Resources to Assist Those in Need — Arlington County has created a list of food, financial and medical assistance that is available for neighbors in need during the coronavirus outbreak. [Arlington County]
Vihstadt Stands Up for Farmers Markets — “At Saturday’s County Board meeting, former board member John Vihstadt rapped the state government for lumping in farmers’ markets – of which Arlington has nearly a dozen operating throughout the week – with restaurants (which for the most part are now closed to dine-in service and in many cases are shuttered completely) rather than treating them as supermarkets (which remain open and running at full strength).” [InsideNova]
Giant Adjusting Store Hours — “Effective Friday, March 27, most Giant Food stores will adjust hours of operations to be open from 6:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m… The first hour of operations, 6:00-7:00 a.m. is reserved for senior citizens and immunocompromised individuals, including pregnant women and caregivers shopping for the immunocompromised, so that they may shop and practice safe social distancing.” [Press Release]
Va. Liquor Stores Limit Hours — “The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (ABC) will reduce operating hours at all of its stores statewide beginning Friday, March 27, due to the expanding nature of the COVID-19 outbreak… stores across the commonwealth will be open from noon to 7 p.m., seven days a week, starting Friday, March 27.” [Virginia ABC]
County to Help Hospital with Bond Sale — “Continuing a 42-year tradition of collaboration, the Arlington County government will assist Virginia Hospital Center in issuing bonds to support new construction. County Board members on March 21 authorized the government’s Industrial Development Authority, or IDA, to issue up to $300 million in tax-exempt revenue bonds to support the effort.” [InsideNova]
Local Catholic Schools Embrace Distance Learning — “The Catholic Diocese of Arlington’s Office of Catholic Schools announced the successful stand-up of distance learning in all 41 parish schools and high schools in the Diocese. Distance learning is now in place, offering interactive, personalized instruction to students through the remainder of the academic year.” [Press Release]
Local Leaders Urge Rent Leniency — “There are new calls for landlords to freeze [rent] payments to help mitigate the economic fallout of the pandemic… ‘We need them to show compassion on the front end, and we’ll work to make sure they’re made whole on the back end,’ said Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey.” [Washington Business Journal]
Tomb Sentinels Are Still Guarding — “There is a sacred duty not even a pandemic can stop: a rite of continuity still carried out in Arlington National Cemetery even as much of the country shuts down. The sentinels who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier recently marked more than 30,000 days of constant watch over the remains of unidentified U.S. service members — a streak persisting through the pandemic.” [WUSA 9]
More on Arlington’s Drive-Through Testing — “Arlington County and the Virginia Hospital Center launched a coronavirus sampling site Wednesday, but a short supply of test kits and limited lab processing ability are forcing them to be selective with who they see.” [WAMU]
Grocery Stores With Senior-Only Shopping Hours — “Some DC-area grocery stores are offering or plan to offer special shopping hours for senior citizens, and in some cases other vulnerable people, during the coronavirus crisis. [Washingtonian, Twitter]
County Asks Landlords for Leniency — “We ask that you consider now what you can do to ease burdens for tenants who may have difficulty paying their rent in the coming months because of illness or financial hardship related to ongoing business disruptions and closures.” [Arlington County]
Cristol to Commercial Landlords: Don’t Fire Cleaners — “These men and women are the unsung heroes of the Coronavirus pandemic and they can least afford to lose wages and benefits during this crisis. At the same time that cleaners and security officers have stepped forward to do their jobs during this outbreak, they are now being threatened with layoffs and reductions.” [Press Release]
St. Patrick’s Day Celebration Questioned — The Celtic House on Columbia Pike is closed now, but it was one of the only local bars to stay fully open on St. Patrick’s Day. Some are questioning that decision as governments and medical professionals urge people to stay at home and maintain social distancing to prevent the spread of the deadly disease. [Facebook, Twitter]
Some Restaurants Decide to Close Completely — Galaxy Hut in Clarendon, which initially stayed open for takeout meals, is instead “shutting this puppy down.” [Twitter]
