Two affordable housing complexes in Arlington are teed up for renovations, including units on a site also set for redevelopment.
Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing will upgrade 62 units at the Marbella Apartments (1301 N. Queen Street) and 101 units at the Arna Valley View Apartments (2300 25th Street S.), says Elise Panko, APAH’s Resource Development and Communications Manager. The properties consist of a group of garden-style apartment buildings north near Rosslyn and mid-rise buildings between Pentagon City and Shirlington.
The affordable housing developer is asking the county for a new $995,000 Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF) loan for this project, which the Arlington County Board is slated to review this Saturday. Existing financing for these developments, to the tune of $10.45 million, will roll over for these projects.
This work is in addition to a redevelopment project at the Marbella site, where some buildings will be torn down to build two 12-story apartment towers with all units set aside for people earning less than the area median income. In February, the Board awarded APAH $21.4 million for the project and approved the redevelopment.
The remaining buildings, built in the 1940s and not renovated in at least 15 years, are in need of an upgrade, Panko said. Renovations here will target buildings to the north of the redevelopment area and across N. Queen Street from it.
Likewise, Arna Valley View has not been renovated since its construction 21 years ago and had developed some maintenance issues.
The brick façades of the Marbella buildings will get new mortar while the Arna Valley buildings will get new siding and garage and walkway repairs. Units in both complexes will get updated finishes, fixtures and appliances, new kitchen cabinets, heating and cooling systems, roofs and windows. Renovations will improve energy efficiency by about 30%, Panko says.
“It is important for APAH to reinvest in its existing assets to ensure that the quality of housing we provide remains at a high standard,” she added.
Panko says APAH has been working with residents on a relocation plan that was approved by the Arlington Tenant-Landlord Commission.
“Residents will be moved off site for approximately six to eight weeks while their units are renovated, and will then return to their same unit,” Panko said. “We do not anticipate any displacement of existing residents because of the renovation.”
Per the February report on the redevelopment project, these renovations were set to occur starting mid-2022. APAH spokesman Garrett Jackson says the delays were due to the additional time needed to secure financing sources as well as getting building permits in hand.
APAH had tried to avoid asking the Board for financing for the renovations, according to the report. But then the economy took a turn.
“Construction costs and interest rates have been very volatile in 2022 (interest rates just in the last few months, but construction costs have been rising since early 2022) — it was the result of both of those things that caused us to need additional funding from the County,” APAH spokesman Garrett Jackson said. “During the Marbella site plan approval, those cost increases had not yet hit the market and we believed that we could accomplish the renovation with no additional AHIF (that had long been our goal).”
So it secured a $700,000 Virginia Housing Trust Fund loan and $2 million in state loans that specifically target energy efficiency upgrades to lower the ask to the board. APAH is also chipping in $11.7 million, and has secured $22.8 million in 4% low-income housing tax credits, and $2.5 million from deferring a developer fee associated with affordable housing development.
“We squeezed contingency and other sources as much as possible throughout 2022… but ultimately between costs and interest rates, we had to go back to the County and request an increase in AHIF funding,” he said.
APAH will also combine the two apartment complexes into a single ownership entity, which will generate more tax credits and reduce the amount of county financing needed, Panko noted.
As the County Board gets closer to a vote on the proposal, perhaps as early as December, we’ve compiled a dozen opinion pieces on the topic that have been published elsewhere. Many are letters to the editor or op-eds that have appeared in the Sun Gazette and Washington Post, while others have been features published in policy-focused publications like The Hill and Washington Monthly.
The following are numbered (in no particular order) and broken down by “for” or “against” Missing Middle.
1. For: The ‘missing middle’ is a crucial piece of Arlington’s housing puzzle (Washington Post)
We live in the 22202 area of South Arlington, spanning from original Sears houses to the new Amazon headquarters. Our neighborhood has been recognized for its mix of “single dwellings, twin dwellings, duplexes, apartment buildings, religious buildings, educational buildings, and commercial buildings.” Despite being dwarfed by newly built single-family homes, the dozens of aging duplexes and triplexes would be illegal to build today.
