Arlington, VA

(Updated on 9/11/19) The D.C. area needs 374,000 new homes in the region to keep up with population growth and prevent a Bay Area-like increase in housing prices, according to a new report.

Local leaders will vote on a resolution expanding their housing goals at the next Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) meeting in D.C. on Wednesday, September 11. The vote comes after the Urban Institute’s 130-page report on the region’s housing needs, which predicts 220,000 families could be at risk of displacement if the goals are not met.

Senior Research Associate Leah Hendey, one of the report’s authors, said there exists a “window of opportunity available right now” for leaders to fix the housing unit shortage before it displaces more residents and makes business difficult.

In Arlington, the study noted 20,000 households may be at risk of displacement. Rising housing prices in the wake of Amazon’s arrival combined with the county’s dwindling stock has long worried advocates that lower-income residents could be pushed out.

“The arrival of new businesses, jobs, and residents could intensify today’s housing challenges unless the region’s leaders come together to address them,” noted the report.

“Overall 29% of Arlington residents are cost-burdened,” Hendey told ARLnow today (Friday). “So they’re paying more than 30% of income.”

However, the report also found that many renters could afford higher rents, but chose to live in lower-rent housing units — which likely further exacerbated the affordable housing squeeze for those at lower income levels.

“That didn’t really surprise us,” said Hendey. “People want to minimize their housing costs so they have money for other things.”

The Urban Institute’s data indicates that Arlington would need 9,700 more housing units renting at under $800 a month, and 4,100 units under $1,300 a month, to meet its needs. On the other hand, the report pointed to a surplus in higher-end units: 18,600 more units than needed in the units in the range of $1,300-$3,500 or more a month.

Henley summarized the report’s recommendations for meeting affordable housing needs as a “three-prong framework” to focuses on preserving existing stock, producing more of the right kind, and protecting renter and buyers from displacement.

The authors recommend not just ramping up construction of additional housing stock, but also finding ways to streamline permitting processes and make use of public land and vacant lots.

The report also recommends allowing more multi-family projects on properties zoned for single-family housing, through the use of accessory dwelling units. It found that 73% of Arlington’s residential space is zoned for single-family houses, which is lower than D.C.’s 80%, and Fairfax County’s 95%.

The report itself was funded with grants from the Greater Washington Partnership and JPMorgan Chase.

Earlier this month, Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair at Large Phyllis Randall remarked that area residents needed to start understanding affordable housing as meaning suitable housing for the elderly, people with disabilities, and debt-ridden college graduates.

“I want them in the area,” Randall said of her children seeking housing they could afford. “Not in my basement.”

“I think that people view the word affordable housing as only for poor people, or of people with extremely low incomes, but I think that everyone need housing that is suitable for them.” Henley said. “We need the housing market to work for everyone.”

Graph via Urban Institute

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The majority of local leaders agree that Northern Virginia needs more affordable housing and bus transit — though they differ on the details.

Local leaders discussed issues ranging from housing to the area’s overall economic health during the Northern Virginia Regional Elected Leaders Summit co-hosted by several local chambers of commerce at George Mason University’s Arlington campus earlier today (Monday).

Affordable Housing

Arlington Board Chair Christian Dorsey said he was working with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments to develop a “policy overlay” to help guide affordable housing across the region.

“We have one,” said Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson. “It’s just entirely not deliberate, not coordinated, and not successful.”

Wilson and Dorsey both said that each jurisdiction has its own issues — like zoning for accessory dwelling units — but a guiding document could help align governments’ goals to fill the region’s growing housing need. One problem leaders believe is better solved together is how to build affordable housing that’s accessible to public transportation.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Penelope Gross said the skyrocketing price of housing near Metro stations bars the people who most need access to Metro from living nearby. Dorsey agreed that building affordable, transit-accessible housing was an important regional priority, and a better idea than building housing away from transit.

