Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

Reminder: In-Person School Resuming Updated at 8:55 a.m. — “@APSVirginia elementary schools re-open for preK-2nd grade on Tuesday, March 2, followed by 3rd-5th + 6th (middle school) and 9th (high school) grades on March 9, then all returning students on March 16.” [Twitter, Twitter]

County Buying Fairlington Area Apartments — “A push to redevelop the Park Shirlington apartment complex in South Arlington has fallen through, prompting county officials to take the unusual step of buying part of the aging affordable community. Arlington leaders signed off on plans in late January to purchase about half of the property, located along I-395 near the county’s border with Alexandria. The county will end up paying about $27.9 million for 105 apartments on a 6.3-acre parcel should the deal close in August.” [Washington Business Journal]

New Rosslyn Apartments Start Leasing — “Today, Penzance… announced the start of leasing and the opening of their interactive leasing center for Aubrey, the first luxury apartment tower to deliver at The Highlands, a dynamic mixed-use development project along the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor.” [Press Release]

Amazon Donates to Wakefield HS — “As part of it’s celebration of Black History Month, Amazon presented a $15,000 donation to support Wakefield High School. This is the latest in Amazon’s ongoing work to support education and racial equality initiatives in communities across the country where its employees live and work. The donation to Wakefield High School of $15,000 will include the book Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You by Jason Reynolds.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Food Stand Operators Expand into Alpacas — “What started as just a food truck eight years ago [and later a food stand in Crystal City] has now turned into an expanded business. The Peruvian Brothers are actually selling a new product — selling alpaca poop. Yes, that’s right.” [WJLA]

Jaywalking Now No Longer a Primary Offense — “Though it didn’t garner as much attention as other police reform measures during the special legislative session that ended this fall, a provision to decriminalize jaywalking in a pretextual policing bill from Delegate Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, means that come March 1, police will no longer be able to stop folks for the act of crossing the street outside of a marked crosswalk.” [Virginia Mercury, NBC 4]

Amazon Funds Affordable Housing in Falls Church — “In response to concerns about the anticipated impact of its second headquarters in Arlington on the region’s housing prices, Amazon pledged $75 million over five years to affordable housing in Northern Virginia… Falls Church will get $3.4 million for a new affordable housing homeownership program and $350,000 to extend the availability of nine committed affordable apartments at the Read Building (402 W. Broad Street).” [Tysons Reporter]

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Auxmite Village Condos, located at 1100 S. Highland Street, currently has four townhouse-style affordable dwelling units (ADUs) for sale.

Each unit has two bedrooms and ranges from 808 to 948 square feet.

The units are listed for $369,301, and the monthly condo fee is $223, which will vary year to year based on HOA assessments. You can purchase parking separately for $20,000.

Four eligible applicants will be randomly selected by the Arlington Housing Division to purchase a unit. The drawing date is TBD.

Eligibility criteria include:

You must also be a first-time homebuyer with no homeownership or real estate interest within the past three years.

To apply, submit a homebuyer assessment form, complete a Virginia Housing First-Time Buyer Class and get mortgage pre-approval. Email these materials to the Arlington County Housing Division at [email protected] to be entered into the drawing.

Units are chosen based on household size and prioritized through drawing ranking.

For more information on Arlington’s affordable housing units, visit the Arlington County Housing Division website.

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Gov. Ralph Northam made an Arlington apartment building his venue to announce a half-billion dollars in rent relief for Virginia families.

Northam announced the new federal funding for the Virginia Rent Relief Program at Gillam Place, an affordable apartment complex along Columbia Pike. He did so after touring an Arlington vaccination clinic Tuesday morning.

The rent relief “will assist households and landlords with rent payments to avoid eviction” during the pandemic. Virginia residents can apply for up to 15 months of rent relief, for payments dating back to April 1, 2020 and up to three months in the future.

