitability in schools,” she said. “It’s a heavy-handed approach that we believe needs tempering.”

A letter from the AHCA to the county argues this approach “leads to the slippery slope that produced the failed inequitable public housing of the last century.”

It also took shots at the design, saying it “looks like an economy hotel.”

“When it comes to publicly financed buildings, low-income housing residents deserve the same building quality as the market, just as low-income students deserve the same education and low-income patients deserve the same medical treatment,” the letter says.

To make this development possible, the Board approved a $12.2 million low-interest loan from the Affordable Housing Investment Fund to the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH).

Board member Maureen Coffey noted that most of the planned units are for families and very low-income people, which she believes is key to meeting community needs.

“This is a really impressive and really important thing to do, to get that deep affordability, not just in a one-bedroom or a studio,” she said.

Amazon, which has its HQ2 near the Crystal House Apartments, has played a prominent role in this development project.

The company put up $381.9 million so that the nonprofit Washington Housing Conservancy could purchase the 16-acre site in late 2020, stabilize rent for the 828 existing units and build more than 500 new units.

The purchase was part of its commitment to create and preserve affordable housing as rents rise amid its growing presence. Amazon later donated the land and development rights to the county.

Last January, the county selected APAH and Bethesda-based developer EYA to oversee construction of Crystal House Apartments’ new buildings. Construction is slated to begin in spring 2025 and finish by the end of 2027, per the county presentation this week.