Press Club

Morning Notes

The U.S. Air Force Memorial and surrounding construction at twilight (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Cristol Calls Out Displacement ‘Lie’ — “Time will tell, as it always does, but Arlington elected officials say the public and some activists are mistaken if they believe there will be wholesale displacement of residents of the Barcroft Apartments complex in South Arlington. At a May 14 meeting, County Board Chairman Katie Cristol – not one normally known for getting rattled while on the dais – decried as a ‘lie’ the displacement rumors at the sprawling, 1,334-unit apartment complex.” [Sun Gazette]

Crash Last Night on GW Parkway — From Alan Henney: “Another auto went over the wall on the northbound side of the GW Pky prior to the Key Bridge in Arlington. Amazingly driver is out uninjured after his auto slid down the embankment.” [Twitter]

Marymount University Commencement — From Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S.: “It was my tremendous privilege to give the commencement at @marymountu, a university that like many around the U.S. hosts Saudi students. It was my absolute honor to receive an honorary doctorate, thank you to the faculty and Dr. Becerra for this special day.” [Twitter, Sun Gazette]

Metro CEO and COO Resign — “The WMATA Board of Directors has accepted Paul Wiedefeld’s decision to make his retirement effective today. In addition, Chief Operating Officer Joe Leader has resigned, effective immediately.” [WMATA, DCist]

New Skyline Development Proposal — “Madison Marquette has filed plans to convert two Baileys Crossroads office building into live/work lofts, advancing a vision to resuscitate the huge multibuilding cluster known as Skyline Center. By repurposing the mostly emptied office spaces — which meet planning and code requirements to serve as apartments and/or offices for small firms — Skyline can once again become ‘the gravitational center for the area.'” [Washington Business Journal]

Body Cams for Falls Church Police — “Police officers with the City of Falls Church will now be equipped with body-worn cameras beginning this month.” [WJLA, City of Falls Church]

It’s Tuesday — Clear throughout the day. High of 77 and low of 59. Sunrise at 5:55 am and sunset at 8:17 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

Pigeons hanging out in Rosslyn’s Freedom Park (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Bus Crash in Front of Hospital  — “At approximately 1:52 p.m., police were dispatched to the report of a two vehicle crash involving an ART bus in the 1600 block of N. George Mason Drive. The driver of the other involved vehicle has been transported to the hospital for medical evaluation. Police remain on scene investigating the cause of the crash.” [Twitter]

Civ Fed Proposes Board Changes — “A task force empaneled by the Arlington County Civic Federation has proposed a somewhat radical reconfiguration of County Board and School Board elections… The TiGER proposal, which seeks to expand membership on each body to seven, would have four County Board members and three School Board members elected in a given year, followed by a gap year, followed by three County Board members and four School Board members elected. After another gap year, the process would repeat.” [Sun Gazette]

New Lounge Arriving at DCA — An American Express Centurion Lounge is under construction at Reagan National Airport. [Twitter]

Free Soccer Programming Pilot — “The Arlington Soccer Association is teaming up with the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) to provide free soccer programming. The eight-week pilot program recently kicked off and brings soccer programming to families who live in APAH’s more than 2,000 affordable apartments throughout Arlington County. The programming is offered once a week at local parks and elementary schools for children as young as 3 years old.” [Press Release]

Throwback to Metro Groundbreaking — “We recently rediscovered a scrapbook from the early days of NVTC. June 18, 1971: Ceremonies to mark construction of the Rosslyn Metro station, ‘first in the D.C. suburbs.'” [Twitter]

Buses Gone Wild on I-395 — From Dave Statter: “I’ve shown you lots of amateur drivers trying to navigate I-395S Exit 8C/Route 1. Let’s see how the pros handle it.” [Twitter]

Car vs. Bakery Near Fairlington — “No one was injured after a car smashed through a front window of Great Harvest Bread (1711 Centre Plaza) in Fairlington Centre on Tuesday night (May 10). The incident occurred at around 7 p.m., which is after the bakery is closed.” [ALXnow]

It’s Friday — Overcast throughout the day with some patchy fog. Showers likely, with thunderstorms also possible after 2 p.m. High of 70 and low of 59. Sunrise at 5:59 am and sunset at 8:13 pm. [Weather.gov]

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The Barcroft Apartments, a 1,334-unit, market-affordable apartment complex along Columbia Pike (via Google Maps)

(Updated at 11:20 a.m.) A progressive group says an Amazon- and county-funded plan to keep the Barcroft Apartments affordable will actually displace low-income residents.