More from a press release:

Governor Ralph Northam today announced $524 million in new federal funding to help keep Virginia families in their homes amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Virginia Rent Relief Program (RRP) is funded through the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program included in the recent federal stimulus package and will assist households and landlords with rent payments to avoid eviction. Governor Northam made the announcement at Gilliam Place Apartments, which is owned by the nonprofit organization Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have prioritized efforts to keep Virginians safely in their homes,” said Governor Northam. “There continues to be an overwhelming need for additional relief to help those struggling to make ends meet. This new federal funding will provide an important lifeline to individuals and families, and bolster our ongoing work to address housing affordability in the Commonwealth. I urge eligible households to act quickly and work with their landlords to seek rental assistance through this program.”

Virginia is immediately putting $160 million into the RRP to increase housing stability across the Commonwealth and will make additional funding available based upon need. The program will be administered by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).

In June 2020, Virginia was one of the first states in the nation to create a statewide rent and mortgage relief program with federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds. To date, the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program (RMRP) has distributed over $83.7 million in 24,294 rent and mortgage payments for households throughout the Commonwealth. Families with children represent the majority of households assisted by the program. Governor Northam and the General Assembly allocated Virginia Housing Trust Funds to continue supporting the program prior to this new federal allocation.

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Morning Notes

Planning Process for Pentagon City Underway — “Amazon.com Inc.’s vision for Pentagon City is decidedly futuristic, anchored by a helix-shaped building that looks straight out of a sci-fi novel. Arlington County’s existing plans that guide the neighborhood’s growth, meanwhile, date back to the days of disco… The open question is how much more development the tech giant will inspire.” [Washington Business Journal]

SUV Overturns on GW Parkway — From WTOP yesterday morning: “NB George Washington Pkwy before the Key Bridge, crash involves one on its side with the left lane only squeezing by.” [Twitter]

GMU to Partner with Local American Legion Post — “Realizing a need existed to help veterans and their families in similar situations, leaders at the law school established the Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (M-VETS) in 2004…. A new partnership with American Legion Post 139, which will be standing up a new building in Arlington, will allow the clinic to further increase its impact.” [George Mason University]

New Apartment Building Opening — “AHC Inc., a leading developer of affordable housing in the Washington-Baltimore metro region, is pleased to introduce a new apartment community in Arlington, VA, called The Apex. Featuring a total of 256 apartments, the $100 million development has started to welcome its first residents and is currently accepting applications.” [Press Release]

Arlington Housing Remains Pricey — “The city of Falls Church in Virginia remains the most expensive housing market, by official jurisdiction, with a median price of $820,000 last month. But among larger jurisdictions, Virginia’s Arlington County remains the most expensive, at $600,000 last month.” [WTOP]

Instant-Runoff Voting Challenges — “Technical, legal and financial complexities likely will mean any start to ‘instant-runoff’ County Board voting in Arlington will be pushed back to 2022 at the soonest. ‘It’s not practical for this year. The earliest this could possibly be used is next year,’ said Arlington Electoral Board secretary Scott McGeary, summing things up during a Feb. 6 Electoral Board meeting.” [InsideNova]

Reminder: Blue Line Work Starts Tomorrow — “Metro’s entire Blue Line is being shut down for more than three months starting Saturday… platform reconstruction work [is] being performed at the Arlington Cemetery station.” [ARLnow]

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Morning Notes

Cell Service Now Available in All Metro Tunnels — “The nation’s major wireless carriers — AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon — and Metro today officially announced the final milestone, more than a decade in the making, to provide wireless service for those who use the Metrorail system… The latest activation brings the final three segments online between Dupont Circle in Downtown DC and White Flint in Maryland, the Yellow Line from L’Enfant Plaza to the Pentagon, and Silver Line in Tysons Corner.” [WMATA]