“We can’t just continue to grow housing and then try and build the supports with transportation infrastructure to meet where we built the housing,” said Dorsey. “That’s stupid.”

Phyllis Randall, Chair at Large of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, said she has tried to explain to constituents with kids that the people who benefit from affordable housing includes recent college graduates.

“I want them in the area,” she joked of her own children. “Not in my basement.”

Outgoing Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chair Corey Stewart, the only Republican on the stage Monday, was also the lone dissenter in that conversation. He pointed out that Prince William held a “disproportionate” share of affordable housing in the region, but still could not build enough because of restrictions on breaking up large, multi-acre lots that local leaders refused to amend.

“We need to let the private sector solve this problem,” he said.

Metro, Buses, and Shutdowns

Dorsey, who also sits on the WMATA Board of Directors, told the audience that the transit agency expects to conclude its Blue and Yellow line shutdown in Alexandria on time. That was welcome news for Alexandria’s leaders.

“It has been a difficult summer,” noted Wilson, who said that the silver lining of businesses hit hard by the shutdown is that more residents have been using the public bus system than ever.

Due to growing ridership this summer, the mayor announced Alexandria will extend its water taxi service to the Wharf through the December. The water, he said, was the region’s largest “untapped resource” when it came to transit development.

Gross and Dorsey both echoed support for more bus transit to help move more people and alleviate the region’s traffic woes, with Dorsey saying he wants “to see the attention to Metro’s buses that is paid to rail.”

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Local affordable housing non-profit Wesley Housing Development Corporation is staffing up as it prepares to take on more projects.

“We’re at about 100 employees in total,” said the nonprofit’s President Shelley Murphy. “This time last year we were about 80ish.”

Most of those employees have been added to the nonprofit’s property management team, which manages buildings throughout Northern Virginia. The rest of the new hires have been added to Wesley’s real estate department (around 10) and a housing stability team (3) that connects tenants with social services to help them stay housed.

One big project in Arlington that necessitated new hires was Wesley’s redevelopment of the Red Cross site at 4333 Arlington Boulevard in Buckingham. The planned mixed-income community, dubbed The Cadence, will feature 97 affordable apartments and 19 market-rate townhomes. Murphy expects to break ground on the project next year.

Recently, the nonprofit added a senior project manager and a senior construction manager to the Buckingham development, as well as a real estate development associate, per a press release earlier this month.

Previously, Wesley also developed a 12-story, mixed-rent rate Union on Queen building near Rosslyn.

Today, Murphy said Wesley owns 2,000 affordable housing units across the region, with about 690 units located in Arlington.

“By adding three new team members to the real estate development team, we will be well-equipped to continue addressing the affordable housing crisis in this region,” said Murphy in a statement.

While Wesley officials did not mention Amazon’s forthcoming HQ2 in Arlington as an impetus for its growth, the new headquarters is expected to exacerbate the county’s longstanding struggle to replenish its affordable housing stock.

Amazon announced last month that it would donate $3 million to local affordable housing and support services. Additionally, the tech and retail giant would match employee donations to local housing nonprofits — including Wesley — up to $5 million through the end of September.

When it comes to Amazon, Murphy acknowledged HQ2 speculation has raised property values and rents which could make her work more difficult. But overall, she said the company’s arrival portends good things for the county.

“The fact is that the 25,000 jobs that they’re adding over the course of 10 years are the same jobs that we lost with BRAC a few years ago,” she said, referring to the thousands of jobs Arlington lost due to Department of Defense restructuring that started in 2005.

In her opinion, the heated debates over Amazon’s potential to shrink Arlington’s affordable housing stock have been healthy for the community.

“All the sudden, our leadership is talking about it, they’re investing in it, there’s a regional conversation,” said Murphy, who commended the Arlington County Board for investing in housing projects and supporting a variety of affordable housing initiatives.

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An Arlington couple has gifted $1.5 million to an affordable housing project county officials hope will help veterans.

