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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 However, after some reflection, the nonprofit rescinded the letter, acknowledging that discontinuing the project would have been a “big mistake.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full press release about the grand opening is below.

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LGBTQ+ rainbow pride flag (Photo by Sophie Emeny via Unsplash)

Despite consistently receiving high marks from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Equality Arlington says Arlington County still has more work to do to improve services for LGBTQ residents.

Last week, the local LGBTQ nonprofit sent a letter to the Arlington County Board and County Manager, highlighting gaps in services, such as health care, workforce education and outreach, as revealed by the HRC Municipal Equality Index (MEI) — a scoring system used to rate a city’s inclusivity.

While Arlington County earned a near-perfect rating from the HRC in 2022 and 2023, the nonprofit argues there is still room for improvement.

“I think for a lot of LGBTQ plus residents, Arlington comes across as a friendly community, but it’s not a community that I would say like specifically invests in the queer community and certainly not in the way that you see like D.C. invest in marketing and making sure that we have sexual health resources and we have sort of community building things,” Equality Arlington President Kellen MacBeth told ARLnow.

According to the index, localities can score up to 100 points for having non-discrimination laws, employee benefits and protections for LGBTQ employees, inclusive municipal services, fair treatment by law enforcement, and equal rights promotion. Localities can also earn extra “flex points” for taking extra steps to support LGBTQ communities.

In 2022 and 2023, Arlington was awarded roughly half of the available flex points, falling short in areas such as preventing conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth, implementing anti-bullying initiatives, representation by openly LGBTQ leaders, and providing adequate services for various groups within the LGBTQ community, including transgender people, seniors, those living with HIV or AIDS and individuals experiencing homelessness.

In response, Equality Arlington proposed several steps the county could take to address these issues, including establishing anti-bullying measures for non-binary and transgender youth, offering “culturally competent training” for staff, collaborating with LGBTQ and religious organizations to expand affordable housing for seniors, subsidizing STI testing costs, and allocating more resources to public health and recreational services for LGBTQ residents.

County Board Chair Libby Garvey acknowledged that “more can and should be done” to ensure Arlington’s policies and services are more inclusive and promised to review and discuss the recommendations from Equality Arlington alongside the County Manager’s office.

“Arlington County strives to be a welcoming and inclusive home for all its residents, especially for those in the LGBTQ+ community,” she told ARLnow in an email.

Although county staff have been receptive to Equality Arlington’s recommendations in the past, MacBeth says the issue lies in prioritizing the implementation of these policies.

“I don’t think anything that we asked for in the letter carries a huge price tag,” MacBeth said. “I think pretty much everything in there is pretty reasonable as far as how much it would cost to implement or at least pilot or start to implement.”

Gurjit Chima, the assistant county manager for the Office of Human Rights, EEO, and ADA, is Arlington’s designated LGBTQ liaison, to which the HRC awarded points. However, MacBeth alleges that Chima’s office has not been in contact with the local LGBTQ community.

“We were very surprised that the county was getting points for that because none of us on the board, or just anyone that we talked to in Arlington, had ever heard of there being an LGBTQ plus liaison, and even county staff that we talked to had never heard of that,” he said.

Looking ahead, MacBeth says the LGBTQ community is calling for the county to appoint a liaison to ensure the needs of Arlington’s LGBTQ residents are considered when making policy decisions.

“They would be the ones who are bringing back the information and working to make sure that when decisions, policies and practices are put into effect,” MacBeth said. “They’re the ones who are saying, ‘Have we thought about the specific needs of the queer community? Have we thought about how this may impact them? Have we consulted with them?'”

Photo via Sophie Emeny/Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Daffodils at Culpepper Garden senior living center (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 3/13/24) A senior living community in Arlington is set to receive significant new support from the federal government.

Congress passed an appropriations bill last week that, among other things, allocated $2 million to Culpepper Garden, Arlington’s sole low-income senior retirement community. It’s home to 365 seniors aged 62 and older.

The funds, from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, will finance numerous upgrades to the 350-unit facility at 4435 N. Pershing Drive in Buckingham.

“The federal funding will help Culpepper Garden take up a housing revitalization project that will make much-need updates to its Independent Living and Assisted Living wings,” according to a press release. “The updates will include a host of renovations to apartments, installing new elevators and walkways, and more to improve quality of living and accessibility for residents.”

Virginia Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner helped secure funding for the facility.