2. Against: What’s at stake with Arlington’s missing-middle housing debate (Washington Post)
It was hard for me to pick a side. Some of the NIMBYs think it’s possible to go back to an era in the 1990s when Arlington felt like an undiscovered oasis next to a booming metropolis. But there is no going back. A do-nothing option will slowly destroy Arlington’s beautiful multiclass, multiethnic mosaic. To be fair, most NIMBYs don’t argue this. However, these logical flaws pale in comparison with the misapplication of economics, blatant conflicts of interest, limited demonstrated understanding of history and selective data presentation from the YIMBYs.
3. For: Arlington’s ‘missing middle’ fight and the struggle for affordable housing (The Hill)
Exclusionary zoning disproportionately impacts the minorities and the poor, who are less likely to be able to afford expensive housing than affluent whites. Historically, restrictions like those currently in force in Arlington were often enacted for the specific purpose of keeping out Blacks and other non-whites. That’s one reason why the Arlington NAACP supports Missing Middle. Liberalizing the construction of new housing is an under-appreciated common interest of racial minorities and the white working class.
4. Against: Missing Middle will devastate Arlington communities (Sun Gazette)
Let us fervently hope that the current Arlington County Board will not be remembered as the group that foisted on unsuspecting residents the destruction of our community’s old, leafy, peaceful, beautiful neighborhoods. I don’t happen to live in one myself, but they are precious and must be preserved. Their tranquility and forests benefit all of us. “Missing Middle” is wrong on so many fronts.
5. For: Why I Can’t Afford to Live Where I Grew Up (Washington Monthly)
Everyone deserves to grow up in a place like Arlington–walkable, transit oriented, full of interesting restaurants and stores, diverse, and with great schools and nice parks. A wonderful place to learn to ride a bike, to develop an interest, and to make lifelong friends. But I know that given my current career trajectory, becoming a homeowner in Arlington is unlikely. If the city had been as expensive when my parents were a young couple looking in the late 1990s, I would have been raised in a farther-out suburb like Woodbridge or Lorton instead.
6. Against: Arlington should not be guinea pig for Missing Middle (Sun Gazette)
I introduced myself to County Board Chair Katie Cristol at the end of the session, and was shocked when she told me that she wants to pass Missing Middle zoning changes because she wants Arlington to be the first county on the entire East Coast to introduce this ordinance. I couldn’t believe what she said. I don’t want Arlington to be guinea pig for an unproven idea. This is not a contest to see who is first. I am assuming the County Board Members are looking for this to be part of their résumés. Changing the zoning planning needs to be done in a methodical and responsible way.
Arlington County is gearing up to make a decision on whether to allow low-rise, multifamily dwellings to be built on lots currently zoned exclusively for single-family homes. Leading up to the decision, the county and local organizations have been holding many discussions about the potential impacts of these changes.
Panelists, who spoke for themselves, couldn’t discuss their “feelings” and would instead have to provide a citation for every fact or projected outcome, co-moderator Nadia Conyers said. Speakers needed to seek common ground and respect areas of disagreement, and could not attribute motives to what other speakers were saying.
The panelists reviewed each other’s presentations to ensure facts were not misrepresented, co-moderator Jackie Snelling said.
“We spent a lot of time planning this discussion, which is a little different from how our normal discussions go,” she said.
Those in favor of Missing Middle said Arlington’s housing shortage requires the county to do something.
Michael Spotts, the founder of Neighborhood Fundamentals, who has researched housing for the last 15 years, said Arlington as it is currently zoned is running out of developable space. Meanwhile, developers are tearing down starter homes to build so-called McMansions, while certain neighborhoods north of Route 50 are essentially off-limits to renters, he said.
“I believe Arlington does need to grow and continue to add new housing,” Spotts said. “Aside from the economics, I don’t believe it’s fair to say certain neighborhoods shouldn’t have to contribute to meeting the growing need for housing.”
While not a panacea for all of the county’s housing concerns, he says the zoning changes would add units, increase ownership opportunities and marginally cut down on sprawl development in Loudoun, Fairfax and Prince William counties, which in turn has environmental impacts in Arlington.
