Ballston affordable housing project opens after years-long delay

The new eight-story, 144-unit affordable housing complex constructed atop the former Central United Methodist Church building in Ballston is now officially open to tenants.

The Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) and the Central United Methodist Church (CUMC) marked the unveiling of the long-awaited low-income housing development, now dubbed Unity Homes but formerly known as Ballston Station, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Monday.

“We are proud that Unity Homes at Ballston is finally here — this project encountered multiple obstacles on the path to redevelopment, but together with our partners at CUMC, Arlington County, and so many others, we pressed forward,” APAH President and CEO Carmen Romero said in a press release.

The complex, located at 4201 Fairfax Drive across from the Ballston Metro station, includes 108 one-bedroom apartments, 24 two-bedroom apartments, and 12 three-bedroom apartments, with rent set at levels affordable to those making between 30-60% of the area median income (AMI). Fifteen units are reserved for residents earning 30% or less of the AMI.

Additionally, the building has 5,000 square feet of amenity space, including an outdoor courtyard, flex space for recreational activities, multiple community rooms, and a daycare center capable of accommodating up to 90 children.

APAH is employing a full-time coordinator to “connect residents with local resources, provide individualized support and organize resident-centered programming onsite,” per the release.

Originally proposed as a mixed-income apartment building by local developer Bozzuto, the Arlington County Board approved the project in 2017. APAH took over the project in 2019, increasing the number of units and setting them all aside for affordable housing. In 2021, the County Board granted APAH a three-year extension for construction.

A groundbreaking for the $84 million project was held in December 2021. Among other financing sources, Arlington County allocated over $19 million in Affordable Housing Investment Funds.

During yesterday’s ceremony, Romero recalled a pivotal moment in 2019 when APAH issued a termination letter shortly after receiving approval from the County Board. However, after some reflection, the nonprofit rescinded the letter, acknowledging that discontinuing the project would have been a “big mistake.”

“When we started construction, I feared for the worst after everything we’d been through,” Romero said.

The obstacles and the prolonged process caused a few of the other partners to be concerned as well.

“There were moments when my building committee and I were worried that this project would literally take 40 years to get done,” Central United Methodist Church Pastor Rev. Sarah Harrison-McQueen said during the ceremony.

Despite the struggle, various partners said they were glad the project is complete and believe it will make a difference in many people’s lives.

“It really is about the people living here and the people that are in service to the community,” CEO of Virginia Housing Tammy Neale said. “We believe that these almost 150 residents will enjoy calling this place home.”

Unity Homes resident Janine Butler also took the stage to express excitement for her new home.

“I look forward to being a new resident and to explore my new neighborhood and neighbors and to visit the church,” she said.

The full press release about the grand opening is below.

Arlington, VA (April 16, 2024) – On Monday, Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) and Central United Methodist Church (CUMC) marked the grand opening of Unity Homes at Ballston, a new mixed-use development located at 4201 Fairfax Drive in Arlington. The occasion was celebrated among project partners and local officials, including representatives from Arlington County Board, Virginia state legislature, and the offices of Senator Kaine, Senator Warner, and Congressman Beyer. The new, eight-story property replaced the former CUMC church building with 144 affordable homes co-located with a modernized church sanctuary space, Kinhaven School daycare serving approximately 90 children, and Provision Church Catering’s commercial kitchen space. This project adds needed affordable housing in a high-opportunity, transit-accessible location in the heart of Ballston.

APAH President and CEO Carmen Romero expressed, “We are proud that Unity Homes at Ballston is finally here—this project encountered multiple obstacles on the path to redevelopment, but together with our partners at CUMC, Arlington County, and so many others, we pressed forward. It’s an honor to partner with CUMC to bring their calling to life, transforming the site and co-locating their new space with affordable housing. We look forward to welcoming residents, the CUMC congregation, and the Ballston community to Unity Homes.”