“It’s critical for seniors’ quality of life that they have safe and affordable housing,” they said in a press release. “We’re proud to have secured federal funding to make important renovations that will improve accessibility and safety for seniors in Arlington County.”

Culpepper Garden was the first assisted living facility in the U.S. to receive federal rent subsidies from HUD, the press release notes.

The funds come at a crucial time when many Arlington residents, especially seniors, struggle to afford the cost of living, including housing, says Culpepper Garden President Marta Hill Gray.

The current waitlist for the facility is two years, “indicating a growing need for affordable housing as America’s aging population continues to swell,” per the release.

“We are immensely grateful to our leaders in Congress for recognizing the growing need for affordable housing for at-risk older adults,” Gray said in a statement. “We know that stable and quality housing leads to better health outcomes for older adults, and these earmarks will go directly towards improving our facilities and our residents’ quality of life.”

In addition to housing, Culpepper Garden is also home to an extensive garden with more than 30,000 daffodils and numerous native Virginia plants.

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Bridge 31, or the Trollheim Bridge, on the Mount Vernon Trail (courtesy Friends of the Mount Vernon Trail)

Federal funding is on track to bring more housing for many of the county’s most vulnerable residents as well as trail improvements and new playground equipment.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved on Wednesday $5.9 million in funding for Arlington initiatives in its annual budget. A little more than half of that funding — $3.3 million — is for housing for low-income residents, domestic violence survivors and chronically unsheltered people.

“Affordable housing is a major need in Northern Virginia, and I am thrilled that I could help address this issue by securing federal funds for housing projects in all of the jurisdictions I represent: Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, and Fairfax County,” Rep. Don Beyer (D) said in a press release.

The rest of the House-approved funds are for $2 million total in improvements to the Mount Vernon Trial and Arlington Boulevard Trail, plus $500,000 for upgrades to Monroe Park Playground.

The funding, according to the release, is expected to pass in the Senate, which has until the end of today (Friday) to pass a budget and prevent a partial government shutdown.

Of the $5.9 million, the biggest-ticket allocation is $1.5 million for Doorways, Arlington’s only service provider for survivors of domestic and sexual violence. The expenditure, which will be matched with private funds, is intended to help Doorways acquire apartments to provide shelter and longer-term housing for survivors and rely less on hotel rooms.

In a similar vein, $1.3 million is meant to allow PathForward to purchase an apartment building that houses people who have repeatedly fallen into homelessness. Leaders of both nonprofits previously told ARLnow they are seeing an increased demand for their emergency services but inflation pressures are straining their ability to provide them.

Lastly, another $500,000 would support efforts to convert the Melwood property at 750 23rd Street S., near Crystal City, into 104 units of affordable housing.

Arlington trail and park upgrades may also get a financial windfall.

Five miles of the Mount Vernon Trail running along the Potomac River between Rosslyn and Tide Lock Park in Alexandria are on track to receive $1.3 million. This funding would go toward widening the trail, which is one of the most popular commuter and recreational routes in the region, as well as realigning portions of it.

Another $720,000 would go toward safety improvements on Arlington Boulevard Trail, where a narrow sidewalk is directly adjacent to the road’s on- and off-ramp.

Finally, $500,000 could replace play equipment and improve amenities at Monroe Park Playground, a 23-year-old recreation site that is due for renovations.

“Even in the minority amid a divided and chaotic Congress, I am laser focused on helping my constituents and benefitting Northern Virginia,” Beyer said.

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Nady Peralta, an attorney from the Legal Aid Justice Center (via Arlington County/YouTube)

Undocumented low-income residents might someday become eligible for housing grants in Arlington.

The county is “almost done” reevaluating immigration status requirements for its Housing Grants Program, Arlington County Board Vice-Chair Takis Karantonis said at a Board meeting late last month.

“Stay tuned,” Karantonis told Nady Peralta, an attorney from the Legal Aid Justice Center, who advocated for the change. “This is coming very soon, and I believe that you will like what you will hear.”

Until recently, Arlington maintained that it legally could not offer housing subsidies to undocumented applicants under Virginia law. However, according to a county study published last month, county staff reversed their position following a letter from the Legal Aid Justice Center outlining ways this could, in fact, be legally possible.

“The County Attorney’s Office… determined that there is a viable legal argument for Arlington County to be able to provide Housing Grants to undocumented households,” the study says. “This marks a significant change in the program and is currently still under review for a final decision to be made by the County Manager and County Board.”