He and Eric Berkey, who chairs Arlington’s Housing Commission, said the changes would help undo the lasting effects of last century’s exclusionary and racist zoning policies. After racially restrictive covenants became illegal, Arlington County used economics to segregate Black people by banning the construction of row houses and creating zones for exclusively single-family detached houses.
“Missing Middle can provide opportunities for more families to live in not just the three or four neighborhoods where we have duplexes, but the entirety of the county in the long term,” Berkey said. “Characters make the neighborhood. It’s important for the county to get rid of these exclusionary housing policies and make sure folks can live in the entirety of our community.”
Opponents Anne Bodine, a member of Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future, an advocacy group concerned about rapid growth, and Julie Lee, a member of a coalition of 15 civic association presidents opposed to the framework, said more housing is needed, but Arlington does not need to pick up the slack for a region-wide shortage.
“We cannot solve all of the region’s housing issues, but we should set lofty goals, and we must implement a plan that would achieve our desired objective,” Lee said. “The Missing Middle plan does not do that.”
They argued that the zoning changes won’t make it easier for people of color and low- and middle-income earners to buy here, despite assertions to the contrary by the local chapter of the NAACP and others.
“The county says offering a diversity of housing types is a key Missing Middle goal. Why do we need diverse housing types that don’t promote racial and economic diversity?” Bodine said. “A household needs to earn 118% of the area median income to afford the cheapest Missing Middle unit of $416,000. Looking at current Arlington populations, senior, Hispanic and Black median household incomes fall short. It doesn’t mean none of these groups can afford Missing Middle units, but it shows how slim the chances are.”
And the replacement for the storefront and expansive parking lot, at the Pike’s intersection with S. George Mason Drive, may be something completely different.
The site is expected to figure into plans from Jair Lynch Real Estate Partners to revamp the neighboring Barcroft Apartments over the next decade. It sits at one edge of the sprawling garden apartment complex, next to a 7-Eleven store, and was purchased by the developer around the time of the buzzy housing acquisition.
“The Penske Truck Rental Mart location at 4110 Columbia Pike in Arlington has permanently closed as of Sept. 30,” Alen Beljin, a Penske Truck Leasing spokesperson, told ARLnow. “Our company had leased the building, so we did not have the opportunity to renew when the property was sold.”
While Penske packed up, the local nonprofit Arlington Community Foundation (ACF) wrote a report that shows how Jair Lynch could set aside some units for residents making less than 30% of the Area Median Income (AMI), using the commercial site and county development tools. Jair Lynch has pledged to set side 1,344 apartments for people making 60% or less of AMI for the next 99 years, supported by loans from Amazon and Arlington County.
“Our vision is that in perpetuity, 30% AMI households can live there,” said Michael Spotts, an Arlington resident who runs the consulting firm Neighborhood Fundamentals, and a co-author of the ACF report. “Barcroft has been a place where people at those income levels can call home. As this neighborhood redevelops, we want to ensure people can continue to call that neighborhood home.”
ACF published the analysis ahead of the Master Financing and Development Plan Jair Lynch is expected to file with Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz at the end of October. This plan will spell out how the developer plans to renovate existing apartments, build new housing and keep down rent for lower-income residents.
“The plan is part of the financing agreement with Amazon and Arlington County,” David Hilde, Vice-President of development for Jair Lynch, told Arlington’s Tenant-Landlord Commission last month. “It goes through how to maximize the investments Arlington and Amazon made, whether that’s baseline preserving affordability, or exploring options to deepen affordability.”
The developer did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.
What ACF recommends
Jair Lynch could build a standard market-rate, mixed-use apartment building on the Penske lot, per the ACF report, as developers who follow the Columbia Pike Commercial Centers Form-Based Code are not required to provide affordable units.
But, using the commercial sites, the tools ACF laid out and another $20-30 million, the developer could set aside 255 units for low-income households earning 30% AMI or less for the next 30 years, ACF says.
“We think this is going to be challenging to accomplish and it’s going to require a lot of commitment from stakeholders,” Spotts said. “We’re optimistic, based on conversations we’ve had, that this can be pulled off.” Read More
(Updated 09/30/22) As Arlington County continues collecting feedback on the preliminary concept plan to turn Langston Blvd into a “Green Main Street” over several decades, a few disagreements have emerged.