Arlington Musician Takes Shows Online — “Singer and songwriter Justin Trawick’s livelihood as a stage performer who did more than a dozen shows a month ground to a halt recently as the coronavirus pandemic shut down his concert venues.” [Reuters]
County Permit Office Closed — “The Arlington County Permit Office is now CLOSED for in-person customer service. Many services remain available online.” [Twitter]
Rent Rising in Arlington — “The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment was $1,840 and for a two-bedroom apartment was $2,130 in Arlington, based on the latest data from Apartment List. The growth rate of 3.7 percent from 12 months before compares to a national increase of 1.7 percent during the same period.” [InsideNova]
Rolling Thunder Rides Again — “The massive Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally staged in Washington each Memorial Day weekend had its final ride last year, but the roar of engines isn’t going away… The 2020 version of the ride has new organizers, a new sponsor and a new name, but participants and spectators might not notice the changes.” [Washington Post]
Cat Shot With Arrow Adopted — “Cupid is going home! His new mom and dad were SO excited to meet Cupid and make him a part of the family. He was purring and giving them head-butts right away, and we wish him all the best in his new home!” [Facebook, WJLA]
Watch Out for Coronavirus Scams — “As public health concerns continue to grow surrounding the coronavirus, Attorney General Mark R. Herring is urging Virginians to be wary of any coronavirus related scams. Scams could include selling products that purport to prevent the coronavirus, spreading misinformation, or pretending to solicit donations for victims of the disease.” [Press Release]
Students: Keep the Career Center’s Farm Animals — “A staff proposal to revamp the animal-science program at the Arlington Career Center, including the removal of on-site large non-domesticated animals, is drawing brushback. The proposal calls for focusing more on smaller, domestic animals at the expense of farm animals, which have been part of the program for years and have come to be a beloved part of the Career Center family.” [InsideNova]
NBC 4 Profiles ACFD Mass Shooter Plan — “The Arlington County Fire Department is leading a national shift in how rescue squads respond to mass shootings.” Arlington fire trucks are now equipped with bulletproof vests and personnel are trained to treat victims as soon as possible. [NBC 4]
Arlington Rent on Par with D.C. — “The District and Arlington County are virtually tied for average apartment rent, at $2,233 and $2,236 respectively. Rents in D.C. and Arlington County are both up 4.3% in the last year.” [WTOP]
Local Tech Firm Not Meeting Job Hype, Yet — “Blockchain software developer Block.one promised in September to add 170 jobs in Arlington over three years, so we’re checking in on where its local employee numbers stand. Out of the 231 employees the company has listed on LinkedIn, 24 are now located in the D.C. area.” [Washington Business Journal]
How One Young Resident Affords Housing Here — “In 2013, [Mallory Scott] and one roommate moved into a three-bedroom, World War II-era Arlington house where the monthly mortgage and property taxes totaled $1,200. She had a connection that helped her find the place: Her parents, who now live in Nevada, purchased the home in 1991 for $190,000 when the Army assigned Scott’s father to Arlington. Today, it’s worth roughly $800,000.” [WAMU]
Neighborhood Near Clarendon Profiled — “Lyon Village is a chic, charming neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia, that resides regally just across the river from Washington, D.C. The 191-acre community of 6,000 residents, which was established in the mid-1920s by developer Frank Lyon for whom it is named, still retains a small-town, good-to-see-you feel yet offers access to all the cultural activities and amenities of the nation’s capital.” [Mansion Global]
Arlington County is home to six of the top 10 priciest zip codes for renters in Virginia in 2019, according to a new study.
The data from website RENTCafe lists Rosslyn’s 22209 area code as the priciest in the state, with an average monthly rent of $2,718, rising 4% year-over-year.
That’s followed by McLean’s 22102 zip code and Arlington’s 22201 zip code, which includes Clarendon and Courthouse. The average rent in 22201 was $2,420 per month, rising 5.4% year over year.
The Pentagon City and Crystal City area — the much-discussed 22202 zip code, home to Amazon’s future HQ2 — was No. 4 at a monthly average rent of $2,407. But the rate of rent increases there — 3.6% — was significantly outpaced by the No. 5 22203 zip code, which includes Ballston and rose 8% year-over-year to an average monthly rent of $2,403.
