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The Serrano Apartments at 5535 Columbia Pike (via Google Maps)

(Updated 4:40 p.m.) There are more than two dozen steps local affordable housing developers, Arlington County and the state can take to improve quality of life and respect tenants, according to a new report.

Written by a Joint Subcommittee on the Status of Aging Properties (JSSAP), the report walks through the kinds of protections tenants need to live safely in committed affordable dwellings in Arlington, many of which are affordable because they are older and more prone to maintenance issues.

Work on this document, unofficially dubbed “the Serrano report,” began last October in response to the attention tenant advocates drew in May 2021 to longstanding problems at the Serrano Apartments (5535 Columbia Pike). Residents of the affordable housing complex, owned by affordable housing operator AHC, Inc., were living with mold and rodent infestations and in units decaying due to deferred maintenance.

“I think it’s an important, historical document to say, ‘This is what happened,’ and to help the county and the state to prevent these issues from happening again,” said Kellen MacBeth, chair of the Arlington Branch of the NAACP’s Housing Committee.  “It was a lot of work, but I’m hopeful we can build on the changes the county has been making to further protect the rights of tenants and prevent another Serrano from occurring.”

The document could be presented to the Arlington County Board as early as next month.

Reaction to the report has been mixed. Advocates are urging the Board to implement the local recommendations and incorporate suggestions for the state into its annual legislative priorities. Some members of Arlington County’s Housing Commission critiqued the report, however, for not including the perspectives of affordable housing business partners or costs associated with implementing the recommendations.

“We went back and forth on that,” Housing Commission Chair Eric Berkey told the Tenant-Landlord Commission last week.

For its part, AHC said it respects the subcommittee’s work but is concerned about the financial impact.

“We appreciate the effort that went into the report,” AHC spokeswoman Jennifer Smith said in a statement. “As a non-profit organization, any recommendations that add cost without accompanying revenues would be burdensome. AHC has 23 properties in Arlington alone.”

Where to start

Tenant advocates say the county’s first order of business, after accepting the report, should be requiring housing providers to fund organizations that support tenant associations.

“We think it’s critically important for the Barcroft Apartments — and the redevelopment that’s going to be happening in the next year — so that tenants have a voice, if there are serious problems they’re facing,” MacBeth said. Maintenance issues, he added, are already arising.

Late last year, the county and Amazon agreed to loan more than $300 million to facilitate the sale of the Barcroft Apartments on Columbia Pike to developer Jair Lynch Real Estate Partners, which agreed to preserve 1,334 units on the site as committed affordable units for 99 years.

Tenant education on their rights provided by a third party would ensure these tenant councils will have teeth, says Elder Julio Basurto, a former Serrano resident and co-founder of a new advocacy group called Juntos En Justicia (Together in Justice).

“They have to train the residents how to advocate for their needs,” he said. “Without the oversight, the residential councils won’t work.”

Janeth Valenzuela, who helped draw attention to conditions at the Serrano, said tenants need education to know how to report their problems. Residents would talk with the county, but if it wasn’t the right staff member, work would be delayed, she said.

“We still have tenants afraid to say things for fear of retaliation, and they don’t have training in how to file reports,” said Valenzuela, another co-founder of Juntos En Justicia. “They didn’t know who to go to, what to do or how to talk.”

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Morning Notes

Fundraiser for Family in Need — Money is being raised online for an Arlington woman and her two school-aged sons after her husband — their dad — passed away from stomach cancer. The De Leon Ordonez family was very active with the Barrett Elementary School community, volunteering “countless hours of time and energy” to the school and the PTA. “Please donate to help them get back on their feet,” wrote Del. Patrick Hope. [YouCaring, Twitter]

Tenant-Landlord Guidelines Changed — “County Board members on May 22 approved revisions to the guidelines that developers either can or must follow – depending on the specific circumstance – if they are renovating residential properties and displacing tenants in the process. The revisions… will provide many tenants with more notice and, in some cases, higher relocation payments if they find themselves displaced.” [InsideNova]

Turtle Causes Flight Delay at DCA — A flight from Reagan National Airport to Chicago had its departure delayed a few minutes due to a turtle on the runway. [WUSA 9]

Radnor/Fort Myer Heights Profiled — WaPo has published another profile of an Arlington neighborhood and this time around it’s the Radnor/Fort Myer Heights neighborhood, just south of the Rosslyn and Courthouse Metro stations. The neighborhood’s civic association president said the neighborhood is “concerned about increased density” from development, “want it reasonable” and “open to affordable housing and diversity.” [Washington Post]

County May Hold Discussion of School Construction Costs — “Members of the [Arlington County] government’s audit committee are seeking to hold a summertime discussion of the high costs of Arlington school construction, hoping to piggyback on a report due out in coming weeks from the school system’s auditor. The audit committee has ‘made overtures’ to school officials about holding a joint community forum – date and place still undetermined – to discuss the findings of the report.” [InsideNova]

Ribbon Cutting for New Crystal City Office — Helicopter manufacturer Bell has opened a new office — its “Advanced Vertical Lift Center” — in Crystal City. A ribbon cutting was reportedly held yesterday. The new office “is designed for the company’s military customers, partners and policy makers to ‘interact with technology that is defining the future of vertical lift.'” [Rotor & Wing]

Photo courtesy Jeremy Galliani

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Morning Notes

Fog on the Potomac near Roosevelt Island and Rosslyn (Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick)

Family: We’re Being Evicted Because Our Disabled Son Is Too Loud — A family of a disabled boy says they’re being evicted from the Oakland Apartments on Columbia Pike because the 10-year-old boy makes too much noise. Local tenant advocates Bravo and Bu-Gata have taken up the cause of the Diaz family and held a press conference yesterday. [Washington Post, NBC Washington]

Arlington County Ready for Winter Weather — While there’s been little evidence of winter so far, given the procession of record warm temperatures, Arlington County says it’s ready to do battle with snow and ice when the time comes. The county says it has reviewed its operations, reinforced its training and acquired an additional 1,200 tons of salt compared to last year. [Arlington County]

View of Rosslyn Skyline in 1964 — The Key Bridge looked pretty much the same, but downtown Rosslyn looked a lot different in 1964. A historical photo shows only a handful of mid-rise office buildings and at least one of the River Place co-op buildings — but none of the towering buildings that characterize the modern Rosslyn skyline. [Twitter]

Webb Books Clinton’s Spiritual Advisor — Mike Webb, the Republican who hopes to challenge Rep. Don Beyer in next year’s election, says he’s booked Bill Clinton’s former spiritual advisor to speak at a campaign-sponsored prayer breakfast next month. The press release also pokes fun at Beyer’s Taylor Swift ticket fundraiser and notes that “earlier press releases from Webb published in ARL Now were met with derision.” [PDF]

Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick

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