Twice a day, a group of adults with disabilities can be seen walking near Gilliam Place, an affordable housing building where they live.
On a Tuesday morning in May, they showed ARLnow their stomping grounds. A recent rain turned everything a bright green, and cicadas droned in the background.
This little community on Columbia Pike was the first to be established by the volunteer-run nonprofit Our Stomping Ground, which connects adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to independent living opportunities and helps them build communities in Northern Virginia.
On the walk, resident Max Loftis, who has autism, said living at Gilliam Place is a great experience.
“I get a lot of opportunities to cook and I’ve made great meals,” he said. “I like the feeling of independence.”
In a different decade, Loftis could have been placed in a state-run institution where he may have been deprived of the ability to cook for himself.
The Commonwealth used to institutionalize people with disabilities across five state-run, hospital-like facilities that housed 6,000 people. According to some reports, residents lacked the autonomy to choose their meals or what to watch on television. In 2011, the DOJ concluded an investigation that found Virginia was one of five states denying residents their right — enshrined in the Americans with Disabilities Act — to community-based services in integrated settings.
The friends at Gilliam Place have an array of disabilities. Some cannot speak, or cannot control what they say, and will instead point to letters on a chart to communicate. One developed a tic disorder from a traumatic brain injury. But they all participate in activities with other building residents and members of the disability community, take on jobs, and live in apartments with a sibling, an aide or someone with a complementary disability.
“We have a long way to go, but this is what it should look like,” said Our Stomping Ground (OSG) Executive Director and Founder Paula Manion, who joined the friends that day.
OSG works with Arlington County and the state to identify people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are ready to move into independent living. It also works with local affordable housing developers to find units that have been set aside for people with disabilities.
The nonprofit is building a similar community at Queens Court, a new affordable housing complex in Rosslyn. Later this year, The Waypoint at Fairlington in Alexandria will debut its community and two other buildings in Northern Virginia that are set to open in 2023.
“We’re serious about demonstrating that we’re about improving the lives of our kids and everyone in the building,” said Donna Budway, who organizes activities at the apartment building and with the larger disability community. “This is the most inclusive experience they’ve had in their lives — more than schools, preschool and church.”
Manion founded the nonprofit as City Center NOVA in 2019, one year after she and her husband began looking for a place their adult son could live independently. Despite having a full-time job, he did not make enough money to live on his own, and he could not drive. They modeled City Center on a community in Rockville, Maryland, and renamed the organization “Our Stomping Ground” last November.
Ben McGann, 25, was part of the first group to move into Gilliam Place in December 2019, after the apartment building opened in August. He has known fellow residents Emma Budway (Donna’s daughter) and Huan Vuong since Pre-K. Both he and Vuong have autism and are non-verbal, while Emma is an unreliable speaker, meaning what she says and what she actually would like to communicate are different.
When Ben aged out of school-provided services, his mother Bertra thought he would always live with her. After learning how to communicate with a letter board, however, Ben one day told his mother that he wanted to live on his own.
“We were floored,” Bertra said.
Granny flat, in-law suite or accessory dwelling unit: Slowly but surely, these standalone homes, known by many names, are starting to be built in backyards in Arlington County.
“These are not tiny homes,” said Michael Novotny, the owner of Backyard Homes, which builds accessory dwelling units, or ADUs. “These are real, high-functioning, high-performing homes that you can move into and you can live very comfortably in.”
ADUs, which can take the form of a basement or attic apartment or standalone structure, are built on existing properties but are separate from the primary residence. They have been billed as a low-cost way to boost affordable housing stock.
The County Board first approved standards for these buildings in 2008, and last amended those standards in May 2019 to encourage more construction. From when the changes took effect in July 2019 until January of this year, the county says it has approved applications for 57 accessory dwelling units.
As of 2019, Arlingtonians living on land zoned for single-family homes can build detached ADUs on their property without first seeking county permission. Previously, homeowners could only build such a unit inside their house or convert an existing outside structure into one.