The more than $300 million purchase of the 60-acre, 1,334-unit complex along Columbia Pike will take what are currently aging but affordable market-rate apartments and renovate or reconstruct them, while converting them to dedicated affordable units.

The hasty and hefty purchase happened, county officials said, in response to the possibility that the complex could be redeveloped without affordability protections. That is what happened to the nearby Columbia Gardens Apartments, which are being torn down to make way for townhouses.

But the group Asian American Pacific Islander Civic Engagement Collaborative (ACE), an offshoot of Alexandria-based New Virginia Majority, says the Barcroft Apartments plan is flawed and will actually displace some long-time residents. The rent they are currently paying, according to rates listed online, is actually lower than the dedicated affordable rates that the rents could eventually rise to.

ACE is holding a rally this afternoon at Doctor’s Run Park, across the street from the apartments in the Douglas Park neighborhood, to speak out against what it says is the “predicted displacement of Arlington tenants within next year in [the] highly diverse Barcroft Apartments.”

From a press release:

On May 12, 2022 at 4 p.m., Asian American Pacific Islander Civic Engagement Collaborative (ACE) organizers and tenants from Barcroft Apartments will hold a press conference and rally at Doctor’s Run Park, 1301 S. George Mason Drive. During the press conference, tenants will share their experiences trying to prepare for skyrocketing rental costs, and organizers will reveal the results of a recently completed survey conducted by organizers and Marymount University predicting tenant displacement of low-income residents.

Barcroft Apartments provides a home to one of the most culturally-diverse neighborhoods in the area, and was recently sold to new owners Jair Lynch Real Estate Partners. The current agreement involving Arlington County, Jair Lynch Real Estate Partner, and Amazon’s Housing Equity Fund risks displacing long time tenants in the upcoming years because their rental rates will be increased by 3% every year up to 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI) starting next year. A majority of the long-time tenants that were surveyed by ACE make below 60% AMI which also increased this year as well.

Tefera Negash, a five year tenant, said, “This was the last place in this area that was in our budget. This will bring too much inconvenience in our life on top of the economic difficulties we are experiencing recently.”

Nupur Chowdhury, community organizer for ACE said, “I’m a Bangladeshi-American living here in Arlington. My family and I have lived in Barcroft for 17 years. As someone who is living and active in this community, I am afraid that the scheduled rent increases year after year will make it too expensive for our diverse community to continue living here.”

Asked about the rally, Arlington County Housing Director Anne Venezia said she and Jair Lynch, the developer that is buying the complex with the loans from Amazon and Arlington, have been in touch with ACE.

“No Barcroft residents are being displaced,” Venezia asserted.

She issued the following statement in response to inquiries from ARLnow.

The Jair Lynch team and I have been working one-on-one with ACE since early this year. Last week we spoke with them directly to talk about their survey, the results, and their concerns. Our conversations have been collegial and constructive. We continue to share that no Barcroft residents are being displaced. Starting in 2023, rents may increase a maximum of 3% annually, up to the 60% AMI rent limit. The County remains committed to working with residents who need financial assistance. Last Friday and again this Tuesday, I followed up with additional information for families facing financial hardship, including a handout in 11 different languages about existing County programs that they could share with any residents. We are working to connect struggling families with rental resources, such as housing grants, including the potential for an information event about County resources at the property. County staff continues to be available to ACE and all Barcroft residents and to provide information and resources as needed. The Arlington Department of Human Services team is also available to help Barcroft residents with assistance for food, rent, and other services, regardless of immigration status. Residents can call 703-228-1300.

A representative with Jair Lynch echoed Venezia in saying that no residents will be displaced.

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A rendering of the development at 2000 Clarendon Blvd (file photo)

While there are thousands of affordable housing units in Arlington, there’s a smaller, unique portfolio under the county’s purview.