More on Amazon’s Affordable Housing Commitment — “‘The biggest housing challenge Arlington faces is preserving and building affordable housing, and Amazon is helping by creating a lot of affordable housing,’ said Matt de Ferranti, Arlington County Board chair via email. ‘Our budget is hurting as we feel the pandemic economically, but our housing prices for homes and condos and any place to live in the area is still increasing as people think we are a good long term place to live in part due to Amazon. We need the housing right now to avoid displacement.'” [GGWash]

Arlington Scores Well for Fiscal Health — “A new report on the financial condition of the 75 most populous cities ranked Arlington no. 16 in the nation for fiscal health. The report is based on the cities’ 2019 comprehensive annual financial reports, which are not analyzed on this scale by any other organization.” [Patch]

New Book Set in Arlington — There’s a new book, set in Arlington during the COVID era, that “tells the story of a sportswriter and baseball pitcher who decide to enjoy a one-night stand, only to discover that their relationship is something more.” [Mindy Klasky]

Inside Virginia’s Vaccine Struggles — “The state is now apportioning vaccines to local health districts based on their share of the state’s population. Previously, allocations were based on district requests, which often depended on demand and how many doses local health departments thought they’d be able to administer.” [Virginia Mercury]

Nearby: Transportation Changes for Seven Corners — “The Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) will hold two ‘virtual’ meetings next month to seek public input on planned transportation improvements at the Seven Corners interchange and nearby roads.” [InsideNova]

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Financed by Amazon, a D.C. area housing nonprofit bought and will stabilize rent at a luxury apartment building in Crystal City.

The tech giant announced on Wednesday that it is contributing $381.9 million to Washington Housing Conservancy to create and preserve 1,300 affordable housing units at Crystal House (1900 S. Eads St), as rents rise amid Amazon’s expansion into the area.

“Amazon’s investment in affordable housing in Arlington is transformational — and couldn’t come at a better time,” County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said in a statement. “We are delighted to further strengthen our partnership with Amazon and to work together to serve our shared commitment to equity and economic opportunity for all of our residents.”

The funding for WHC includes a $339.9 million below-market loan and $42 million in grants. With the money, and a $6.7 million loan from WHC’s financing partner, JBG Smith, the nonprofit purchased Crystal House, a luxury apartment complex one block from Amazon’s future HQ2.

“Washington Housing Conservancy disrupts a market cycle that leads to displacement and offers the kind of stability that lets residents focus on their future, instead of the uncertainty of escalating rents,” WHC Executive Director Kimberly Driggins said in a statement.

The conversion of existing market-rate apartments into dedicated affordable apartments started on Jan. 1 and will continue over the next five years. Rents at the building, to be managed by JBG Smith, will target households earning less than 80% of the area median income. The agreement is for 99 years.

Residents were notified about the changes on Dec. 31 in a letter, obtained by Washington Business Journal.

“With Amazon’s support, we are advancing our vision for inclusive, mixed-income communities of racially diverse middle-income and low-income families and individuals, to live near their employment and access high-performing schools and community amenities,” Driggins said.

Although another purchase was in the works last year, the purchase of Crystal House marks Washington Housing Conservancy’s first finalized purchase since the nonprofit was established in 2019.

The contributions are part of Amazon’s new Housing Equity Fund, a more than $2 billion commitment to create and preserve more than 20,000 units in Amazon’s three footholds: Arlington, the Seattle area, and Nashville.

“Amazon has a long-standing commitment to helping people in need,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO. “This new $2 billion Housing Equity Fund will create or preserve 20,000 affordable homes in all three of our headquarters regions — Arlington, Puget Sound, and Nashville. It will also help local families achieve long-term stability while building strong, inclusive communities.”

The contribution comes after nearly a decade of climbing housing costs that have outpaced the growth of household incomes.

Arlington County has lost approximately 14,400 privately-owned, affordably priced housing units since 2000, according to Amazon’s press release.

Between 2010 and 2018, the median home value climbed approximately 20% (after adjusting for inflation) and median rents climbed 11%, while median household incomes climbed only 7%, the release said.