New ADUs have to be at least 5 feet away from the property lines, and on corner lots, 5 feet from the side yard line and 10 feet from the rear yard line. To be used as Airbnb or VRBO units, owners must apply for an accessory homestay permit.
Of the 57 applications approved since July 2019, 22 were for new detached dwellings, 24 were for attached dwellings and 11 were converted from existing buildings, said Jessica Margarit, a spokeswoman for the Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development.
She cautioned that ADUs alone cannot solve Arlington’s lack of housing options.
“Accessory Dwellings can add to the variety of housing options that are available in Arlington, but are not intended as a stand-alone solution to Arlington’s housing shortage,” she said. “The county is exploring a range of ideas to address housing supply and housing affordability through the Housing Arlington initiative.”
Local developers and housing experts say that 57 units since 2019 is a small number compared to where ADUs are flourishing: in Los Angeles County and Humboldt County in California, and the cities of Seattle and Portland. They attribute Arlington’s current pace to barriers in county policies and financing hurdles.
“The biggest current barrier in Arlington is that the county has an owner-occupancy requirement in place,” said Emily Hamilton, a Senior Research Fellow and Director of the Urbanity Project at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. “It creates barriers to homeowners who want to add one.”
Winning Lottery Ticket Sold in Crystal City — “A Maryland man walked away with the top prize in the Virginia Lottery’s Double Dollar Crossword, after the ticket from ann Arlington convenience store turned out to be a winner.
Silver Spring resident Elvis Umana Hernandez works in construction and carpentry. He recently bought the winning ticket worth $250,000 during a visit to the 7-Eleven at 1500 S. Fern St.” [Patch]
‘Walking Marine’ Walks Through Arlington — “Terry ‘The Walking Marine’ Sharpe has been walking through Arlington today and giving out toy soldiers to raise awareness of veteran suicide.” [Twitter]
Goldman Sachs Investing in Local Startup — “Arlington startup MotoRefi, whose platform aims to make refinancing car loans easier for consumers, is closing in on an eight-figure round involving a blue-chip investor. The company is poised to raise about $45 million in new funding, the lion’s share of which comes from Goldman Sachs, according to sources familiar with the deal.” [Washington Business Journal]
Catholic Diocese Lifts Restrictions — “The Catholic diocese in Arlington, Virginia, has lifted COVID-19 restrictions for masses and other activities. Bishop Michael Francis Burbidge said in a video message released Tuesday, ‘We can once again celebrate as a community, without the need for social distancing or capacity limits.’ People who are not vaccinated are ‘encouraged to wear a mask for the time being,’ the bishop said.” [WTOP]
ACFD Helps Battle Fairfax House Fire — “The Fairfax County and Arlington fire departments also responded to a house fire in the 7700 block of Virginia Lane in Falls Church last night. A cause and estimate of damages have not been announced yet, but the blaze did not result in any reported injuries.” [Tysons Reporter]
Affordable Housing Bill Takes Effect July 1 — “Thanks to HB 2046 from Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond, beginning on July 1 localities across Virginia will no longer be allowed to deny building permits to projects ‘because the housing development contains or is expected to contain affordable housing units occupied or intended for occupancy by families or individuals with incomes at or below 80% of the median income of the area.'” [GGWash]
Reminder: We’re Taking The Day Off — ARLnow’s staff has been working hard during the pandemic and we’re getting the day off to enjoy a four-day Memorial Day weekend. As such, except in the event of breaking news, we will not be publishing today.
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
Webdale’s retirement announcement comes as the nonprofit faces fallout from reports of poor conditions and maintenance at its Serrano Apartments complex on Columbia Pike. Outrage over apartments infested with rodents, filthy air conditioning units and walls covered in mold has led to condemnations from local elected officials and a flurry of actions to fix the problems, as ARLnow first reported.
Among the actions taken: replacing AHC’s own for-profit management company with another firm to manage the Serrano Apartments.