Some say county staff need to coordinate more with existing plans for two neighborhoods along Route 29, as well as the Missing Middle Housing Study. Others say the building heights should be taller — to allow for more affordable housing — or are too tall already.
Late in August, Arlington County released a draft plan showing what Langston Blvd, formerly Lee Highway, could look like if the county encouraged denser housing and more walkable, greener streets, and planned for future infrastructure, transportation and facility needs. Since then, the county posted an online feedback form and launched in-person feedback opportunities called Design Studio sessions and virtual neighborhood meetings.
More than 200 people have attended the three virtual community meetings and Design Studio sessions, and more than 200 people have responded to the feedback forms, Rachel LaPiana, a staff member with the Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development, tells ARLnow.
“We encourage the community to provide feedback on a set of specific questions about what is proposed in the PCP and attend one of the upcoming community events,” she said.
There are still a number of opportunities to learn more about Plan Langston Blvd and provide feedback, which staff will collect through early November. This Saturday, the Langston Boulevard Alliance will host a walking tour, during which county planners will be able to answer questions. Another tour will be held on Sunday, Oct. 16.
The Langston Boulevard Alliance is also hosting three Design Studio sessions, held from 12-2 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 7 and 21 and Nov. 4 at its office (4500 Langston Blvd). A fourth virtual community meeting discussing housing, stormwater and transportation will be held Tuesday, Oct. 11, from 7-9 p.m.
It’s too soon to summarize the substance of the feedback that has been collected, LaPiana said.
“Once the engagement period ends, we will compile and analyze all of the community feedback,” she said.
Differing takes have since surfaced during a debate for County Board candidates held by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, as well as during this month’s County Board meeting.
“I’ve largely heard muted feedback, and that is not always the case with plans,” said County Board member Matt de Ferranti, who’s running for re-election this November, during the debate earlier this month. “I have heard a number of compliments. I actually think the plan is in decent shape.”
But, he said, the plan challenges the county’s ability to advance multiple planning fronts simultaneously, including the controversial Missing Middle Housing initiative, in which the county is considering whether to allow townhouses, duplexes and other low-density housing types in residential areas zoned exclusively for single-family homes.
“We have to, at least in my view, do them separately, because we can give our community full chance for engagement,” he said.
Independent candidate Audrey Clement questioned why upzoning is needed at all, with the bevy of new housing units proposed in Plan Langston Blvd and envisioned in the approved Pentagon City Planning Study, which, like Plan Langston Blvd, calls for significant, mostly residential redevelopment and more designated green spaces.
“We have something called a siloed process, where we have three plans, each ignorant of each other, that will increase housing on a massive schedule. That doesn’t make sense,” Clement said. “These plans should not be developed in a vacuum, but that appears to be what is happening right now.”
East Falls Church homeowner Wells Harrell told the County Board this month that Plan Langston Blvd ought to examine why development has lagged in East Falls Church and Cherrydale, despite the fact both underwent planning efforts in 2011 and 1994, respectively.
“Metro today remains surrounded by parking lots at the East Falls Church Metro station, and so far, there’s only been one — one — residential development since the plan was adopted in 2011,” Harrell said. “We need to take stock of why we haven’t achieved the goals set forth in the Cherrydale and East Falls Church area plans… in order to not just learn from the lessons we had there, but to guide us going forward and make sure we achieve the visions for Langston Blvd.”
County planners previously told ARLnow that they need the County Board’s go-ahead to revisit the East Falls Church plan. Further discussion about encouraging development in the area could come after the Board adopts a final Plan Langston Blvd document.
For now, plan authors say a final Plan Langston Blvd draft will recommend whether the existing redevelopment roadmaps for East Falls Church and Cherrydale need to be reviewed and refined.
Building heights are another source of disagreement. Plan authors write that building heights were lowered in response to some critical community feedback. That criticism also suggested the changes would diminish the stock of market-rate affordable apartments, lower property values, change neighborhood character and push out small businesses.