Homes that are part of the county’s Affordable Dwelling Unit Ownership Program are the only dedicated affordable housing in Arlington that residents can own, as opposed to rent.

In 2017, the county took over the program, which only had about 40 units at the time, from affordable housing provider AHC. Since then, the county has added about 20 units as condominium projects have incorporated income-restricted units into their plans.

The current stock of 59 units is made up of mostly — about 47 or 48 — condos, a few duplexes, two townhomes, and two single-family homes, county Homeownership Program Administrator Akeria Brown tells ARLnow.

These units are for households that meet a 80% area median income which, according to stats released by HUD on Monday, is about $113,000 in annual income for a household of four.

The owners still have to meet the same criteria and go through the same traditional mortgage process to purchase an affordable dwelling unit. The county oversight is only in ensuring the unit remains affordable through sales and resale, and assisting owners when needed, such as for refinancing.

“We don’t typically see a lot of sales,” Brown said. “Households tend to get in these units and they stay for a myriad of reasons.”

One of the homes that was in the program prior to the county’s administration is in the process of being sold. The home at 2900 17th Street S., in the Green Valley neighborhood, is only the second of that original portfolio from AHC to go for resale since the county took control in 2017. It is located in the only all-affordable, resident-owned housing in the county: Davis Place Condominiums.

There have been new affordable housing sales, however, through agreements with the developers of Carver Place, Key & Nash and soon from 2000 Clarendon. When new construction affordable units like these become available, buyers are selected through a random lottery.

The county is always looking to add to its stock, but Brown says they particularly wish for greater availability of family-sized units.

“We would like to get family-sized units, two or three bedrooms… so households that have that goal, are really hoping that we would be able to secure those large units in our portfolio,” Brown said.

Richard Tucker, Housing Arlington coordinator, agreed that there is a general lack of availability of those sized units. He noted that when developers don’t incorporate affordable units into their projects, and instead provide financial contributions toward the Affordable Housing Investment Fund, that money typically goes toward affordable rental programs.

The county intends to complete a homeownership study in the next year to determine what’s working and best practices to explore directions for the various homeownership programs. As part of that study, an assessment of the affordable dwelling unit portfolio will look at the “sustainability and viability of that housing stock and to identify whether additional support to these homeowners is needed,” according to a report released in March.

“There’s a need we feel to have some analysis, or some review, of what our programs are doing, how well they’re performing and who’s being served and then looking at, you know, taking a step back and having the conversation with the community about vision and goals,” Tucker said.

In addition to overseeing the portfolio of affordable units that are owned, the county also has resources for home ownership such as the Moderate-Income Purchase Assistance Program, which provides down payment assistance, and the Condo Initiative, which provides technical assistance and information to condo owners.

As part of the effort to address the lack of affordable housing, the county created the Affordable Housing Master Plan in 2015. Each year, an annual report provides an overview of what the county has done to reach affordable housing goals set out in that plan.

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Morning Notes

Clouds over Rosslyn (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

New Football Coach for Wakefield — “For someone who has never previously been a high-school football head coach, Darrell Weeks’ vast and diversified experience in the sport certainly makes him qualified. Now his chance has come. On March 30, the 45-year-old Austin, Texas, native was announced as the Wakefield Warriors’ new head coach during an after-school gathering in the high school’s town-hall area. Weeks, a special-education and math teacher at Wakefield, has been out of coaching since 2010.” [Sun Gazette]

Target Opening Delayed — “The new Target at Pentagon Row didn’t open today. Opening has been pushed back a week to April 10. No carts yet.” [Twitter]

ACPD Looking for Missing Man — “MISSING: ACPD is seeking assistance locating Shaun… [age] 39. Described as a White male, 5’7″ tall and weighing 145 lbs. He was last seen on the afternoon of March 15 in the 1400 block of S. Joyce Street” in Pentagon City. [Twitter]

Honor for Clarendon-Based Axios — “@axios Congrats on being named on @Comparably’s Best Places to Work in Washington, DC Metro Area 2022 list.” [Twitter]