Webdale, in an email this morning to AHC supporters, announced that he will be retiring as of this coming Monday. He touted AHC’s growth and good works over the course of his more than two decades of leadership. He said the organization will be announcing plans for new leadership soon.
Webdale received more than $400,000 in compensation by the nonprofit in 2018, according to federal filings. AHC and its affiliates and subsidiaries reported around $92 million in revenue that year, mostly from apartment rents.
Answering an ARLnow inquiry about Webdale’s compensation, AHC spokeswoman Celia Slater noted that “he does not receive compensation from AHC’s other affiliated entities.”
Webdale’s letter about his retirement is below.
Dear AHC family,
I am writing to you all today to announce my retirement, effective May 31, 2021. It has been my honor to lead our organization for the past 22 years, and I’m immensely proud of the growth and good work we have accomplished together.
You will hear more about specific plans for AHC’s new leadership soon, but I want to personally assure you that the organization is committed to continuing our mission of providing affordable, stable homes for those in need and serving our residents.
The AHC Board, led by Board Chair Bob Bushkoff, in conjunction with senior staff, will provide oversight while we undertake a search for a new CEO. A special committee has been set up to ensure a seamless transition. I have full confidence in the Board’s ability to find a successor that will lead AHC into the next chapter.
I wish you well and want to thank each and every one of you for your support of AHC’s mission of providing affordable housing and educational opportunities for our residents.
All my best,
Walter D. Webdale
President & CEO
“It is the highest priority I have right now, in part because we are in a different place with vaccines,” Board Chair Matt de Ferranti tells ARLnow. “This is a health and safety issue I will take responsibility for.”
AHC said it is working with county officials, Arlington’s Housing Commission and community organizations to ensure residents’ concerns are heard and addressed.
“Over the past few days, Serrano’s new management company Drucker & Falk has completed more than half of its 100% inspection of the property (except for the apartments where residents have not provided access) to document and remediate all identified issues through systemic improvements given Serrano’s age,” AHC spokeswoman Celia Slater said. “We are now moving forward with the repairs and encourage everyone to visit our website for updates about the steps we are taking to ensure that all Serrano residents have safe and healthy homes.”
Earlier this month, residents and community leaders told ARLnow about the dire state of some committed affordable apartment units at The Serrano (5535 Columbia Pike). Problems include rodents eating through food and leaving droppings, mold growing on walls and white dust permeating HVAC conductors.
Residents and advocates say they are glad the plight of those living in The Serrano is getting attention but are also frustrated at how many people and walkthroughs it took to get the county and AHC, an affordable housing nonprofit, to act.
The most recent walkthrough was last Friday, when about 40 people, including county officials, Del. Alfonso Lopez, as well as AHC and management representatives, looked at units and talked to residents.
“There were a lot of people there who were supposed to be there a long time ago,” community organizer Janeth Valenzuela said. “Finally, they could experience this with their own eyes and listen to families.”
Former School Board member Tannia Talento said she was frustrated to disrupt the lives of families once more, while not knowing if changes would actually happen.
Ashley Goff, a pastor with Arlington Presbyterian Church, was critical of AHC’s lack of responsiveness to an issue that was many months in the making.
“Look at all the people that had to turn out to get AHC to pay attention,” she said. “They were shamed into taking action, absolutely.”
(An Arlington NAACP newsletter from November, providing an update on its advocacy about conditions at the Serrano, said that the “exhausting battle by the tenants and their allies” — the NAACP and Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE) — had been ongoing since at least the fall of 2019.)
Conditions provoke strong reactions
The Serrano has 196 committed affordable units and 84 market-rate units. After walking through about a dozen apartments, officials said the conditions were unacceptable and needed to be fixed, quickly.
“I long ago lived in a place that had a problem with rats and no one can actually relax in their home when they’re worried that there could be mice there,” de Ferranti said.
Some problems will be more difficult, but no less essential, to solve due to the building’s age, he said.