Rounding out the bottom half of the top 10 were the Reston Town Center area, residential North Arlington’s 22207 zip code, Old Town Alexandria, Falls Church, and Arlington’s 22206 zip code, which includes Shirlington and Fairlington.
Janet Caputo and her husband thought they’d found just the right home for a new chapter in their lives when they moved into an apartment at “The Rixey” building in Ballston last month.
The couple had just sold their Cherrydale home of the last 22 years, looking to downsize now that their children are all heading off to college. Caputo says they spent months on the apartment search, touring buildings across Arlington multiple times before settling on The Rixey, located at 1008 N. Glebe Road.
Then came the news on Feb. 8 that Marymount University would be buying the building from its current owners, the prominent real estate developer The Shooshan Company, and converting it into housing for students, faculty and staff.
“I was not told the truth,” Caputo told ARLnow. “I wouldn’t have spent all this money to move in if we knew we could only stay for 14 months.”
Indeed, Shooshan and Marymount are now working over the course of the next several months to manage the tricky process of converting what was once yet another luxury apartment building in Ballston into an upscale dorm.
Representatives for both the company and the university say they’ll honor all existing leases, and are committed to making the transition go smoothly. Still, residents like Caputo can’t help but feel that they were blindsided by the change.
“I don’t think millennials are out to wreck the world… I don’t mind living among them,” Caputo said. “What I don’t like is being told I can’t stay in this building after I put all this effort into moving here.”
Kelly Shooshan, the company’s chief operating officer and director of residential development, says she can’t speak to what people were or were not told about the building’s future when they signed their leases. She deferred questions on that to The Rixey’s management company, the Bozzuto Group — Jamie Gorski, Bozzuto’s chief marketing officer, declined comment for this article.
However, Shooshan says residents have long been aware that some Marymount graduate students have lived in the building since it opened in October 2017, making ties to the university quite clear.
“In fact, they were the first students to move in,” Shooshan wrote in an email.
She added that the sale shouldn’t have come as a complete surprise, considering how Marymount and Shooshan worked together to make the development happen.
Marymount built its new Ballston Center building right next door to the Rixey, leasing the adjacent land to Shooshan. But the university reserved the right to purchase the apartment building outright in the future, and that’s exactly what Marymount did earlier this month, using a mix of state funds and private financing to afford the $95 million price tag.
“The Rixey was my baby,” Shooshan said. “I worked on it for four-plus years, so no one will miss it more than me. But all that means is I have to go build another great project.”
But Caputo says she had no idea that such an option was ever a possibility, and thinks it’s unreasonable that this wasn’t explained to residents ahead of time — she fully expects that if she’d known about the option, she and her husband wouldn’t have chosen The Rixey, and they certainly wouldn’t have spent close to $7,000 installing upgrades to the apartment’s furnishings.
Caputo adds that many of her neighbors are in the same boat. She’s heard from some who signed leases just weeks ago, and even encountered one family that put pen to paper on a lease the day the sale was announced.
A letter provided to ARLnow from the building’s new management company (American Campus Communities) says staff have also heard “a number of residents express concern” and surprise about the change.
“It’s just house flipping on an enormous scale, without telling unsuspecting people who think they are signing a lease in a multifamily building,” Caputo said.
Yet Shooshan points out that it’s not as if current Rixey residents are being thrown out on the street overnight.
“All leases will be honored,” Marymount Chief Financial Officer Al Diaz wrote in a statement. “But we will only renew leases for qualifying students, faculty and staff.”
Diaz says the university won’t start moving in undergraduate students to The Rixey until this coming August, though he says it “may fill vacancies that develop with graduate students, faculty and staff.”
But for anyone looking for a more immediate change, Shooshan says her staff is already working to help them move to another one of the company’s residential properties.
“Hopefully, this will resolve some of the initial frustrations,” Shooshan said. “As you know, no one likes change.”
Caputo isn’t yet sure what she and her husband will do — they’ve already paid their first month’s rent, and aren’t sure whether they’ll get it back if they move out early.
And she’s adamant that she has no interest in living in another Shooshan-owned property, after her experience at The Rixey.
“My husband and I are beside ourselves,” she said.
A new bill just passed by state lawmakers could soon allow localities like Arlington to start waiving many fees for new affordable housing developments, a change that advocates expect could have big impact on the county’s housing crunch.