The county did not provide an estimate of how many fully undocumented households would become eligible for support under revised requirements but the study noted that an extra 50 households would cost around $421,800 each year.

The change would also increase subsidies to homes with mixed immigration status. As of last month, 54 such households received grants and altered documentation requirements could increase additional yearly housing subsidies by a total of $143,920.

Not everyone supports this proposal. Fewer than half of respondents to a telephone survey (40%) agreed with lifting documentation restrictions, according to the county study.

Peralta, by contrast, argued that restricting housing-grant access tends to force undocumented and “under-documented” families out of Arlington as rents increase.

“Housing subsidies directly reduce housing cost burden and help people stay in their homes, neighborhoods and communities,” she said. “These subsidies are key to preventing displacement as more long-term housing supply is built.”

Peralta told ARLnow that undocumented households are “particularly disadvantaged by the cost of living in Arlington, even as compared to non-immigrant low-income families.”

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(Updated at 12:30 p.m.) Arlington County is home to one of the busiest Goodwill donation centers in the country and this location, on S. Glebe Road, is now being teed up for redevelopment.

Last week, Planning Commission members recommended the Arlington County Board approve plans from Goodwill and affordable housing partner AHC to redevelop its storefront with a 6-story building consisting of a new retail and donation center, 128 units of affordable housing and space for a child care center.

The Board is set to review the proposal — which includes requests to rezone the property and label it a “revitalization area,” a designation intended to boost AHC’s application for low-income housing tax credits — on Saturday.

Still, some criticism over pedestrian safety for elderly residents and children tempered that enthusiasm, as did questions to affordable housing partner AHC Inc. about its ability to manage an affordable community following livability issues residents and advocates revealed at the Serrano Apartments on Columbia Pike.

“There’s just so much to love about this project,” said Planning Commissioner Leo Sarli. “We cannot have enough housing… childcare or upcycling — which is what Goodwill does — which again, keeps things out of landfill and has a massive environmental impact.”

Despite all this, he had lingering pedestrian safety concerns around the site entrance, given all the foot and vehicular traffic that apartments, retail and childcare are expected to generate. This led him to propose that the Planning Commission recommend the County Board defer its approval until Goodwill addresses them. While other commissioners likewise stressed their pedestrian safety concerns, his motion failed 9-1, with one abstention.

They later supported a resolution from Vice-Chair (and Arlington County Board candidate) Tenley Peterson to recommend county staff continue to work with the applicant to design streets around the building that use “pedestrian-forward design practices.”

“We don’t want to let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” she said. “This project offers so much value to the community.”

Land use attorney Andrew Painter said the proposal actually improves pedestrian safety by separating donor, resident and retail traffic, reducing surface parking from 54 spaces to four accessible ones and closing one of two existing site entrances.

Goodwill site circulation (via Arlington County)

County staffer Kevin Lam, meanwhile, assured Planning Commissioner members that transportation staff thoroughly reviewed the proposal and do not believe the site poses a significant safety issue, though it is a “conflict point between pedestrians and vehicles.”

Like Peterson, the Transportation Commission approved the project, though several had pedestrian safety concerns. Chair Chris Slatt said commissioners hope these are addressed post-approval and commended Goodwill for transportation upgrades it has committed to, including one-way parking access, fewer surface parking spaces and a wider, raised sidewalk across the driveway.

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Construction and haze along Columbia Pike (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

As a 15-year-long project to rebuild Columbia Pike with wider sidewalks and underground utilities enters its last construction phase, county leaders say they are seeing early signs of a promising future.

On Thursday, the Columbia Pike Partnership held its third annual “State of the Pike,” during which Arlington County’s department heads delivered a comprehensive overview of the Pike’s housing market and local economy via Zoom.

Despite the construction’s impact on walkability and traffic flow, officials noted that the area’s retail, office and multifamily apartment vacancies fall well below the county average. Still, they say, neighborhoods on the Pike still face persistent challenges, such as addressing graffiti and revitalizing a stagnant office market.

For nearly two decades, construction along the Pike has been a constant presence for businesses, residents and commuters alike. The constant construction thrum is not likely to abate until late 2025, according to County Deputy Director of Transportation Hui Wang.

While these improvements have made the Pike more walkable and leafier, some county officials have noted that they have also hurt some businesses. At the same time, other business owners are finding it difficult to secure retail space, notes Arlington Economic Development Deputy Director Kate Ange.