County staff say that lower heights may satisfy some residents, but it will slow down redevelopment.
“Staff believes the proposed concept plan will offer incentives for redevelopment, however, the levels are only moderately different from what is allowed for by-right development and site plan projects,” county planner Natasha Alfonso-Ahmed said in a video introducing the plan. “This means that we may see more by-right development, and improvements such as streetscape enhancements may take longer to be realized or happen in a fragmented way.”
And the changes dismayed pro-density advocates, including Harrell and independent County Board candidate Adam Theo.
“I am disappointed to see that the most recent draft has scaled a lot of that back,” Theo said.
De Ferranti, meanwhile, says there is one neighborhood where the heights may still be “a touch too high” — the area near Spout Run Parkway, where plan calls for buildings 12-15 stories tall.
“That decision is one we have to engage as a community on,” he said.
(Updated 4:40 p.m.) There are more than two dozen steps local affordable housing developers, Arlington County and the state can take to improve quality of life and respect tenants, according to a new report.
Written by a Joint Subcommittee on the Status of Aging Properties (JSSAP), the report walks through the kinds of protections tenants need to live safely in committed affordable dwellings in Arlington, many of which are affordable because they are older and more prone to maintenance issues.
Work on this document, unofficially dubbed “the Serrano report,” began last October in response to the attention tenant advocates drew in May 2021 to longstanding problems at the Serrano Apartments (5535 Columbia Pike). Residents of the affordable housing complex, owned by affordable housing operator AHC, Inc., were living with mold and rodent infestations and in units decaying due to deferred maintenance.
“I think it’s an important, historical document to say, ‘This is what happened,’ and to help the county and the state to prevent these issues from happening again,” said Kellen MacBeth, chair of the Arlington Branch of the NAACP’s Housing Committee. “It was a lot of work, but I’m hopeful we can build on the changes the county has been making to further protect the rights of tenants and prevent another Serrano from occurring.”
The document could be presented to the Arlington County Board as early as next month.
Reaction to the report has been mixed. Advocates are urging the Board to implement the local recommendations and incorporate suggestions for the state into its annual legislative priorities. Some members of Arlington County’s Housing Commission critiqued the report, however, for not including the perspectives of affordable housing business partners or costs associated with implementing the recommendations.
For its part, AHC said it respects the subcommittee’s work but is concerned about the financial impact.
“We appreciate the effort that went into the report,” AHC spokeswoman Jennifer Smith said in a statement. “As a non-profit organization, any recommendations that add cost without accompanying revenues would be burdensome. AHC has 23 properties in Arlington alone.”
Where to start
Tenant advocates say the county’s first order of business, after accepting the report, should be requiring housing providers to fund organizations that support tenant associations.
“We think it’s critically important for the Barcroft Apartments — and the redevelopment that’s going to be happening in the next year — so that tenants have a voice, if there are serious problems they’re facing,” MacBeth said. Maintenance issues, he added, are already arising.
Late last year, the county and Amazon agreed to loan more than $300 million to facilitate the sale of the Barcroft Apartments on Columbia Pike to developer Jair Lynch Real Estate Partners, which agreed to preserve 1,334 units on the site as committed affordable units for 99 years.
Tenant education on their rights provided by a third party would ensure these tenant councils will have teeth, says Elder Julio Basurto, a former Serrano resident and co-founder of a new advocacy group called Juntos En Justicia (Together in Justice).
“They have to train the residents how to advocate for their needs,” he said. “Without the oversight, the residential councils won’t work.”
Janeth Valenzuela, who helped draw attention to conditions at the Serrano, said tenants need education to know how to report their problems. Residents would talk with the county, but if it wasn’t the right staff member, work would be delayed, she said.
“We still have tenants afraid to say things for fear of retaliation, and they don’t have training in how to file reports,” said Valenzuela, another co-founder of Juntos En Justicia. “They didn’t know who to go to, what to do or how to talk.”
A proposed apartment renovation project in Shirlington could receive an additional $2.6 million in loans from the county.
Tomorrow (Saturday), the Arlington County Board is set to review a proposal increasing the size of an existing loan from the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF) for renovations to the Park Shirlington Apartments, a 1950s-era, garden-style complex with 293 units along 31st Street S., on the edge of the Fairlington neighborhood.