New legislation backed by Dels. Lamont Bagby (D-74th District) and Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) would let officials across the state pass ordinances to do away with any building permit fees or other local levies on affordable housing plans, in a bid to ease the construction of such projects.
The bill unanimously passed the state Senate last week, after earning similarly swift approval in the House of Delegates, and now heads to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk for his signature. The legislation was designed as part of a broader package of bills aimed at bringing housing costs down, due not only to rising concerns about Amazon’s impact in Northern Virginia, but also to new research showing the Richmond and Virginia Beach areas with some of the highest eviction rates in the entire country.
“Every Virginian deserves a safe place to call home,” Bagby wrote in a statement. “By supporting more affordable housing, we can address the devastating impacts of Virginia’s high eviction rates.”
Michelle Winters, the executive director of the Arlington-based Alliance for Housing Solutions, told ARLnow that the county doesn’t currently waive fees for affordable developments, but could well embrace such a tactic in the near future.
She points out that a coalition of affordable housing advocates called for the county to take just such a step in a 2017 report outlining potential strategies for officials to meet their own goals for building more reasonably priced homes.
Arlington officials have already struggled to meet those goals for creating homes guaranteed to remain affordable to renters of modest means, known as “committed affordable” units, prompting housing advocates to pen the report and press for progress. And with Amazon bringing its 25,000 (or more) highly paid workers to the county, Winters believes its conclusions are all the more important for leaders to consider.
“The report estimated that waiving ‘permit and tap fees’ for affordable housing projects would save $1.4 million per year, or allow the addition of 16 more committed affordable units each year,” Winters said.
That would only be a small change in the grand scheme of the county’s housing needs — the county created or preserved 515 affordable homes last year, short of the 585 homes officials hope to produce each year — but housing researchers still expect waiving such fees would make a meaningful difference.
“Although the total amount of fees imposed by local governments during the development review process can vary by locality, affordable housing developments operate under extremely complex financing mechanisms and tight margins,” said Andrew Clark, vice president of government affairs for the Home Builders Association of Virginia, wrote in a statement. “Reduction or elimination of these local fees could be a significant incentive for a private-sector development considering an affordable housing development and could also help incentive the private-sector developer to re-invest those savings into amenities, building materials or labor.”
The report, titled “Fulfilling the Promise: Meeting the Production Goal of Arlington’s Affordable Housing Master Plan,” uses the recently completed “Columbia Hills” project backed by the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing as an example of how county fees impact such projects.
APAH spent about $91.1 million on the project in all, but that included close to $701,000 in fees including building permit fees, sewer and water levies and zoning review costs.
“If all of these fees had been waived for this affordable project, it would have reduced the costs of development, freeing up resources for the development of eight (8) additional [committed affordable units],” the advocates wrote.
The report also notes that other cities around the country have already adopted such a strategy. In Austin, Texas, for instance, the city waives fees on a sliding scale based on what portion of a development’s homes are priced to be affordable to people making less than 80 percent of the area median income.
Of course, it might be a tough pill to swallow for county leaders to forego any revenue while times are tough for Arlington financially.
But officials have seen some reason for optimism about the upcoming budget recently, and Winters says county workers have already assured her that they plan to examine the impacts of waiving affordable development fees as part of a broader study of Arlington’s permitting process.
Photo via @APAH_org
Arlington and other localities around the D.C. region have enough room to add the housing necessary to keep pace with the Amazon-driven population influx expected over the coming years — but actually realizing that potential won’t be easy, regional planners say.
Researchers with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, a coalition of local leaders, have warned in the past that the region needs to add about 100,000 more homes through 2045, or else risk seeing rent prices creep up even higher and more people pushed into the outer suburbs.
Their latest data, unveiled yesterday (Wednesday), suggest that localities across Northern Virginia, Maryland and D.C. have already put plans in place to meet even that large number.
The vast majority of that work was completed before Amazon announced its plans to head to Arlington (to say nothing of the news that it’s canceling its New York City plans as well), but officials are confident that region’s population boom of the last few years has spurred the right kind of planning work to account for the tech giant’s arrival as well.