Ron and Frances Terwilliger donated to the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) to help fund the redevelopment of Virginia Square’s American Legion Post 139. The aging building is slated to be demolished and rebuilt into a 160-unit, seven-story affordable housing building with a preference for veteran tenants.

Ron Terwilliger grew up in South Arlington and attended Barcroft Elementary School and Wakefield High School before joining the Navy and attending Harvard Business School. Terwilliger retired as CEO from the housing developer Trammell Crow Residential in 2008, and has since donated millions to housing causes like Habitat for Humanity, as well as Navy developments in Annapolis.

“As a child, my father worked two jobs to make sure that we had a safe, stable home right here in Arlington,” said Terwilliger in a statement.

“His sacrifices gave Bruce and I the chance to attend good schools and pursue our dreams,” he said of his brother and his upbringing. “Today, the high cost of housing puts that dream out of reach for too many families. Projects like this are essential to helping people of all incomes and backgrounds continue to call Arlington home.”

The Terwilliger Family Foundation is an Atlanta-based nonprofit which has donated around half a million dollars every year since 2011 to medical charities and other causes, according to filings shared by ProPublica.

The nonprofit’s million-dollar-donation to the American Legion Post is the largest private contribution to APAH yet, officials said today (Monday.) APAH CEO Nina Janopaul said the organization was “honored” to receive the donation and will name the new building after Ron Terwilliger’s parents, Lucille and Bruce Terwilliger.

“The redevelopment of Legion Post 139 into the Lucille and Bruce Terwilliger Place is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, and could serve as a model for other Legion posts interested in responding to the changing needs of the communities they serve,” said Janopaul.

The County Board approved the project in February, noting it was an opportunity to aid the county’s dwindling affordable housing stock. Since then, APAH and Virginia Housing Trust Fund have agreed to loan a combined $13,700,000 to the project.

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Morning Notes

HQ2 and Affordable Housing Funding — “Amazon.com Inc.’s planned Metropolitan Park towers, totaling 2.08 million square feet of office and 67,000 square feet of retail, would exceed the density currently allowed on the Pentagon City site by about 582,000 square feet. And that could mean a huge windfall for affordable housing.” [Washington Business Journal]

Local Baseball Team Going to National Tourney — “A group of baseball players who have won so many championships over a four-year stretch now have the opportunity to win the ultimate prize. By capturing the Southeast Region Babe Ruth Tournament on July 27 in Lewisburg, Tenn., the Arlington Senior Babe Ruth 15-under All-Stars have qualified for the Babe Ruth World Series, starting Aug. 7 in [Bismarck], N.D.” [InsideNova]

Astronaut Coming to Arlington — On August 7 and 8 in Crystal City, local students in grades 8-12 will get to “meet astronauts and design an experiment that could be launched to the International Space Station next year through a partnership with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and Higher Orbits to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing.” [AIAA]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Arlington County’s zoning office is undertaking a study to find new ways to encourage affordable housing growth in the county.

The study aims to update the Housing Conservation District (HCD) report — a document which lays out measures to preserve units of affordable housing in several, specially-designated areas across the county.

Zoning staff are currently considering several new “zoning and financial incentives,” like:

  • Allowing developers to add more units to a building, or construct a second building on a property, if the developer reserves some units for affordable housing
  • Changing some zoning rules about setbacks or maximum building heights to make it easier to replace older affordable housing buildings
  • Adopting tax benefits for properties with affordable housing

The 12 areas in Arlington that form the HCD include Leeway Overlee, Glebewood, Waverly Hills, Spout Run/Lyon Village, North Highlands, Westover, Lyon Park, Penrose, Shirlington, and Long Branch Creek.

The original draft of the HCD in 2017 aimed to prevent developers from tearing down older homes in favor of new townhouses.