“The medium-term solution for holding AHC accountable is getting a clear and specific schedule of what must be done at the Serrano,” he said. “I could envision taking the form of a short, specific Memorandum of Understanding. That is a step over the coming month or two that we are likely to take.”
Redevelopment Proposal Near Rosslyn — “The Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) is moving forward with a proposal it previewed to redevelop part of the Marbella Apartments. APAH has filed a zoning application to replace 72 units across a pair of low-rise apartment buildings at 1300 and 1305 N. Pierce Street (map) with two 12-story buildings, delivering a total of 561 affordable units.” [UrbanTurf]
Vision Zero Plan Approved — “Arlington County Board approved a five-year Vision Zero action plan over the weekend, joining other jurisdictions throughout the region that are trying to curb traffic fatalities. The county’s goal is to reach zero traffic-related deaths and serious injuries by 2030. Currently, Arlington has about four traffic fatalities per year and about 55 severe crashes.” [GGWash, Sun Gazette]
Trump Aides Are Still Working in Arlington — “Taxpayers are still footing the bill for Donald Trump to pay aides, Business Insider reported Monday… For Trump, accepting public money has meant employing 10 transition aides in Palm Beach, Florida — where Trump has been living since he left the White House — and another seven aides in an office building in Arlington, Virginia.” [Raw Story]
Metrobus Service Changes Planned — Adjustments are coming to numerous Metrobus routes starting Sunday, June 6. Service is being restored to a number of routes, but one notable pandemic-era service reduction will stay in place: the 16Y, a limited-stop service route which once connected Columbia Pike stops to McPherson Square in D.C., will remain out of service. [WMATA]
Longtime Arlington Judge Honored — “Its presentation was due to the pandemic, but Arlington Circuit Court Chief Judge William Newman Jr. on May 11 was honored with the 2019 Harry L. Carrico Outstanding Career Service Award by the Judicial Council of Virginia. The award is presented annually to a Virginia jurist who has demonstrated exceptional leadership in court administration while exhibiting the traits of integrity, honest, courtesy, impartiality and wisdom.” [Sun Gazette]
YHS Dominating in Boys Lacrosse — “Pick one: Stingy defense; a potent, high-scoring offense; scads of talent, especially at midfield; depth and experience with 17 seniors; versatility; and a willingness to work hard, achieve and improve. That describes this season’s undefeated Yorktown Patriots high-schoolboys lacrosse team, which began the week with a dominating 6-0 record. The Patriots’ accomplishments include a shutout and outscoring opponents 96-18.” [Sun Gazette]
An outdoor celebration was held this past Friday for Arlington’s first-generation college students.
AHC Inc., a local nonprofit affordable housing developer, hosted a “College Signing Day” outside at the Gates of Ballston Community Center for 31 high school seniors who took part in the organization’s College and Career Readiness Program.
Students in the program are attending a multitude of universities including James Madison, Virginia Military Institute, Harvard, Tufts, and Yale — with many receiving scholarships and grants.
The students all come from lower-income families and most live in an AHC community, with 28 out of the 31 seniors in the program being first-generation college students.
In front of the community center, students snapped photos, picked up college t-shirts, and ate pizza. There was a considerable amount of pride, relief, nervousness, and excitement from the students for what lies ahead for them in their future.
“I’m all the emotions,” chuckles Mahia Rahmen, a senior at Washington-Liberty. She’s going to Harvard, earning several notable scholarships. She’s also the first member of her family, which is originally from Bangladesh, to go to a four-year college or university.
“I’m kinda upset about leaving my family and my old life behind,” Rahmen says. “But, overall, very, very excited.”
The College and Career Readiness program began in the fall of 2016 and this is the largest class yet.
Milenka Coronel, the program’s first manager, says the intention is to help 11th and 12th grade students to go through the college admissions process, from applications to applying for scholarships to choosing which institution is right for them. With high school guidance counselors stretched thin, programs like this help fill in gaps and reach those who may need a little extra support.