The loan under consideration would bring the total amount Arlington is lending to the property owner, Standard Communities, to $31.9 million. This number includes a $22.8 million loan approved last summer, an existing $6 million loan used to assist Standard Communities with the purchase of the property in 2017, and a more than half-million dollar deposit.
The owner intends to set the renovated units aside as committed affordable units to people making 60% of the area median income (AMI) for 75 years.
Pending County Board approval, renovations could begin this fall and be completed in 2024.
The “extensive” planned work includes new kitchens and bathrooms, new boilers and chillers, rooftop solar panels, a new community building with a fitness center, hallway upgrades and exterior work, according to a draft report outlining the project.
The current leasing office will be converted into a two-bedroom apartment, and the leasing and management office will move to the new community building.
Renovations will take approximately three weeks per unit, and approximately 10 units will be under renovation at a time.
Park Shirlington Apartments is nearly at-capacity, with only two vacant apartments as of March, according to a report outlining the renovation and relocation process.
Standard Communities says it’s taking several steps to minimize disruptions for tenants who stay and to assist tenants who earn too much to remain.
“Residents will be allowed to remain at the property during renovations,” said Erika Moore, a spokeswoman for the Dept. of Community Planning, Housing and Development. “Residents would temporarily relocate from their current unit, with all of their furniture and belongings, into a vacant ‘hospitality’ unit, which would be comparable to their current apartment.”
Standard Communities will provide residents with boxes and packing materials and a renovation coordinator will “schedule, coordinate, and supervise the moving of their packed belongings and furniture from their home to the hospitality unit and then back again using a licensed, bonded and insured professional moving company,” Moore said.
The owner will also arrange for packing and unpacking assistance for elderly residents and residents with disabilities, as well as “any other reasonable accommodation requests,” she added.
But an estimated 40 households will have to relocate, as they earn over 60% of the AMI. For an individual, that’s $59,820 a year.
A family of four living on 60% AMI ($85,380) and living in a 3-bedroom apartment would still meet the federal government’s definition of “rent burdened,” paying slightly more than 30% of their income on rent.
They will receive four-month notices and moving cost assistance, according to the relocation report.
Under the new threshold, rents would be $1,602 for a 1-bedroom, $1,921 for a 2-bedroom and $2,220 for a 3-bedroom apartment.
Arlington County was initially planning to buy and build up part of the property with a partner developer, Washington Business Journal previously reported, but that plan was eventually scrapped.
The county assisted Standard Communities with the acquisition in 2017 to prevent market-rate developers from taking it over, according to the draft county report. The owner then converted the complex to committed affordable housing for people making up to 80% AMI.
Affordable housing units at the former Red Cross site in Buckingham will be available to lease starting this fall, the developer says.
The nonprofit developer Wesley Housing Development Corporation announced Thursday (July 21) it is set to lease all 97 units in the building, now called The Cadence. Units at the new apartment building at 4333 Arlington Blvd will range from studios to three bedrooms.
A leasing office is set up at 311 N. Glebe Road, where the property management team can meet with prospective residents, according to a press release. The apartment building is open to households with an income at or below 70% of the median family income, meaning it is open to families of four that earn up to about $80,000 a year.
The building is part of a complex that also includes 19 market-rate townhomes nearby.
Wesley Housing received $11 million in local and federal funding for The Cadence. The project has a total development budget of over $46 million, according to the developer’s website, and replaced “an underused parking lot, two single family houses and a vacant office building.”
There had been opposition to the apartment complex from community members in the past, who believed Buckingham has an outsized concentration of affordable housing. However, Wesley Housing believed the new units would be beneficial to their tenants.
“We can’t wait to serve the community with brand new quality, affordable apartments, and look forward to building up the lives of those will call these communities home in the coming months,” Lisa Davis, vice president of Wesley Property Management, said in the press release.
In addition to The Cadence, Wesley Housing plans to open leasing for three other Northern Virginia complexes later this year. A total of 367 housing units will be available to lease across the four complexes: The Cadence, The Waypoint at Fairlington in Alexandria, Senseny Place in Winchester, and The Arden in Fairfax County.