But planners are also cautioning the region’s leaders that everything from land-use policies to the high cost of construction to “not-in-my-backyard” sentiments are sure to confound their efforts to actually meet that demand for new housing.
“We do think we have the capacity in our long-range plans to get there,” Andrew Trueblood, D.C.’s acting planning director, told the MWCOG Board of Directors Wednesday. “But that’s the first hurdle and there’s a whole number of hurdles to get past.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, restrictive zoning and land-use policies are one of the chief obstacles planners identified for local leaders to tackle as they seek to add more homes. Many activists and Arlington officials have already begun discussing the best ways to increase density in the county, and that’s included the fraught topic of up-zoning areas previously reserved for single-family homes.
But those considerations are only one piece of the puzzle, according to the COG’s analysts.
Trueblood pointed out that the region is getting better at concentrating housing in “activity centers” around Metro stops or other public transit options. But as land close to transit becomes more scarce, it also becomes more expensive, ramping up the costs of the sort of development planners are most enthusiastic about encouraging.
Trueblood added that the “unstable construction cost market” has also complicated other development efforts. Other developers have been frustrated by local opposition to dense developments, particularly when it comes in the form of legal action targeting even “by-right” developments, which don’t require extensive government review.
But, in Northern Virginia particularly, officials say that a lack of interest from developers is far from an issue.
“We are not having trouble with the development community coming and wishing to develop,” said Sharon Bulova, the chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. “But making sure that those new residential homes and units are affordable is really the challenge.”
Arlington is certainly grappling with that issue as well. County officials are locked in a debate about the best way to meet their own affordable housing goals — possibilities range from setting aside more cash to spur affordable developments to opening up zoning rules to allow a more diverse array of housing types.
Helen McElveen, Alexandria’s housing director, expressed optimism that the private sector will step up in some regard on that front — she noted that dominant Crystal City developer JBG Smith has expressed a particular interest in funding more affordable homes.
But she also cautioned that local governments themselves will always have a dominant role to play in subsidizing apartments affordable to the lowest income renters.
“Affordability won’t happen unless governments act,” McElveen said. “We don’t live in a market with a lot of affordable stock or even workforce stock being delivered… We know we can neither build our way out of this nor preserve everything.”
The COG’s analysts expect that their next steps are to study “the specific challenges (public and private) to developing more housing” in those “activity centers” around mass transit options, and deliver recommendations for overcoming those issues.
That will surely take some time to sort out, but planners say they’re well aware of the urgent need for answers to the questions.
“If we can not keep up with the growth, employers will not expand and our region’s growth is hurt,” Trueblood said. “But if we can produce the housing needed for the region to grow and for economy to be vibrant, we’ll reduce the displacement pressures facing everyone.”
For people fearful about how Amazon will impact Arlington, a single question tends to rise above all others — will the company’s arrival price me out of my home?
There are certainly plenty of other concerns surrounding the company, and the 25,000 jobs it has promised to bring to its new home in Pentagon City and Crystal City, stemming from its highly criticized business practices to its potential impact on roads and transit in the region.
But concerns about housing affordability have most consistently come to the fore since Amazon’s announcement that it would be setting up shop in Arlington, as renters worry that the company’s army of well-paid workers will set off an explosion in home prices and push them deeper into Northern Virginia’s suburbs.
In selling the proposed deal to bring the Amazon headquarters to the county, officials have argued that these fears are largely overblown. Over the last few months, all manner of local leaders have claimed that the company will arrive slowly enough for Arlington to absorb the new residents, and that the county won’t be forced to house every single one of the workers who will spend their days in the new office space.
And, in general, academics, advocates and real estate watchers around the area agree with that line of thinking. For the most part, the experts surveyed by ARLnow on the issue don’t believe that Amazon will have the sort of apocalyptic impact on housing and gentrification that some skeptics fear.
Yet they also caution that the company will almost certainly still push many people out of the county, particularly those of more modest means living in South Arlington neighborhoods. While the county may not face the same massive disruptive impacts as Seattle, which is still struggling to integrate one of the world’s largest companies into its metro area, observers warn that it would foolish to minimize the size of the challenge Arlington is facing.