Peter Chang Responds to Award Nod — “‘We were surprised this time it’s the outstanding chef category, not the regional. It’s such an honor to be recognized among all the talented chefs,’ Peter Chang told me in an email through his daughter, Lydia Zhang. When Zhang informed him of his nomination, he says, his response was, ‘OK, what’s next? We have a business to run here.'” [Northern Virginia Magazine]

Clarendon Bars Win ‘Fake ID Awards’ — “Last night, @ARIArlington recognized two security guards and management of two restaurants (@dontitova & @BarBaoVA) during ACPD’s sixth annual Fake ID Awards. The recipients were recognized for their excellence in detecting false identifications and preventing underage drinking.” [Twitter, WTOP]

Amazon Pledges Millions More for Housing — “As it seeks county approval for the next phase of new HQ2 construction, Amazon is pledging a $30 million contribution to support affordable housing in Arlington. The figure was revealed in county documents posted online this week, as Amazon’s latest HQ2 development proposal is set to go before the county planning commission on Monday.” [WJLA]

Nearby: Armed Robbery in Falls Church — “City of Falls Church Police seek two men who are suspected of armed robbery. At about 3:30 today, police responded to a tobacco and vaping shop in the 1100 block of W. Broad St. for a report of an armed robbery. Store employees told police that two men entered the store, one showed a handgun, and demanded valuables. There were no injuries. The men seemed to arrive and leave by foot.” [City of Falls Church]

It’s Monday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 57 and low of 37. Sunrise at 6:49 am and sunset at 7:36 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

Looking up while underneath cherry blossoms on Wilson Blvd in Virginia Square as storm clouds move in (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Little League Opening Day This Weekend — “For the first time since 2019, Arlington Little League will host its Opening Day on Sun, April 3 from 1-5:30 p.m. at Barcroft Park.” [Press Release]

Arlington Libraries Highlight Banned Books — “The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom  recently issued a statement opposing widespread efforts to censor books in U.S. schools and libraries. Unfortunately, Virginia has been subject to these censorship efforts, and in light of this, Arlington Public Library is taking a stand to build awareness of these challenged books.” [Arlington Public Library]

AHC Announces New Leader — From a press release: “AHC Inc.’s Board of Directors is pleased to announce that Paul Bernard has been unanimously selected as the organization’s new President/Chief Executive Officer (CEO). He will join AHC in his new role on April 4.” Bernard fills a CEO seat at the affordable housing provided previously held by Walter Webdale, who retired after controversy over conditions at AHC’s Serrano Apartments. [AHC Inc.]

W-L Holding ‘Pink Games’ This Month — “W-L girls’ soccer is turning PINK for Doorways! Join the players in supporting survivors of domestic and sexual violence as well as families and youth experiencing homelessness.” [Doorways]

It’s April Fool’s Day — Mostly cloudy throughout the day today, April 1. Breezy, with a west wind 14 to 21 mph, with gusts as high as 34 mph. High of 65 and low of 43. Sunrise at 6:54 am and sunset at 7:33 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Updates to a 14-year-old plan guiding future development in Clarendon are entering the home stretch.

This Saturday, the Arlington County Board is slated to authorize public hearings on the Clarendon Sector Plan update, which could culminate in a vote on whether to accept the updated plan on April 23. The county is also still seeking feedback on the updates.

Changes to the sector plan were prompted by a bevy of expected near-term redevelopments on the Silver Diner/The LotJoyce Motors and Wells Fargo/Verizon sites, as well as projects proposed by the St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, the YMCA and George Mason University.

The update did not revisit any of the 2006 plan’s overarching goals, which envision Clarendon as an “urban village” with “accessible and connected spaces, and a rich mix of uses” that build on the area’s historical commercial focus, according to the county.

Instead, the updates focused on whether the 14-year-old plan’s recommendations for specific sites needed to be updated as new proposals come in. It provides guidance on land use, building heights and forms, and transportation, and explores how the county can redevelop a parcel it owns with some combination of a new fire station, open space and affordable housing.

Members of nearby civic associations, the Planning Commission and the Housing Commission are urging the county to prioritize different elements on the publicly-owned site, located at 10th Street N., between N. Hudson and Irving streets.