Project Details

Unity Homes at Ballston serves residents earning between 30-60% of the area median income (AMI) and features 108 1-bedroom apartments, 24 2-bedroom apartments, and 12 3-bedroom apartments. Fifteen units are deeply affordable to residents earning 30% or less AMI. Residents will enjoy 5,000 square feet of amenity space, an outdoor courtyard with a green roof, and multiple community rooms and flex space for regular activities. It features energy-efficient building techniques and is built to EarthCraft Gold standards. APAH’s CORES-certified Resident Services program provides a full-time coordinator to connect residents with local resources, provide individualized support, and organize resident-centered programming onsite.

Located directly across from Ballston-MU Metrorail station and multiple Metrobus stops, Unity Homes at Ballston is notably transit-accessible, benefiting residents, the CUMC congregation, and Kinhaven School families. A new commercial kitchen space, occupied by Provision Church Catering, will provide onsite meal distribution and mission-minded catering services. This prime location in Ballston is within walking distance of multiple universities, grocery stores, retail and recreational amenities, and ample employment opportunities.

The new CUMC sanctuary space features 11 stained-glass windows from the original church building and streaming technology to meet the congregation’s current needs and goals. Located in the church narthex is a Louis Comfort Tiffany stained-glass window, Christ in Blessing, that once ornamented the Abbey Mausoleum in Arlington. This piece is the largest of 13 windows reclaimed from the mausoleum by Arlington Public Art in partnership with the Arlington County Department of Community Planning, Housing & Development (CPHD) Historic Preservation Program. Christ in Blessing is available for public viewing on Sundays 10 a.m. to 12 noon and Monday through Thursday 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The Congregation’s Mission

CUMC expanded their ministry to the Arlington community in 2007 after a prayer walk through Ballston inspired the congregation’s collective desire to provide food and hospitality to those experiencing homelessness and other neighbors in need. The program grew from morning coffee and donuts to hot breakfast, lunch, and fresh groceries for more than 200 individuals. As their services grew, partnerships with Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) and PathForward allowed the church to provide additional support, including medical care and referrals. In 2014, the congregation expanded this programming as the growing, diverse congregation formally expressed their dream to create new affordable housing on the aging church property.

In 2014, Rev. Sarah Harrison McQueen was appointed senior pastor with the charge of leading the church through the redevelopment process. Like most complex projects, the decade-long journey has faced challenges: developing a design to incorporate many needs in a single-acre site, securing financing, planning to build adjacent to a Metro tunnel, and honoring the rich history of the property while making way for the congregation’s modern vision. Pastor Sarah expressed, “This grand opening is the culmination of a long journey of faithfulness. The people of Central United Methodist have held this vision in their hearts and prayers for many years, waiting eagerly to welcome our neighbors into this building and the Arlington community. We give thanks for all the hard work and witness to fulfilling this vision that has helped make this moment possible. We are particularly grateful to partner with APAH on this project. Loving God and our neighbors is at the heart of our faith, and we are so glad to live it out by helping to create a place for people to call home.”

Project Financing and Partners

Unity Homes at Ballston, an $84.8 million project, was financed by $27.6 million in 4% Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) equity, which was purchased by Truist. Virginia Housing provided $12.8 million in project financing. Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) contributed $900,000 from the Virginia Housing Trust Fund. Arlington County provided more than $19 million in Affordable Housing Investment Funds (AHIF), and Central United Methodist Church provided $14.1 million in funding from philanthropic sources and land lease proceeds.

“Community partnerships like the ones we’re gathering to celebrate today strengthen the fabric of Arlington County,” said Libby Garvey, Chair of the Arlington County Board. “The County Board extends our congratulations to CUMC, APAH, Kinhaven School, and everyone who had a hand in bringing this beautiful property to fruition after a lengthy development journey.”

Project partners who brought Unity Homes at Ballston to life include general contractor DAVIS Construction, architect DCS Design, KCM, Inc. construction management, Bohler DC civil engineers, Viridiant green building verification, Truist, the financing lender, Arlington County, Virginia Housing, and Virginia DHCD.