“I don’t agree with the view of impending doom that Arlington will become San Francisco due to housing problems, but there are real concerns here to address,” said Eric Brescia, a Fannie Mae economist and a member of Arlington’s Citizens Advisory Commission on Housing.
The case against Amazon panic
Fundamentally, the argument minimizing Amazon’s impacts on the housing market includes the same key points.
First of all, the company plans to bring its 25,000 workers to the new headquarters over the next decade or so, not all at once. And, even then, not all of them are likely to live in Arlington, the thinking goes — many could choose to move to other Northern Virginia suburbs, or even to Maryland and D.C., to take advantage of Arlington’s connection to public transit networks.
Many other employees set to work at the headquarters probably already live in Arlington, considering that Amazon says it chose the D.C. region due to its bevy of “tech talent” already in the area.
That means that county leaders are planning on seeing closer to 15 to 20 percent of Amazon’s workers relocate to Arlington specifically, an influx of (at most) 5,000 people. In fact, a report prepared by George Mason University’s Stephen S. Fuller Institute as part of the state’s courtship of Amazon estimates that more than twice as many of the company’s workers will move to Fairfax instead of Arlington.
“This isn’t based on a wish, but based on our prior experience with other large employers,” said County Board Chair Christian Dorsey. “Can we guarantee it? Of course not… but this is the best we can do in projecting how this investment does and does not look like other investments that we’ve had.”
County Board member Erik Gutshall also points out that the D.C. region as a whole has been in the midst of a massive explosion in growth in recent years, and Amazon could merely feel like a drop in the bucket. Based on regional projections, Gutshall says the company’s is “expected to account for about 5 percent of regional job growth over the next 12 years.”
“That, to me, says this alone is not going to be a major driver of housing affordability problems,” Gutshall said.
Regional observers believe that the broad strokes of that argument are accurate.
Brad Dillman, the chief economist for national real estate developer Cortland, points out that Crystal City and Pentagon City both have slightly higher residential vacancy rates than the D.C. metro area as a whole, leaving some room for Amazon employees moving in.
And Christopher Ptomey, the executive director of the Urban Land Institute’s Terwilliger Center for Housing, notes that it’s hardly uncommon to see large government agencies (or other big companies) move into communities around the Northern Virginia area. Based on Arlington’s own past experiences with such changes, he sees no reason Amazon employees would behave any differently.
“Some people come here and decide Arlington has great schools and is convenient, so they’re willing to pay a little bit more to stay here,” Ptomey said. “Others prefer a bigger house and a wider lot and lighter traffic. I don’t think Amazon employees going to be particularly unique in that way.”
Yet, with so many unknowns about the company’s plans still remaining, experts caution that it’s hard to make too many definitive declarations about the make-up of the company’s workforce just yet. That complicates efforts to make predictions about how they might behave when they arrive.
“We need to know: what’s the age range and family type of these workers?” said Jenny Schuetz, who studies housing policy as part of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “A bunch of 25-year-olds will want to live nearby, but they pay a lot more in taxes than they consume in services. More older families will require more space in high-performing schools, but some will want to live farther out.”
Indeed, Schuetz and other analysts warn that the county shouldn’t offer too much certainty about Amazon’s precise impacts until officials start to see how the company’s arrival changes the region.
Arlington officials have simultaneously downplayed the number of people arriving along with Amazon, while also trumpeting how other high-priced tech companies will likely flock to the area to do business with Jeff Bezos’ firm. Until Arlington can evaluate just how real that downstream impact is, experts say it might be useless to simply study just Amazon’s workforce.
“Will just Amazon come here or is this the beginning of D.C. becoming a major tech hub?” Brescia said. “That’s really unknown.”
But Schuetz notes that research shows, in general, “each new tech job spins off roughly five additional jobs.” That might be good news for the county’s economy, but it also complicates the math of predicting how many people will flow into Arlington.
“We know that big headquarters like this have a multiplier effect,” Schuetz said. “They will need supportive services and restaurants to serve the campus directly.”
However many people associated with the company ultimately arrive in Arlington, analysts point out that they are likely to be quite wealthy. The terms of the state’s proposed deal with Amazon require an average annual salary of $150,000 for the company’s employees, and other tech workers bound for Arlington are likely to pull in similar sums.