The lot is currently is home to three aging county buildings: Fire Station 4 (3121 10th St. N), the Fire Prevention Office (1020 N. Hudson St.) and Clarendon House, which has been vacant since the county moved the mental health rehab program run by the Department of Human Services to Sequoia Plaza (2120 Washington Blvd) in 2015.

Both Fire Station 4 and the Fire Prevention Office — home to the offices of the Fire Marshal and Battalion Chief — have reached the end of their useful life, the plan says. The Fire Prevention Office building will be relocated to county offices at 2020 14th Street N. in Courthouse while Fire Station 4 could be rebuilt on the same property or elsewhere.

Fire Station 4 and the Fire Prevention Office (via Google Maps)

The Planning Commission favors using the land for a blend of government and community facilities, such as a rooftop public space above a proposed fire station.

Ashton Heights Civic Association President Scott Sklar writes in a letter to the county that neighbors envision “a significant, unique playground for children from the new residential buildings, along with some basketball, racquet or pickleball courts in the space adjacent to the fire station, as it would be centrally located to serve Clarendon and nearby residents.”

Lastly, the Housing Commission would like to see affordable housing co-located at the site, as the sector plan area has only 82 committed affordable housing units — the lowest number in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, says Housing Commission Chair Eric Berkey said in a letter to the county.

“The Commission stated the priority should not be to provide luxurious amenities to those who live in single-family detached homes, but rather to provide homes to those who cannot afford them,” Berkey said. “Anything other than a structure which utilizes the full zoned height maximum would be a missed opportunity for the County-owned land.”

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The local NAACP is calling on the Arlington County Board to do more to encourage affordable homeownership opportunities for residents of color.

Although segregation officially ended last century, the Arlington branch of the NAACP says non-white residents are still effectively excluded from some neighborhoods due to county zoning codes, compounded by rising housing costs.

“The widespread single-family zoning scheme that prevents the construction of new housing in affluent, mostly white neighborhoods also worsens racial segregation by confining the construction of new affordable housing units to the Columbia Pike corridor and other parts of Arlington with large non-white populations,” the NAACP wrote in a letter to the county.

“People of color wishing to live in Arlington deserve meaningful opportunities to choose from a wide variety of housing types, in many parts of the county, at a reasonable cost,” the letter continues.

The NAACP says the county needs to adopt a comprehensive strategy to reform the county’s zoning laws and housing policies. It suggests reforms that go beyond those being considered in the Missing Middle Housing Study.

“We support the County’s many studies and other initiatives to promote affordable housing,” it concludes. “The best way to ensure the success of these initiatives is for the County Board and County Manager to show decisive leadership now and commit to supporting comprehensive zoning reform.”

Through Missing Middle, the county is considering whether and what kind of low-density multifamily housing could fit into single-family home neighborhoods. The county says allowing more housing types in these neighborhoods can reverse the lingering impacts of yesteryear’s racist zoning policies.

“The Missing Middle Housing Study has documented the role that Arlington’s land use and zoning policies have played in contributing to racial disparities in housing and access to opportunity,” says Erika Moore, a spokeswoman for the Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development. “Conducting the Missing Middle Housing Study is one of many deliberate choices the County is making to address the mistakes of the past and pave a new path for Arlington’s future.”

While supportive of the study, the NAACP suggests solutions beyond its parameters.

It recommends every redevelopment be assessed for whether it would perpetuate historical exclusion or displace the existing community. If so, developers would have to use a “displacement prevention and mitigation toolkit” to reverse those impacts.

This toolkit could include:

  • property tax deferrals for lower-income homeowners
  • funding for Community Land Trust acquisitions
  • preferences for first-generation homebuyers
  • stabilization funds for residents at risk of displacement

The toolkit would “address the unique needs of and the displacement risk experienced by the community in and around site-plan and by-right developments while also helping to address patterns of historical exclusion experienced by members of protected classes,” the letter says.

These and other tools should also receive county and state funding, like a quick-strike land acquisition account, which would be used to quickly purchase properties for affordable housing development, and targeted homeownership assistance programs, the NAACP says.