“What’s unique about us is that we are in their community,” says Coronel. “We are where they live which creates easier access.”
She says a lot of the students are also caretakers, helping parents and younger siblings adjust to this incredibly difficult year for all.
“They are managing so many things at once, but I’m in awe… they preserved,” Coronel says.
It’s clear that the historic nature of the past year has influenced the students, even leading several to rethink what their future might hold.
Elena Ogbe, who’s attending James Madison University after she graduates from Wakefield High School next month, says she still plans on majoring in nursing, but now also wants to minor in African-American studies.
“I’m realizing how much knowledge I’m missing and how much our past history has been overlooked,” Ogbe says, whose family is from Eritrea. “It really woke me up to realize that I need to start learning more and educating myself.”
Abel Geleta is a current Washington-Liberty senior and soon-to-be freshman at Yale. He moved to Arlington from Ethiopia with his family a decade ago. His plan is to study to be a civil rights lawyer.
Arlington’s lack of affordable townhomes, duplexes and other housing types has a ripple effect across the D.C. region, housing experts say.
How Arlington tackles that deficit, they said, could help stem the tide of urban sprawl and its social, economic and environmental impacts — with more options, lower- and middle-income households are better able to stay in their communities, be near their jobs and access established transit areas.
“Leadership [in Arlington] is still needed,” said Michael Spotts, President of Neighborhood Fundamentals, during a recent Arlington Committee of 100 webinar on Missing Middle Housing. “This is an important issue and Arlington can’t solve it on its own, but it’s something that we should do because it’s good for the county and the region.”
With the multi-year “Missing Middle Housing Study,” Arlington County is examining whether the county should allow housing types that have been typically prohibited from many neighborhoods to reverse housing shortages. If approved, rewritten ordinances would not be implemented until 2022 or 2023.
The county recently published the results of six months of community engagement. Priorities include a greater supply and wider array of housing options, at lower costs, while concerns include the impact that would have on property values, school capacity and the environment.
Now, the county is asking people what kinds of housing options should be explored. Through June 8, respondents can choose from 10 options, including multiplexes, cottage clusters, townhouses and small-lot homes currently excluded from some neighborhoods.
Providing those options locally will help address a regionwide problem that panelists say is currently driving urban sprawl, which is harming the environment.
“We’ve seen more development in outlying counties, and significant losses in impervious surface,” Spotts said. “We are downstream from some of these locations and that has an impact on Arlington’s environment. By limiting development [here], we may be able to save trees but at the expense of much larger acreage of forest loss in other jurisdictions.”
It also contributes to higher greenhouse gas emissions in those outlying counties, since many drive to work in Arlington and D.C., he said.
With the average costs of homes in Arlington ranging from $500,000-$1.5 million, depending on type, that prices out many professions like teachers, mechanics, security guards and so on.
High land costs set a minimum price for any new Missing Middle construction, however, and more stock may not solve the affordability problem anytime soon given Arlington’s housing shortage, according to Huntley.
“The prices of new Missing Middle properties will have to reflect that alternative [to build very expensive single-family detached homes],” he said.
Since 2017, Huntley said Arlington has built 58 brand-new townhomes with an average selling price of $1 million. There were only eight duplexes built — for an average price of $1 million — and 35 stacked condos that went for up to $840,000.
“Townhomes and other missing middle properties will definitely become more affordable, but unless something dramatic happens this effect will happen in a timeframe measured in decades,” he said.
The $39 million redevelopment of Arlington View Terrace East apartments is underway.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held last week for the affordable housing redevelopment and was attended by Del. Alfonso Lopez, County Board Vice-Chair Katie Cristol, and County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti.
Construction will begin later this month, according to a press release, and expected to be completed by early 2023.
First approved by the County Board in February 2020, the project will add 47 new affordable apartments to the complex at 1420 S. Rolfe Street on the eastern end of Columbia Pike.
The current community is spread out across seven 2- and 3- story buildings, but the new project is to demolish the largest of the structures with 30 apartments and replace it with a new, modern building with 77 apartments.