Even still, Dorsey believes those salaries “are not out of scale with typical earnings in the area,” minimizing the impact they’ll have on the county’s home prices.
A ‘housing crisis’ for low-income renters?
But critics of the county’s pursuit of Amazon believe that sort of mindset ignores the current conditions in Arlington, which already pose problems for renters. Tim Dempsey, a member of the steering committee for the progressive group Our Revolution Arlington, points out that many Board members (including Dorsey himself) won office based on pledges to combat the county’s pre-Amazon “housing crisis” for low-income people and the middle class alike.
“We already don’t have housing for middle-income earners, whether that’s school teachers, firefighters or policemen,” Dempsey said. “The county never asked the community if it was a good idea to bid for this, and when we raised these issues, we were told it was premature to even talk about this.”
Ideally, Schuetz says that Amazon’s workers and their peers won’t be competing for the same types of housing as the people Dempsey is worried about. In all likelihood, “if they’re displacing people, they’ll be displacing other high-income households” by moving into Arlington’s high-rent Metro corridors.
Dillman also foresees developers adding plenty of new housing around the new headquarters, noting that the pace of development has been especially slow in Crystal City as the area’s office vacancy rate has skyrocketed. That should, in theory, provide plenty of new, high-end homes for Amazon arrivals.
The “danger point” that Schuetz fears is what becomes of the “low-cost, older housing” in neighborhoods elsewhere in South Arlington, particularly along Columbia Pike, or in North Alexandria.
“Those could be the targets for redevelopment, where you could potentially charge higher rents,” Schuetz said. “And that’s the area where we’d see displacement.”
Michelle Krocker, the executive director of the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance, agrees that the fate of apartments running from the Pike to Bailey’s Crossroads and even Seven Corners is one of her prime concerns. But her research also suggests that observers “shouldn’t assume everyone will jump on the bandwagon and sell.”
“Many of these buildings have been in the same family for generations, going back to 1950s, 1960s,” Krocker said. “That means there can be tax consequences and liabilities if they entertain selling. And, for many, the buildings are cash cows.”
Of course, the county could take additional steps to preserve those sorts of buildings to address the issue. And officials say they’re already mulling all manner of strategies to combat housing affordability challenges.
To Brescia, how the county follows through with those plans could provide the clearest answer for anyone searching for the exact extent of Amazon’s impacts.
“It will all really depend on the policy response to this, across the region,” Brescia said.
As all signs continue to suggest that Crystal City will soon become home to at least half of Amazon’s new headquarters, affordable housing advocates are increasingly concerned that Arlington won’t force the tech giant to take action to mitigate the new office’s impact on housing prices in the county.
The company’s abrupt decision to split its “HQ2” between Crystal City and New York City, as detailed in a flurry of national news reports, means that Arlington could see only half of the 50,000 new jobs Amazon promised along with the new headquarters. Nevertheless, fears linger that the arrival of even a portion of those workers would further squeeze the county’s already tight housing market.
County and state officials have steadfastly refused to release any details about their pitch to Amazon, including details on potential economic incentives for the company, or any community benefits designed to account for how a sudden influx of thousands of workers might drive up housing prices and demand.
Amazon has also been mum on how it might set up shop in Crystal City, but speculation abounds that the company would move into the thousands of square feet of vacant office space controlled by JBG Smith, the area’s largest property owner. The real estate firm was intimately involved in assembling Crystal City’s HQ2 bid, and Arlington officials have salivated over the prospect that the company could reverse the county’s high office vacancy rate in one fell swoop.
But should Jeff Bezos and company move right in to that vacant space, experts worry that the county won’t have the ability to extract any cash for Arlington’s main tool for spurring the development of reasonably priced homes: the Affordable Housing Investment Fund, commonly known as the AHIF.
The program offers low-interest loans for new construction or redevelopment efforts to add more affordable housing in the county, and the county regularly requires developers behind high-density projects to contribute to the fund, in order to offset the impacts of that development on the rest of the county.
Yet Michelle Winters, the executive director of the Alliance for Housing Solutions, points out that Amazon could well avoid any such contribution, despite bringing thousands of highly paid workers to the area. After all, the company may simply prove to be a very, very large office tenant, and not plan any new construction in the county for years yet.