Earlier this year, the county announced a new “Housing Arlington” initiative to help the county meets its goal of creating 15,800 affordable units by 2040. At the time, staff noted lower-income residents face a housing squeeze given that the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $3,000, and Arlington lost 17,000 market-rate housing units since 2005.

The new study is expected to be completed by early 2020.

County staff are also currently undertaking a study about ways to make it easier to build new elder care facilities, such as allowing developers to build the facilities in more places around Arlington than currently permitted via zoning.

Image (top) via Arlington TV

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Morning Notes

HQ2 to Include Banana Stand, Local Businesses — “Schoettler said the outdoor areas will likely include elements from its Seattle headquarters, such as a community vegetable garden and a banana stand… Amazon’s in-house food program will only serve about one-quarter of the HQ2 workforce, encouraging the majority of the employees to each lunch at nearby businesses. And because Amazon will own the buildings, Schoettler said it will be able to curate the retail to focus on locally owned businesses.” [Bisnow, WAMU, Washington Business Journal]

County Again Recognized for Tech Savvy — “Arlington County is once again among the top ranked digital counties in the nation. The Center for Digital Government and National Association of Counties 2019 award designated Arlington second place in the 150,000-249,999 population category.” [Arlington County]

Legion Development a National Model? — “Post 139 and APAH’s partnership should serve as an example for addressing the issue of homeless veterans, said Darryl Vincent, chief operating officer of nonprofit U.S.VETS… In 2018, there were 12,806 American Legion posts across the country, a huge inventory of property that could be repurposed as affordable housing.” [Politico]

Helicopter Noise Amendment Passes House — “The House of Representatives adopted a set of amendments to H.R. 2500, the National Defense Authorization Act, including two offered by Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) which would address helicopter noise in the National Capital Region.” [Press Release]

ACPD: Lock Your Car and House — “The Arlington County Police Department is joining law enforcement agencies throughout the country in a public safety campaign aimed at promoting crime prevention strategies to reduce and prevent thefts from vehicles and homes. The campaign, known as the 9 P.M. Routine, encourages residents to conduct security checks in their homes and vehicles each evening to ensure their property is secure.” [Arlington County]

APS Teacher Receives National Recognition — “Wilfredo Padilla Melendez, teacher at Claremont Immersion School, received Instructure’s 2019 Educator of the Year Award. Wilfredo was recognized as one of six educators who go above and beyond to redefine traditional classroom activities.” [Press Release]

Photo courtesy Arlington VA/Flickr

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(Updated at 11:35 a.m.) Amazon is making a $3 million donation for affordable housing and support services in the region, with a focus on Arlington.

The gift is being handled by the Arlington Community Foundation, which announced the commitment this morning.

“The gift will create a fund to support programs that maintain and create housing options for low-income individuals and families,” the foundation said.

In a press release, the foundation notes that Arlington has lost nearly 90 percent of its market rate affordable housing over the past two decades. Many expect real estate prices to continue to rise and price out lower-income individuals and families, particularly with Amazon bringing tens of thousands of mostly high-paying jobs to its new HQ2 in Arlington over the next 10 years or so.

Amazon also announced today that it would match employee donations to select housing- and homelessness-related nonprofits in and around Arlington, including AHC Inc., the Arlington Partnership for Affordable HousingA-SPANCarpenter’s Shelter, Wesley Housing Development Corporation and Doorways.

“Amazon will match the donation one-for-one, up to $5 million, through September 30,” the company said. Amazon is also making donations and employee matches in the Seattle area, home to its first headquarters.

More from the Arlington Community Foundation press release, after the jump.

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(Updated at 4 p.m.) A local interfaith group is proposing Arlington and Alexandria redirect Amazon revenue to address long-standing community issues like affordable housing and school crowding.

Virginians for Organized Interfaith Community Engagement called on officials to dedicate portions of their revenue from Amazon to solve long-standing issues like Arlington’s affordable housing squeeze and ever-growing school enrollment.