The new building will have free WiFi available for all households, a community room, a fitness center, a courtyard, and a parking garage, according to local affordable housing developer AHC Inc. The apartments will also have views of the Army-Navy Country Club golf course.
It will boost the number of affordable apartments at Arlington View Terrace East to 124.
“Preserving and expanding access to safe, habitable affordable housing is a priority in our community,” said de Ferranti at the groundbreaking. “Along with creating life-changing opportunities for dozens of local families, it’s also great to see that Arlington View Terrace East has been designed to contribute to a more equitable and sustainable future by including access to free WiFi and green design elements like solar panels.”
The complex will have a “green roof” that will support stormwater management and a 190-panel solar power system — similar (though, smaller) to what was installed at the Apex complex on S. Glebe Road. It’s expected to generate 84,000 kilowatt hours a year, according to AHC Inc., which is enough to power nearly eight single-family homes a year.
The 77 new affordable apartments will be available for families earning between 30% and 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI). There will be 15 three-bedroom apartments, eight ADA-accessible units, and eight apartments set aside for the county’s Permanent Supportive Housing program, which provides housing and support for residents with disabilities.
The County Board has allocated over $8 million in loan and grant funding to the Arlington View Terrace East project, in addition to an allocation of $2 million in competitive tax credits from the state.
While AHC Inc. is in the midst of redeveloping other local affordable housing complexes, the organization has also recently faced criticism for poor maintenance one of the older affordable housing buildings they own.
The Serrano Apartments, also on Columbia Pike, was acquired by AHC in 2014 and is working on issues raised by tenants including mold, rodents, and bugs, a spokesperson told ARLnow last week.
Photos courtesy AHC, Inc.
Units in the Serrano Apartments, a high-rise housing complex on Columbia Pike, have three things going for them: they are spacious, have nice views, and are affordable.
“But if you go inside those units, the reality is totally different,” said Janeth Valenzuela, who has been advocating for better living conditions for Serrano tenants for two years.
Mice and rat infestations. Balconies with broken glass and rust. Dirty HVAC units with water damage underneath. Shoddy maintenance.
These are just some of the problems inside the 280-unit apartment building at 5535 Columbia Pike, not just according to Valenzuela, but also the Arlington NAACP, immigrant and tenants’ rights group BU-GATA, interfaith clergy group VOICE Arlington, and the Asian American Pacific Islander Civic Engagement (ACE) Collaborative.
“It’s sickening,” said NAACP President Julius “JD” Spain. “This is a dereliction of duty and someone needs to be held accountable.”
Two weeks ago, Spain and the NAACP Housing Committee Chair Kellen MacBeth walked through a handful of apartment units, taking pictures of the conditions. They wrote a letter to County Manager Mark Schwartz detailing the conditions and asking Schwartz to assign staff to work with tenants, rehabilitate the units and rewrite policy so all residents have safe, decent and affordable homes.
“We observed severe problems that suggest a culture of deferred maintenance and underinvestment in the property during our walk-through,” the letter said.
The walk-through, however, was a tipping point after two years of work behind the scenes to help tenants.
“We are tired because there’s no light at the end of the tunnel,” Valenzuela said. “It’s pure injustice.”
Under new management
The Serrano Apartments are owned by AHC Inc., an Arlington-based affordable housing developer, which acquired the building in 2014 in partnership with Arlington County. Since then, the nonprofit has spent millions of dollars making improvements. The building has 196 committed affordable units and 84 market-rate units, according to AHC.
AHC is aware of the issues raised by the community organizations and has been working hard on them “for a while now,” said spokeswoman Celia Slater. One of its most recent changes was to hire a new management company, which “is very good at customer service and has an excellent track record.”
According to county spokeswoman Erika Moore, the county required that switch based on the conditions at the property.
Elder Julio Basurto, who has worked with Valenzuela these last two years, said the management change is the result of advocacy.