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Morning Notes

Market Common to Ditch Driveway? — “The loop road through the heart of Regency Centers Corp.’s Market Common Clarendon project could soon look a lot more like a plaza. The developer is pitching a series of changes to the central hub of the development… to try and make the area a bit more pleasing for pedestrians. That includes closing off to vehicular traffic the end of the U-shaped road connecting many of the development’s shops to Clarendon Boulevard.” [Washington Business Journal]

Beyer Statement on Trump Tape — “This recording makes Nixon’s ‘smoking gun’ tape sound tame, but that tape captured only one part of a larger criminal conspiracy. Donald Trump must be held accountable for his illegal acts and his attacks on the Constitution. Nothing less than a criminal investigation will serve.” [Press Release]

Affordable Housing Nonprofit Buys Crystal House — “The Washington Housing Conservancy has acquired the Crystal House apartments in Arlington County in a bid to help combat rising rental rates as Amazon.com Inc. continues to expand its second headquarters nearby. The District-based nonprofit on Dec. 31 notified residents of the complex at 1900 S. Eads St. of the acquisition.” [Washington Business Journal]

Fmr. ACDC Chair Is Top Ga. Runoff Dialer — “And the top caller into Georgia for the ‘blue team’ in the 1/5/21 U.S. Senate runoff elections is… yep, Virginia’s own Kip Malinosky (former Arlington County Democratic Committee Chair), with a whopping 2,801 calls and still dialing!” [Blue Virginia]

Local Basketball Ref Shortage — “Players, coaches and school administrators aren’t alone in making adjustments to hold a high-school basketball season in Fairfax and Arlington counties, which began Dec. 21 with many restrictions and protocols to follow because of the COVID-19 pandemic.” [InsideNova]

Crystal City Hotel Restaurant Reopening — “Really Yummy Good News! Our [Crystal City Marriott] bar and restaurant, Bell20, is Reopening TOMORROW! What a great way to start 2021!” [Twitter]

Pentagon City-Based FLIR Acquired — “Teledyne Technologies Incorporated and FLIR Systems, Inc. jointly announced today that they have entered into a definitive agreement under which Teledyne will acquire FLIR in a cash and stock transaction valued at approximately $8.0 billion.” [FLIR via Potomac Tech Wire]

Rosslyn-Based Politico Buys Energy Publication — “POLITICO, the world’s leading global news operation and information service specializing in politics and policy, today announced that it has entered into an agreement to acquire E&E News, the renowned news organization focused solely on energy and the environment, now in its 22nd year.” [Politico]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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A new report released by three local civic associations says tenant protections, more housing options and community amenities would make the 22202 zip code livable.

But significant barriers — including a history of exclusionary zoning to a lack of political will from leaders — are holding the area back, the neighborhoods say.

The report was produced by Livability 22202, a coalition of the Arlington Ridge, Aurora Highlands, and Crystal City civic associations.

“We want to ensure our neighborhood reflects the vision of an inclusive community and that residents’ voices are heard in a rapidly changing environment,” the report’s authors wrote. “By learning from the past and planning for a realistic future, we can ensure our shared values and visions as a 22202 community hold a promise that all are welcome to find a home here.”

The report coincides with heavy redevelopment and the construction of Amazon’s permanent HQ2 in Pentagon City. It also comes as Arlington County studies the lack of “middle housing” — duplexes and other smaller-scale multifamily housing — and sponsors discussions on the effects of race-based policies in County’s past.

“We believe that the adoption of our policy solutions, together with other livability objectives, will contribute to making our neighborhood an even better and more inclusive community to live and work in,” said Susan English, of the Arlington Ridge Civic Association, in a statement.

The report affirms the same solutions housing advocates have called for as the Missing Middle Housing Study takes shape.

“As the County embarks on a process to overhaul its policies and practices to fill the housing ‘missing middle,’ our report and its recommendations provide a comprehensive roadmap for change,” said Tarsi Dunlop, of the Crystal City Civic Association, in a statement.