“So, there is strong demand for retail, which means there’s not a lot of space,” she told attendees of the 2024 State of the Pike forum. “And that’s both an opportunity, but also could be a challenge.”

In the first quarter of 2023, the retail vacancy rate along Columbia Pike was approximately 2%, which previous studies of the Pike attributed to the Pike’s legacy businesses — now becoming a threatened breed — leasing older, less expensive storefronts. In contrast, the county’s overall retail vacancy rate was about 5%.

AED snapshot of retail vacancy rates on Columbia Pike compared to Arlington County (via Arlington Economic Development)

Ange highlighted the low retail vacancy rates as a clear sign that the local economy is on the mend post-pandemic, crediting a surge in consumer spending.

The same cannot be said for the office vacancy rate in Arlington, which was at nearly 25% as of last month. Ange acknowledged hybrid and remote work continues to affect commercial office space across the county, and Columbia Pike, which has approximately a 7% office vacancy rate, is no exception.

That being said, she noted that the demand for office space along the Pike is still “high” compared to other commercial districts.

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It won’t ever beat “All I Want for Christmas is You” on the charts but a new Arlington-specific Christmas song is out, recorded by the group that was on the opposition side of several land-use flashpoints this year.

Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future, a neighborhood group that has advocated against everything from Missing Middle to a new planning document for Langston Blvd, dropped an alternative “12 Days of Christmas” this week.

It mocks the policy changes and projects Arlington County undertook this year — the same policies for which other local groups spent the past couple of years advocating.

The short song, brought to you by the same people who brought tombstones for the “Arlington Way” to the final Missing Middle hearing, reiterates criticism ASF raised regarding heights, environmental impacts, governance or displacement and other predicted outcomes of growth.

And the kicker? A tribute to the paused second phase of Amazon’s second headquarters in Pentagon City: PenPlace, best known for the proposed marquee glassy double-helix building.

The lyrics are below.

On the 12th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

12 story towers,
11 displaced tenants,
10 YIMBYs leaping,
Nine acres bulldozed,
Eight vacant buildings,
Seven cars a-swimming,
Six-plex a-zoning,
Five special GLUPs.
Four homeless birds,
Three lawsuits,
Two lame ducks,
and a PenPlace that never will be.

While this take on the “12 Days of Christmas” had a sardonic edge, the proverbial 10 YIMBYs leaping do see this year as one to celebrate, kicking off with the ratification of Arlington’s Missing Middle policies.

In late 2023, YIMBYs of Northern Virginia saw the fruits of their advocacy in the passage of similar zoning ordinances in Alexandria. In between, organization members were busy responding to engagement opportunities on development projects moving through Arlington County approval processes.

“We are proud to have joined with a diverse set of community advocates to end exclusionary zoning in Arlington and Alexandria, reduce burdensome parking mandates in Fairfax County, support new market-rate and committed affordable apartment buildings, and elect forward-looking leaders across the region who prioritize making their jurisdiction a more inclusive, sustainable, and affordable place to live,” the group said in a statement.

The group invited anyone who shares its “Yes in My Backyard” values to celebrate the New Year on Jan. 14, 2024 from 5-7 p.m. at Makers Union pub in Pentagon City.

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The Barcroft Apartments on Columbia Pike (via Arlington County)

Arlington County Board members and advocates were split this weekend on how many units at the Barcroft Apartments should be set aside for Arlington’s lowest-income earners.

Two years ago, the county and Amazon loaned $150 million and $160 million, respectively, to developer Jair Lynch Real Estate Partners to purchase the aging garden apartment complex, located on 60 acres near the corner of S. George Mason Drive and S. Four Mile Run Drive.

The purchase agreement stipulated all 1,335 units would be affordable to households earning up to 60% of the area median income, or AMI, for 99 years, in an effort to avoid displacing the 1,100 resident families who lived there.

After community members advocated for deeper affordability, Jair Lynch developed a financing plan that further commits the county and property owner to keep at least 134 units for households earning up to 30% AMI. This would be the county’s largest commitment of 30% AMI units to date, among the properties in its affordable housing stock, according to a county report.

Board members celebrated the plan, which outlines how Jair Lynch will refinance the county’s loan to cover various renovation and redevelopment phases and try to achieve savings for the county in the long run. During remarks when they approved the plan, members said it documents how this project can be financially viable, despite cripplingly high interest rates.