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Morning Notes

Rosslyn (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

No Mardi Gras Parade Today — Clarendon will not be hosting a Mardi Gras parade this year. What was formerly an annual tradition remains on hold, perhaps permanently. The last parade was held in 2018.

Retail Rents Rising on the Pike — “Arlington economic-development officials say they will assist where possible, but in many cases, small-business owners wishing to stay in the corridor will have to do the hunting on their own… The arrival of Amazon not far down the road in the Pentagon City area is just one factor that is impacting rents in the Columbia Pike corridor, once known as a low-cost alternative to Arlington’s Metro corridors.” [Sun Gazette]

Affordable Housing Buy Nearby — “A 14-story Arlandria apartment complex has been acquired by the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation, the latest move in an effort to preserve affordable housing in an area facing significant development pressure. AHDC recently announced that it bought the Park Vue of Alexandria apartments from Florida-based ZRS Management with support of $51.4 million from the $2 billion Amazon Housing Equity Fund.” [ALXnow, Twitter]

Va. Weed Bill Goes Up in Smoke — “Republican members of Virginia’s House of Delegates on Monday voted down a bill that would have permitted legal sales of marijuana later this year, delaying any movement on the issue until at least mid- or late-2023 — if not even later than that. The party-line 5-3 vote in the House’s General Laws Subcommittee dashed the hopes of many Democrats and marijuana legalization advocates.” [DCist]

It’s Fat Tuesday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day today, the first day of March and the last day before Lent. High of 57 and low of 32. Sunrise at 6:42 am and sunset at 6:02 pm. [Weather.gov]

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The Barcroft Apartments, a 1,334-unit, market-affordable apartment complex along Columbia Pike (via Google Maps)

It’s been two months since Arlington County and Amazon agreed to loan more than $300 million to facilitate the sale of the Barcroft Apartments on Columbia Pike.

In exchange for these loans, developer Jair Lynch Real Estate Partners agreed to preserve 1,334 units on the site as committed affordable units for 99 years.

Since the deal in December, Jair Lynch has started conducting initial property assessments to understand what substantive repairs and renovations need to be done in the short term to improve residential quality of life and building safety, Anthony Startt, the company’s director of investments, tells ARLnow.

It’s also working with Barcroft Apartments property management company Gates Hudson to meet with residents individually and at welcome events and administer surveys to understand their living situations.

“We are assuring all of our residents that no one will be displaced,” he said.

The garden apartments at 1130 S. George Mason Drive sprawl across 60 acres and house more tenants than some rural towns. They happen to be some of the last market-rate affordable apartments in Arlington, and proponents of the county’s $150 million loan heralded the significant investment in preserving affordable housing, while critics said the deal went through too quickly and without enough community oversight.

Now, the hard work on the county side begins: drafting a long-term investment plan and figuring out how to involve the community, particularly Barcroft residents, in the planning process. Community leaders and County Board members say this will have to balance blue-sky ideas with the financial constraints that come with an affordable housing project, all while working within the parameters of the Neighborhoods Form-Based Code that governs development in the area.

“There are a lot of cool things people would love to see, but the money first has to go toward preservation of 1,334 units, which I don’t know of a larger housing preservation deal in the D.C. area, ever,” says John Snyder, the chair of the Columbia Pike Partnership board (formerly the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, or CPRO).

He served as a representative of the Douglas Park neighborhood on the working group that developed the the Neighborhoods Form-Based Code.

Snyder’s must-haves include an on-site bus stop and bicycle stations to ensure there isn’t a large influx of cars clogging up S. George Mason Drive. His wish list includes a municipal swimming pool and playgrounds. There’s also interest in a daycare or a school.

“It’s going to be very interesting as all of this moves forward in the planning process,” Snyder says. “I just envision people getting great ideas and looking at the other end of the table where the engineers and accountants are sweating, wondering how they can do this… In other places, maybe we can raise the rent, but we can’t here.”

The County Board has encouraged county planning staff to prioritize a review the Neighborhoods Form-Based Code — which has some guidance on building size and placement, but not other topics such as form or ground-floor retail — to ensure the plans act as a floor, and not a ceiling, for whatever Jair Lynch proposes.