The authors predict Amazon and the other commercial and residential development will displace existing residents, and recommend assistance and policies at the local and state level for renters and owners.

Ben D’Avanzo, of the Aurora Highlands Civic Association, said the report’s findings of “explicit racial restrictions and redlining” will supplement Arlington’s race and equity dialogues.

The Livability 22202 members said the group will now push for their recommendations to be adopted.

In a statement to ARLnow, Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said she appreciates the hard work and the recommendations, many of which are consistent with the County’s goals.

“The County, too, wants to avoid displacement, increase the housing supply, and diversify housing choices,” she said.

In response to the assertion in the report that the County lacks political will to remove housing barriers, Garvey said county staff and the County Board are working with the community to do so while avoiding political backlash that could set them back.

“We are building political will,” she said. “The Board sees increasing the housing supply and access to housing as critical to Arlington’s long term sustainability and success as a community.”

The report is the result of workshops with renters, homeowners, experts and historians, as well as a study of the history of zoning and land use in the area and current barriers to adequate housing.

In addition to housing-related recommendations, the report also makes recommendations aimed ad strengthening local community cohesion.

Those recommendations include “creating both physical and digital spaces for community building, including a full-scope community center,” and “developing policies and processes to better include renters in the community, particularly addressing barriers to information sharing with residents of high-rises.”

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(Updated at 10:30 a.m. on 12/02/20) Arlington is seeking diverse voices in its Dialogues on Race and Equity, but so far the biggest group of respondents have been middle-aged white women who are relatively affluent.

Arlington County Chief Race and Equity Officer Samia Byrd and Challenging Racism Director Alicia Jones McLeod, who are promoting a new questionnaire on the topic of race, see this as a sign to keep pushing for broader participation.

“It has been interesting… we are seeing predominantly white women, middle aged, homeowners completing the assessment,” Byrd told the County Board last week. “So we really, really want to encourage everyone — so we can hear all of the voices that we typically do not hear — to complete the assessment.”

So far, 69% of respondents were white, but not of Hispanic origin. Hispanic people accounted for 7%, and Black or African American people accounted for 9%. Asian or Pacific Islander representation rests at 4.5% and American Indian or Alaska Native rests at 2.2%. Another 4.5% marked “other.”

Women represent 60% of respondents, and men 31%, with 8% preferring not to answer, and less than 1% marking gender non-conforming or not listed.

“We want to understand the full Arlington experience, or Arlington as experienced by everyone, so that we can continue to move forward,” Byrd added, in a conversation with ARLnow yesterday.

On Monday, the assessment was released in Mongolian and Arabic. It is being pushed via social media, email and the distribution of hard copies. The assessment closes on Dec. 31 and results will be presented to the County Board in the new year.

About 1,200 assessments have been completed since the survey went online on Oct. 12, as part of a broader initiative from Arlington County and Challenging Racism to engage community members in dialogues on race and equity, in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd and the protests that followed.

More than 200 people have participated in a second component of this initiative — a series of six conversations — the last of which is set for Dec. 9.

The preliminary under-representation of people of color, immigrants and non-English speakers mirrors the feelings that participants have expressed about the Arlington Way, housing and Arlington Public Schools. Participants have frequently mentioned barriers that lead to under-representation in government processes, home-owning and APS gifted programs.

Byrd said the assessments and discussions will lay the foundation for her work with county officials and the community to dismantle systemic racism, where it exists, in Arlington County.

That work involves undoing the lasting effects from when unequal treatment was codified in law, Byrd said. While those historic policies no longer exist, they erected barriers that keep Arlingtonians from accessing housing, education, health and wealth to this day, she said.

“None of us here created the system, but we’re all a part of it, regardless,” she said. “Race is the center of it.”

In the assessments and conversations, many Arlingtonians identified the Arlington Way — a catch-all phrase for citizen engagement in local government — as an area where the means of participation disadvantage people of color, those who rent and those who do not have the luxury of time to participate in lengthy, iterative decision processes.