Wesley Housing’s property management wing expects to see a 20% increase in the number of housing units managed and to serve approximately 1,200 more people in the coming six months, according to the press release.
(Updated at noon) A new report supports Arlington County’s consideration of residential zoning changes as a way to counteract past discriminatory practices. But critics of the changes could harm, not help, the local Black community.
The NAACP Arlington Branch hosted an online discussion last Wednesday (July 20) about the McGuireWoods report in light of local debate around the Missing Middle Housing Study proposal, which would allow small-scale multifamily housing in areas currently zoned only for single-family homes.
The County Board expects to vote on the zoning changes in December.
The report, which looked at local and state policy changes to address housing segregation in Virginia, pointed out that although Arlington did not adopt an explicit racial zoning ordinance, redlining and restrictive covenants resulted in most of the majority white areas permitting single-family detached housing only, thus raising the relative cost of homes in those areas.
The report recommended adding missing middle housing types to zones that currently only allow single family housing, as the study recommends. Since Arlington is considering allowing housing with up to eight units in those areas — depending on lot size — the report considered the county “well ahead of the curve compared to most places in the state,” Matthew Weinstein, an attorney with the legal and public affair firm, said during the presentation.
Organizations opposing missing middle housing content, however, that “missing middle” would not be affordable to lower-income groups. Officials expect households with an income between $108,000 and over $200,000 to be able to afford the new proposed housing types, according to a county report in April.
The median household income of Black Arlington residents is around $67,000, according to a county website.
“So we’re off target for African Americans currently living in Arlington,” said Anne Bodine, of Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future, an advocacy group against increased housing density.
“Homeownership per se, for [the] current African American population in Arlington, we don’t see that this is an option for the majority of that population,” she said.
Although Weinstein did not believe missing middle housing could solve all issues, it was important to “increase housing availability and housing stocks so more people could live here affordably,” he said.
During the NAACP presentation, Weinstein also said that discriminatory housing policies in the past made it harder for Black residents to own homes, preventing many from accumulating wealth through generations.
However, since the County Board is not expected to restrict new missing middle housing to for-sale housing only, it would be more likely for those newly-created units to become rentals, Bodine said.
“Just the way [a] condo has to be set up in Virginia, it’s much more complicated legally and much more expensive,” Bodine said. “Those costs make it more likely that the units will end up becoming rentals.”
Other policies the report recommended include providing financial support to formerly redlined neighborhoods as part of Arlington’s comprehensive plan, a guide the county uses to set priorities. The report also suggested updating zoning ordinances to encourage mixed-use buildings with higher density in commercial areas, using density bonuses and other affordable housing incentives, and focusing on home ownership like community land trusts.
Bodine believed there are other ways to achieve more diverse and equitable housing, such as cash rental vouchers for people earning lower incomes, scholarships for children coming from low-income families, and keeping current income thresholds to qualify for affordable housing on Columbia Pike, among other things.
(Updated at 7:10 p.m.) A planned development roughly between Clarendon and Courthouse could go as high as 16 stories, though county staff and some nearby residents are asking for it to be shorter.
At its meeting last week, the Arlington Planning Commission voted in favor of advertising an amendment to the General Land Use Plan which governs development for what is now a parking lot at 2636 Wilson Blvd.
The County Board is now set to vote at its meeting this Saturday on whether to advertise public hearings on the GLUP change.
The change calls for rezoning from “service commercial,” which allows the building to be up to 4 stories, to “Office-Apartment-Hotel.” This designation would allow the development to be between 6 and 16 stories high.
But the crux of the conversation last week was exactly how many stories should the development actually be allowed to get to.
The proposed project, dubbed “Courthouse West,” would redevelop a parking lot that’s just east of the Clarendon Whole Foods store. The lot currently houses a number of “ghost kitchen” trailers. A PNC Bank branch is also part of the development site, per documents filed with the county.
Ballston-based CRC Companies wants a 16-story apartment building there, as would be allowed by the new zoning designation.