The so-called “Community First Initiative” calls for Arlington County to earmark the first $10 million it receives from Amazon tax revenue to invest in affordability and equity, and dedicate 50 percent of all future revenue to the same.

“This would bring upwards of $232 million by 2035,” noted a VOICE press release on the proposed initiative, adding that leaders needed to start investing in solutions now because, “affordable housing and places are disappearing too fast. Too many residents are already being pushed out.”

Officials have estimated that Amazon will net the county $342.3 million in combined tax revenue over the next 16 years.

Arlington Board Chair Christian Dorsey and Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson both expressed general support for the plan during a planned event at Wakefield High School yesterday, though Dorsey disagreed about the specific funding mechanism proposed.

VOICE asked officials to invest in their communities by taking a loan out on the revenue the county expects to earn from Amazon’s second headquarters, making use of the county’s high bond ratings.

“The whole idea that you bond against revenues that you anticipate to come, but that you don’t have a definite stream, that’s not something that’s done affordably for a community, nor would I ever recommend that we do something like that,” said Dorsey, who added that he would look into alternative funding mechanisms like general appropriations during next year’s budget negotiations.

Arlington County Board members passed a $1.4 billion budget two months ago that increased funding for the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund to $16 million for the next fiscal year, up from $14.3 million currently.

The investment came after a contentious hearing in March over the county’s incentive package for Amazon, which includes up to $23 million in incentives to Amazon over the next 15 years and up to $28 million in local transportation project funding. Protesters disrupted the meeting several times to express fears that the community needed more investment in affordable housing to combat gentrification that could be caused by Amazon’s arrival.

“Will I work with VOICE to dedicate at least half of all additional revenues that come from Amazon’s investments in Arlington priorities in equity and inclusion, among which are the proposals you have generated? The answer is unequivocally yes,” Dorsey said on Sunday.

Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson, who joked it was “great to be across Four Mile Run in his second favorite Virginia jurisdiction,” told the audience that he too was committed to continuing conversations with VOICE, tech leaders, and Virginia Tech, which is planning to build a new 65-acre tech campus in Alexandria close to Amazon’s new headquarters.

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(Updated at 4:25 p.m.) The Commonwealth of Virginia and Arlington County are loaning a combined $13,700,000 to a Virginia Square affordable housing project focusing on veterans.

Officials announced yesterday (Tuesday) evening that the Virginia Housing Trust Fund will loan $700,000 and Arlington County will loan the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) $13,000,000 to build a seven-story, 160-unit building on the site of the American Legion Post 139 (3445 Washington Blvd).

“We want to make sure Virginia is the most veteran-friendly state in this great country of ours,” Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said in a speech outside the aging Legion building, which will be torn down and replaced by the new development.

Half the units will have a “veteran-preference in perpetuity,” APAH President and CEO Nina Janopaul told ARLnow Tuesday.

County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said in a speech he was “really thrilled” the county could be a part of the effort to help veterans.

“This is an opportunity for us to actually, truly thank them for their service by providing a very key need. That is, long-term housing,” Dorsey said.

Board member Katie Cristol told ARLnow that it was a “terrific project” and a “model” for Legion posts statewide. She added that it was inherently difficult to bring together all of the disparate parties on these kinds of projects, but the process could be easier if state legislators invested more in the affordable housing fund.

“You see Arlington and APAH trying to fill a really big hole,” said Cristol.

Northam thanked legislators, including state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st), for helping to add $11 million to the state’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, of which $700,000 is loaned to the Legion development.

The governor added the the fund needs an addition $9 million to meet affordable housing needs across Virginia, saying “we still have a lot of work to do.”

The current design of the Legion’s new building features a new access road that runs along the west side of the lot, by the Casual Adventure shop next door. At the rear of the lot, the road will end in a parking garage for residents and Legion members.

Some neighbors have expressed concern about traffic and noise from the development. A total of 96 parking spaces are proposed, some of which are designated for use by the Legion. Janopaul said the parking ratio is lower than other APAH projects due to proximity to transit, adding that a planned driveway was moved in response to resident concerns.