“The Arlington Way means different things to different people, but generally it is about engagement: how people interact with, and who has access to, decision-making, decision-makers and resources; who is at the table when those policy decisions are being made; who can weigh in when policy decisions are being made that affect everyone,” Byrd said.

The sentiment is not new: For years, there have been suggestions to retool, reform or scrap the process entirely, in favor of a different system of gathering community input.

The pandemic has, at least temporarily, resulted in one notable change to the Arlington Way: more public meetings are being conducted online, rather than in person, thus making it more feasible for some to watch or participate. Before, participation in in-person meetings might have required some combination of booking a babysitter, requesting to work a different shift, waiting for public transit, and sitting in a crowded room for hours on end.

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(Updated at 4 p.m.) When walking from a Metro station, pedestrians often pass large apartment buildings that transition quickly to detached, single-family homes on sizable lots.

That contrast reveals two problems in Arlington County’s housing supply, says Emily Hamilton, a housing expert and advocate, and the Director of the Urbanity Project at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

Arlington needs to allow for more expansive urban villages around Metro stations, as well as additional housing options in between apartment buildings and detached, single-family homes, she said.

Her remarks come one month after Arlington County kicked off its “Missing Middle Housing Study,” which is examining whether the county should introduce housing types that have been typically prohibited from many neighborhoods.

Hamilton commended Arlington as a national model for transit-oriented development, since it allows dense, multi-family apartment buildings within one-quarter mile of the Metro stations on the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. But the County never changed the zoning ordinances to fully bring the plan to fruition, and she said it needs to.

“Ahead of Metro’s arrival in Arlington, county policymakers adopted the well-known ‘bulls eye approach’ to planning, which calls for dense development surrounding the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor Metro stations,” she wrote on the website Market Urbanism earlier this month. “Unfortunately, this plan has never been realized in the zoning ordinance.”

“The County maintains single-family or townhouse zoning within one-quarter mile of four stations on this corridor and a relatively low-density multifamily zone within one-quarter mile of the Rosslyn station,” she continued. “The County needs more townhouses and low-rise multifamily housing, but it also needs more high-rise multifamily housing as the bulls eye plan recognized. Given the high and rising land values and house prices along this corridor, it’s past time to realize this decades-old planning objective.”

“People are willing to walk a quarter-mile to a half-mile for transit generally, and farther for heavy-rail stations like the Metro,” Hamilton told ARLnow in a subsequent interview. At least an extra block or two could be converted into denser housing around the stations in Ballston, Virginia Square, Clarendon, Courthouse and Rosslyn, she said.

One such opportunity is in the Lyon Village neighborhood near Clarendon.

“North of the Clarendon Metro station is the largest chunk of that quarter-mile circle where there is low-density housing, and of course, that is where the single family homes are extraordinarily expensive,” said Hamilton. “It’s certainly a spot where denser development would make economic sense.”

Another example of low-density development around Metro is at East Falls Church, where there are single-family homes across the street from the station. A development plan for the area approved in 2011 but fizzled out, after facing strong opposition from local residents.

“There is a big opportunity” to build multi-family housing in the East Falls Church area, Hamilton said. New development would encourage more people to take Metro to work, and would have a positive overall environmental impact by cutting down on driving, she said.

While transit-oriented development has many positives, the relative lack of a middle ground between big apartment and condo buildings and single-family homes is “extremely stark,” Hamilton said.

“There is a missing price point in Arlington both because of the county’s high-income and the region’s unwillingness — compared to other coastal regions — to permit multi-family housing,” she said.

Recent calls to rezone some neighborhoods to allow smaller-scale multi-family homes would not outlaw single-family homes, Hamilton said. Rather, owners would be allowed to replace or convert houses into duplexes and townhouses, if they so choose. Still, the prospect of rezoning has already prompted opposition, making any changes an uphill battle politically.

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