“It’s not something AHC has done on their own,” he said, adding that “there are a lot of things that are still not right.”
The management company, which started in February, told AHC it will take about six months before the building’s issues get in order, she said. Already, Slater tallied 586 work orders, of which 39 had to do with pests like bugs and rodents.
“We’ve made a lot of progress since they’ve started, but we know there are still issues to address,” Slater said.
This month, 100% of the vents and convectors will be cleaned again by the end of May, she said.
“Many tenants appreciate the new management but they believe that just because there’s a new management it does not mean the root problems are solved,” said Maryam Mustafa, a community organizer with ACE.
Saul Reyes, executive director of BU-GATA, said the Serrano is an old building with lots of issues exacerbated by deferred maintenance.
“We’ve been working with residents, resolving their individual issues with management, making sure work orders get done to tenant satisfaction,” he said. “Part of the problem is that the issues are so extensive and take so long to resolve that residents get frustrated.”
While the new management company works to get things under control, Slater said AHC is working to build trust with residents. The organization established an on-site residents services office with a bilingual manager, started distributing more than 100 meals a week, and has hosted a pop-up vaccination clinic.
“We care about the people in the community and we want to do all we can to make sure their living environment is up to our standards,” Slater said.
But a big problem is communication, she said, alleging that residents are not telling AHC what is going on.
The County Board is slated to vote on its fiscal year 2022 budget tomorrow (Tuesday) and affordable housing is top of mind for many Arlingtonians and Board members.
This month, however, housing advocates told the Board that may not be enough to tackle the entrenched problem of rising housing costs and the deepening inequality caused by the pandemic. In response, Board members have identified three ways to amend the budget.
Testifying before the County Board on April 6, Carlos Velazquez, who sits on the board of trustees for Arlington Community Foundation, said the county needs to maintain flexibility for families seeking housing aid.
“COVID-19 assistance has helped many low-income families and individuals [stay in Arlington] and keep food on the table,” he said. “But the need has not gone away… We believe that flexibility should be maintained after the pandemic to help residents resolve delinquencies and develop plans to move forward from personal crises.”
Over the last two weeks, County Board members have discussed ways of doing just that. Last Thursday, ahead of the vote tomorrow evening, County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti proposed adding up to $2.4 million in several areas.
The chair proposed just over $1 million to maintain COVID-era guidelines that expanded eligibility for working families who needed financial aid during the pandemic. For those receiving grants, who currently contribute 40% of their income toward housing, de Ferranti is also proposing about $487,000 in one-time and recurring funding to lower annual housing contributions.
According to county staff, that could affect 700 families.
“This is of interest to us in the sense that severely rent-burdening individuals at 40% is more than [The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development] recommends,” de Ferranti said.
The County Board is also looking to add $850,000 in one-time funding for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund, a loan fund that helps to fund the development of new, dedicated affordable housing.
A portion of the $17.5 million set aside in the budget for the county’s response to the pandemic, meanwhile, will go toward eviction prevention. Housing advocates would like to see the county take bolder action in light of rising housing costs and economic hardship among lower-income residents.
Shaheera Sayed, an advocate with ACE Collaborative, an Asian American community-building group affiliated with Alexandria-based advocacy organization New Virginia Majority, said more needs to be done to prevent displacement of current residents.
ACE, which recently organized a rally near the future Amazon HQ2 in Pentagon City, proposed adding $8 million in funding.
“There is proof that the Asian Americans and other communities of color in Arlington county are struggling,” she said. “By adding more funding and expanding eligibility in programs such as the Housing Grants, more people who are unable to get affordable housing but are struggling to pay rent can benefit from this program.”
Beyond this year’s budget, County Board members say that more housing support will be needed for years to come. The most vulnerable in Arlington will likely face the longest road to full economic recovery, said County Board member Katie Cristol.
“Let’s not set ourselves up to make this purely one-time investment in Fiscal Year 2022,” she said.
Photo (top) via Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, (middle) via Arlington County