“There are so many good things that are happening here,” County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said. “The areas where people want improvements are absolutely doable because the partners involved are committed not only to making this a financially viable experience but a good experience.”

He said that Saturday’s discussion was not the time or place to add in a new affordability commitment.

Advocates wanted to see a total of 255 units set aside for 30% AMI households — a single person earning $31,65o or a family of four bringing in $45,210. That number reflects that 255 households at the Barcroft Apartments that reported earning up to 30% AMI in 2021, when Jair Lynch purchased the complex, according to the Arlington Community Foundation.

“Deeper affordability should not expire when the current residents move on,” Arlington Community Foundation Director of Grants and Initiatives Anne Vor der Bruegge said. “We acknowledge the sobering financial dynamics at play and the need to protect the viability of this deal, however, we believe that our goal can ultimately be accomplished using land use and other tools that have not yet been explored.”

Interim County Board member Tannia Talento was not so sure.

“When we look at other committed affordable properties in Arlington that are not able to maintain a good quality of maintenance for their buildings, I just cannot in good mind say, ‘Let’s deepen affordability and we’ll figure it out later,” she said. “I just can’t do it.”

Should market conditions improve or Jair Lynch finds other funding sources, the county and the developer will revisit this minimum commitment, which will hold if market conditions worsen instead, per the report.

“Part of the financing plan is utilizing these potential savings to pay down the County’s debt while still meeting County goals,” a report says. “These anticipated savings are important due to the significant increase in the cost of capital to the County because interest rates have jumped dramatically since the 2021 acquisition.”

Debt service on the county’s short-term line of credit is currently $9 million annually for interest alone — more than four times what was projected in 2021 for the 2023 fiscal year, the report says. The county says this puts a strain on its Affordable Housing Investment Fund, or AHIF, and its ability to take on new projects.

“That is an understatement, considering AHIFs total appropriation for FY 2024 is $20.5 million,” said former independent County Board candidate Audrey Clement, the lone speaker this weekend opposed to the project.

She also said the costs are too high for the first renovation phase.

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(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) A land-use study teeing up an affordable housing redevelopment project in Aurora Highlands has generated significant interest as it nears completion.

Melwood, a D.C. area nonprofit that provides services to and employs people with disabilities, is looking to redevelop property it owns at 750 23rd Street S., two blocks west of “Restaurant Row” in Crystal City.

It has picked nonprofit developer Wesley Housing to replace its aging building — from which it offers job training and placement, among other services, to people with disabilities — with 104 units of affordable housing.

Many units would be for households earning around 60% of the area median income. Some units would be set aside for very low-income households and up to 30 units could be set aside for people with disabilities. Melwood would continue using the site to provide services to people with disabilities.

“This collaboration with Wesley Housing has the power to transform the lives of people with disabilities and support Arlington’s continued leadership in building an inclusive community,” Melwood President and CEO Larysa Kautz said in a statement. “We appreciate their support in helping people with disabilities find a place to call home.”

Should everything go to plan, work could be underway in about two years.

“While we’re still very early in the planning process, we hope to seek tax credit financing in 2025 and to break ground shortly thereafter,” a spokeswoman for Melwood told ARLnow.

First, Melwood needs the site’s land use designation changed from “public” use to a low-density residential use, for up to 36 housing units per acre. It can request this change through a Special General Land Use Plan (GLUP) Study process.

This May, the county’s Long-Range Planning Committee recommended studying this change because the county has no planning guidance for the site, and its “public” use is at odds with its private ownership and commercial zoning status. Still, members had concerns about building heights and transitions, density and how the project could impact adjacent Nelly Custis Park.

This fall, county staff studied the site, its potential 4- or 5-story buildings, and other topics, including transportation. Last week, staff briefed the Long Range Planning Committee on its findings as well as the results of a recent online survey.

Staff said a 4-story building would be slightly taller than existing churches nearby and would provide more space for programming. A 5-story building would allow for more open space and a better transition to Nelly Custis Park. It determined the existing transportation system could handle the influx of residents but more study would be needed.

As for the survey, 240 people participated, mostly nearby homeowners. Some 38-42% of respondents said building tall was fine — given the mix of buildings and Metro station nearby — and expressed enthusiasm for more affordable housing.

Many were concerned the development is too big and would introduce too much density. One respondent who lives across the street said the county “has not done its due diligence in studying impacts to traffic, pedestrian safety, or ecosystem impacts” and the building “is not consistent with the sector plan or neighborhood.”

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