“These fees are a major component of how we pay for affordable housing in Arlington,” Winters told ARLnow. “But we just don’t know what kind of deal they’re potentially making with Amazon.”
Through a spokeswoman, Arlington Housing Director David Cristeal confirmed that the “county does not require AHIF contributions if a tenant moves into existing space without building anything new.”
“A developer or building lessee would not need to contribute to AHIF if they move into an existing building without requesting additional density and/or a site plan amendment,” Cristeal wrote. Site plan amendments, in general, are reserved for major construction projects.
County Board Chair Katie Cristol agrees with Cristeal’s assessment, noting that the “mechanisms for achieving contributions to the AHIF are tools available to us during the land-use process” only.
“The time at which we’d achieve something like that is as the building is built, not as a tenant moves in, which makes sense,” Cristol said.
What that means for the county’s potential deal with Amazon, Cristol can’t say. She says the county still has yet to work out the details of just how the tech giant would move in to Arlington, making it a bit too early to speculate on technical questions like potential AHIF contributions.
However, she did point out that the whole point of Arlington luring Amazon in the first place is to generate new tax revenue, which the county could then direct into the AHIF or other measures to preserve and create affordable housing.
“The reason to bring in new tenants to Arlington generally is they fund all those things,” Cristol said. “Whether it’s the AHIF, housing grants, public schools, transportation costs… It can be easy to lose sight of that.”
Of course, there are plenty of experts skeptical of just how much Amazon’s arrival will actually juice county revenues, especially if Arlington signs off on hefty tax breaks to lure the company here in the first place. For instance, the government accountability group Good Jobs First, an intense Amazon critic, estimates that localities can end up paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in subsidies for each job that a major new investor generates.
Kasia Tarczynska, a research analyst with Good Jobs First, notes that the county could always limit the tax breaks it offers the company and “use that money for affordable housing, public transit and workforce development.”
“In Boston, for example, as part of the incentive package, the city said it would invest $75 million in affordable housing, instead [of] giving that money to Amazon,” Tarczynska wrote in an email.
But that’s where the county’s secrecy around its offer to the company, which has been criticized by liberal and conservative activists alike, stymies further analysis.
Even still, Winters and Tarczynska both expect that the county could still work out a deal with Amazon that involves a contribution to the AHIF, or other affordable housing measures, even if it wouldn’t be strictly required by county ordinances.
“If I were Amazon, I would pay in more than what would ordinarily be required, because their own workers would benefit from more affordable housing in the community,” Winters said. “This is one of the biggest companies in the world… I’d imagine it could be considered the cost of doing business for them.”
Ben Beach, the legal director for the Partnership for Working Families, notes that plenty of other local officials have negotiated for such concessions as large companies have sought to move in to their communities. The question on his mind is whether Arlington officials will do the same.
“Local governments have a wide range of tools at their disposal; the question is simply political will,” Beach wrote in an email. “And in this case, we know there is substantial public money involved, so there’s really no excuse for anything less than a gold standard community benefits package.”
Photo via JBG Smith
That’s according to a new study of 100 of the nation’s largest cities and counties by the financial data research firm SmartAsset. The company ranked Arlington 17th among that group for places where renters have the financial wherewithal live alone, largely because of the robust median income level of the county’s workers.
SmartAsset found that full-time employees in Arlington have a median income of just over $90,000 a year, putting the county at the top of the list among the firm’s top 25 places where renters can afford to go solo.
The county’s median monthly rent of $1,657 was also the most expensive of any other city on the company’s top 25 list, yet Arlington still ranked ahead of other large cities for renters looking to live alone, including San Francisco and Denver.
For context, the median income in D.C. is just over $75,500 a year. SmartAsset didn’t immediately have median rent prices available for the District, but real estate listing firm Zillow found that the median rent in the city was about $2,146 a month last year.
Arlington also scored high marks in SmartAsset’s rankings for its stock of homes with less than two bedrooms. In all, the company found that 36.5 percent of homes for rent in the county have one bedroom or are studio apartments.
Cincinnati, Omaha and Minneapolis ranked as the firm’s top three cities where renters can live alone. The full rankings are available on the company’s website.