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Arlington County is turning trash into treasure by growing thousands of pounds of fresh produce for a local food bank using compost from residents.

Last February, Arlington’s Solid Waste Bureau began a pilot program to create compost from residents’ food scraps. Now some of that compost is coming full circle and being used in some of the local gardens that supply fresh produce for Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC).

AFAC is a nonprofit that receives around a million and a half pounds of food donations annually. The goods comes from several sources: grocery stores, private food drives, farmers markets and farms, and gardens around the region, according to spokesman Jeremiah Huston. Part of that comes from its “Plot Against Hunger” program, which cultivates the fresh produce.

AFAC staffer Puwen Lee manages this program, which she helped grow back in 2007 after noticing the food bank distributed frozen vegetables even in the summer months.

“And I thought, ‘This is really strange because I got so many vegetables in my garden,'” she said. After mentioning it to the nonprofit’s leadership, Lee said the director dropped off 600 packs of seeds on her desk and left it up to her.

Since then, Lee, who grew up gardening in Michigan, estimates the program has received over 600,000 pounds of fresh produce and has grown to include gardens from the Arlington Central Library, schools, and senior centers — and now it’s experimenting with using waste from residents themselves.

Trading trash for treasure

The Solid Waste Bureau collects food waste in two green barrels behind a rosebush by its headquarters in the Trades Center in Shirlington. The waste is then dumped into a 10-foot-high, 31-foot-long earth flow composting stem that cooks the materials under a glass roof and generates 33 cubic yards of compost in about two weeks.

When Solid Waste Bureau Chief Erik Grabowsky opens the doors to the machine, the heady smell of wine wafts out, revealing a giant auger slowly whirring through the blackened bed, turning the composting food.

Grabowsky said the final mix is cut with wood chips — something not always ideal for most vegetable gardens. But Grabowksy says it’s an “evolving” mixture that the department will tweak over time and which he plans to test in the department’s own garden next to the machine.

After the wood chips, the mix is shifted through a hulking “trammel screen” and distributed to AFAC and the Department of Parks and Recreation.

On a recent weekday, workers Travis Haddock and Lee Carrig were busy in Bobcats shuffling dirt off the paved plaza Grabowksy says will host the department’s first open house next Saturday, June 8 to show how the recycling system works. Normally, they manage repairs to the auger and the flow of compost in and out of the machine.

(When asked what their favorite part of the job was, they joked it was when the auger “stops in the middle and you got to climb in there.”)

The department’s free June event, called “Rock-and-Recycle,” will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the department’s lot in the Trades Center and will feature music and food trucks. Attendees will also be able to check out the compost for themselves, as well as the nearby Rock Crusher and Tub Grinder.

From farm to food bank

AFAC is currently experimenting with using the compost for one of its gardens. The nonprofit also makes its own mix using plant scraps and weeds pulled up from the beds.

Near AFAC’s Shirlington headquarters, volunteers run a garden that donates all its yield to the food bank. Boy Scouts originally built the raised beds that now make up 550 square feet of gardening space, and grow lettuce, beets, spinach, green beans, kale, tomatoes, and radishes, on a plot near a water pump station along S. Walter Reed Drive.

Plot Against Hunger manager Lee said the space was originally planned as a “nomadic garden” in 2013, but thanks to the neighboring Fort Barnard Community and the Department of Water and Sewer, it became a permanent fixture on Walter Reed Drive.

Certified Master Gardener Catherine Connor has managed the organic garden for the last three years. She says she’s helped set up the rain barrels and irrigation system that waters the beds in addition to supervising the planting. Now the beds are thick with greens and bumblebees hum between the flowers of the spinach plants that have gone to seed.

“Last year, we had just an incredible growing season,” Lee said. “From the farmers markets alone we picked up something like 90,000 pounds [of food.]”

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