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Columbia Gardens Apartments at 5309 8th Road S. (via Google Maps)

(Updated 10:45 a.m.) Nearly 60 residents and families on Columbia Pike are scrambling to find new housing options under the shadow of a looming redevelopment project.

The impacted tenants live at Columbia Gardens Apartments (5309 8th Road S.), a collection of market-rate affordable garden apartments. Some families have lived there for upward of 20 years, but now, 62 units will be replaced with townhouses through a by-right development project.

Residents have about 50 days to find new homes. Last weekend, they received letters via certified mail giving them until March 31 to vacate, listing nearby complexes with openings and local movers, and offering $200 in rental assistance. The complex owner had transitioned them to month-to-month leases before giving them the notice, which would have been 120 days by law if they had renewed for a year.

“Everybody’s stressed,” says tenant Maria Torres, 31, who has a daughter at Campbell Elementary School. “They want to stay in the same area because they want their kids to stay in the same schools. We’re in the middle of the pandemic and the school year, and some people don’t have the money to just go and give a deposit and a month of rent.”

Tenants knew eventually the apartments would be torn down, since the property owner is also redeveloping the property it owns nearby at 843 S. Greenbrier Street, a separate project that received County Board approval in November 2020. But, she says, management didn’t indicate when notice would come for them.

“We thought they were going to give us time,” says Torres, a 15-year Pike resident. “We didn’t imagine it’d be only 45 days.”

Now, the 58 households will be competing for affordable housing in Arlington, which is grappling with a shortage of options as well as habitability concerns, such as rodents and mold, at some complexes with units set aside for low-income residents. This bottleneck could drive longtime residents out of the county, tenant advocates say.

“We have a shortage of affordable apartments,” said Elder Julio Basurto, a community leader working with the tenants. “Where are they going to go?”

A tenant meeting outside Columbia Gardens Apartments (courtesy photo)

Advocates and some local elected officials say the notice is unjust and poorly timed, and are trying to buy tenants more time to resettle. Long term, they aim to reform the state housing codes to require longer notice periods for month-to-month renters and enact local policies to support low- and moderate-income communities at risk of displacement as the Pike redevelops.

“This is a horrible situation in the middle of winter, in the middle of a pandemic, with kids going to local schools having to potentially move out of school,” said Del. Alfonso Lopez, whose district includes most of Columbia Pike. “Everything about it is horrible, and it needs to be addressed immediately.”

Columbia Gardens’ owner, Merion Companies, says it’s doing what it can to help — but ultimately, the old buildings need to come down.

“There is no good time to [give notice],” said managing member Ryan Bensten. “We’re completely sensitive to that fact and have tried to do the right thing by our tenants to minimize heartache and impact.”

He said Merion provided a list of 13 locations where the group found vacancies and are trying to place some families in other units on the Columbia Gardens property not yet slated for development. He has three staff members dedicated to answering calls and working with tenants.

“These buildings have lived beyond their useful life,” Bensten said. “We’re moving on with a redevelopment — the project is complex with a lot of moving parts and we’re doing our best to be responsible to our tenants as we can.”

On short notice 

At the core of this saga is a frustration with Virginia code, which requires landlords to provide 30 days of notice to tenants on month-to-month leases in the event of a renovation project, as opposed to 120 days of notice for year-long leases.

It’s a provision that dates back at least to 2005, says Lopez, but was most recently clarified in 2015 as part of a law providing protections to residents of mobile homes.

Merion acquired the property around four years ago, and as tenants’ year-long leases expired, they transitioned to month-to-month arrangements, Bensten says.

“Typically, in Virginia, the month-to-month lease automatically kicks in once your lease has expired and if the landlord doesn’t make an attempt to renew the normal lease,” says Kellen MacBeth, who chairs the Arlington branch of the NAACP’s Housing Committee and is Vice-Chair of the Arlington Housing Commission.

Both tenants and landlords can terminate a month-to-month lease with 30 days of notice, which is convenient for landlords and can sometimes benefit tenants, he said.

“But in the case where the tenant has a family and has established themselves in this neighborhood — this is their home and they’re not looking to make major changes — it can be really challenging, as we see here,” MacBeth said. “Thirty days is not a lot of time to pack up your family and move.”

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