However, county staff is calling for the development to be rezoned as a “medium” office-apartment-hotel development with a maximum height of up to 12 stories. And members of the public, at least those who filled out a recent online survey, want it to be even shorter than that.
In a survey first disseminated in December, three options were provided — 6, 10, and 17 stories — and about half of respondents, in total about 175, choose the six-story option.
After nearly two and a half hours of discussion and public comment last week, the commission voted against staff recommendations and in favor of advertising the 16-story option.
A number of commissioners noted that the vote was intended to allow continued discussion about 16 stories and not take it off the table; it didn’t necessarily constitute a recommendation for the development to go that high, they said.
County staff’s recommendation of 12 stories is essentially a compromise. There’s an understanding that the development could have the right to go to 16 stories, but staff doesn’t want to set a “precedent” since so many other buildings in that part of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor are shorter.
During the public comment section, a number of nearby residents went into detail about why they didn’t want a 16-story, or even a 12-story, building on that specific parcel of land that lies halfway between the Clarendon and Courthouse Metro stations. Among the reasons were concerns about traffic, pedestrian safety and school crowding.
John Carten of the Lyon Village Citizens’ Association called the survey that went out to the public “very flawed and biased” because it only offered three choices. He says the residents he represents want a six-story building at maximum.
“Twelve story buildings would tower over houses in Lyon Village,” he said. “This will open the door to other developers who want the same density.”
(Carten and the association have also been sharply critical of the potential for more development on the other side of the largely Metro-accessible neighborhood that could result from the ongoing Langston Blvd planning process.)
Still, other residents noted that a 12- or 16-story apartment building would contribute more affordable housing and better take advantage of the neighborhood’s transit options.
County Board member Takis Karantonis says if the county has the “political will,” a sufficient amount of affordable and “missing middle” housing can get built.
Karantonis appeared on Friday’s “Politics Hour with Kojo Nnamdi” on public radio station WAMU. In addition to housing, the discussion touched on a new redistricting lawsuit, the Washington Commanders’ increasingly unlikely move to Virginia, and the bear that was roaming Arlington last week.
The trio spent a majority of time talking about the newest draft proposal of the county’s Missing Middle Housing Study, which calls for amending the zoning ordinance to allow housing types that are denser (like duplexes, townhomes, etc.) but not larger than single family homes. The proposal was released last month and has, since, picked up several notable endorsements.
After what promises to be a contentious community engagement process, the County Board is expected to vote on whether to amend the zoning ordinance this fall.
On the radio program, Karantonis described his and the Board’s efforts “to lift barriers” that might better allow young families, middle class households, and seniors to afford buying a home in Arlington County. As the study proposes, that could mean building duplexes, triplexes, townhomes, and other smaller-scale multi-family dwellings on lots that were previously zoned for only a single family house.
“More than 70 percent of Arlington are single households [or] detached family homes. And it’s absolutely not available [for more households],” he said. “It’s outlawed to be able to have more households in these buildings.”
While Karantonis continued to tout the potential plan, both Nnamdi and frequent program guest Tom Sherwood pushed back a bit.
Sherwood, a long-time local reporter and political analyst, noted that, since such a large portion of Arlington’s residential property is made up of single family homes, this plan may not have as broad support as the County Board may hope.
Additionally Sherwood played the role of devil’s advocate by asking if “economic forces” are so strong that no matter what local government enacts in terms of housing policies, it won’t be enough.
“That’s either a very pessimistic or very cynical take. I think that governance matters and we can deliver a lot,” Karantonis said in response. “It’s a very difficult thing but we can do it. The question is whether we have the political will and whether we have the anchorage in our community to honor these priorities.”
Nnamdi asked for the Board member’s thoughts on the criticism that this change in zoning won’t lead to more broadly affordable housing, as “missing middle” housing is likely to be priced significantly higher than levels typically seen for subsidized affordable housing in the county. Karantonis responded that dealing with the zoning ordinance question doesn’t mean the Board’s work is done on this matter.
“Once we find a way that is tailored to Arlington and works for the housing environment, I can imagine that there will be a very long to-do list that would be looking at housing affordability in these districts, as well,” he said.