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The Arlington County Board took two steps over the weekend to preserve and upgrade existing affordable housing while building hundreds of new units.

During its meeting on Saturday members unanimously approved a nearly $23 million loan from the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF) for renovations to the Park Shirlington Apartments, a 1950s-era, garden-style complex with 293 units at 4510 31st Street S., on the edge of the Fairlington neighborhood.

The Board also approved $124,000 in rent assistance to offset potential increases resulting from the renovations.

“This project has a long history and is very important as one of the larger affordable housing developments in the county,” said Melissa Danowski, a staff member in the housing division of the county’s Department of Community Planning, Housing, and Development.

The vote marks a change in plans for the county, which was initially planning to buy and build up part of the property with a partner developer, Washington Business Journal reports. Instead, Standard Property Co. and the National Foundation for Affordable Housing Solutions will oversee soup-to-nuts renovations and pledge to keep the rent affordable for 75 years.

The renovations will begin in winter 2022 and end in 2024, with 10-20 units redone at a time. Residents will have access to vacant “home-hotel suites” so they do not have to find another place to stay while their unit is redone, said Steven Kahn, a director of Standard Communities.

Each unit’s interior will get new appliances, fixtures and cosmetic upgrades. Building systems such as HVAC will be modernized and common areas will be renovated. The developer is considering including free- or reduced-price internet.

“I’m very happy that this thought about preservation has led to preserving a community, while essentially rebuilding the units,” Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said. “That’s a really positive step. It is a huge victory for our community as a whole.”

Following the vote, the Board took action to approve an agreement with Amazon to develop affordable housing near its HQ2. Amazon will donate a $40 million parcel of undeveloped land on the Crystal House Apartments site to the county to be developed into new affordable housing.

This is a gift beyond any of our requirements, but it’s a partnership really that helps serve affordable housing,” de Ferranti said.

More than 550 units could be developed as affordable for moderate- to low-income households. At least 148 will be committed to households earning 50% or less of the area median income (AMI), and a minimum of 406 will be for households earning 80% or less of the AMI.

The county aims to partner with an affordable housing developer, to be selected later, and complete construction by Jan. 1, 2028.

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Morning Notes

Bye Bye, Brood X — “Have you noticed dead cicadas on the ground, or that the bugs are not chorusing as loud as during past weeks? It’s because cicadas reached peak numbers last week in and around the D.C. area and are starting to die at a rapid rate. In some places, you may be smelling them as they rot away.” [Washington Post, Washingtonian]

Firefighters Awarded for Daring Rescue — “On October 31, 2020, Arlington County Fire Department units, including the technical rescue team, were dispatched to Windy Run Trail for an injured person. Communications reported that a female hiker had sustained injuries after falling approximately 30 to 40 feet down an embankment. Initial reports were unclear as to the exact location of the injured person.” [WJLA]

Arlington Man Sentenced for Fraud — “An Arlington businessman was sentenced today to 21 months in prison with three years of supervised release for making false statements to multiple federal agencies in order to fraudulently obtain multimillion-dollar government contracts, COVID-19 emergency relief loans, and undeserved military service benefits.” [Dept. of Justice]

Reminder: Pike Blues Fest This Weekend — “This year a hybrid three-day Columbia Pike Blues Festival Weekend (Friday to Sunday, June 18, 19 and 20) combines live-streaming concerts and ticketed outdoor performances that will get you back into your summer groove.” [ARLnow]

Update on Local Reality Show Contestant — “What is Bachelorette [contestant] Jason from Arlington up to right this very second? Well, last night he crossed the river into DC to host Zac Clark, his friend and fellow former Bachelorette contestant.” [Washingtonian]

Amazon Helping to Fund Housing — “Amazon will provide $125 million in financing to build or preserve an estimated 1,000 units of affordable housing on Metro-owned land in the D.C. region, the company announced Wednesday. The online retail giant, which stands to receive up to $750 million in cash grants from Virginia if it hires at least 37,850 workers at its new corporate headquarters in Arlington, says it will commit below-market loans, lines of credit, and grants to developers who have joint development agreements with WMATA.” [DCist, Washington Post]

Rent Still Below Pre-Pandemic Levels — “In the D.C. region, rents rose 20.1 percent from March 2020 to May 2021 in Fredericksburg, Va.; by 16.4 percent in Frederick, Md., and by 9.6 percent in Laurel, Md. But rents declined by 7.8 percent in D.C., year-over-year, by 10.5 percent in Chevy Chase, Md., and by 5.2 percent in Arlington, Va. Clearly, the flight to the suburbs meant increased rents in areas farther from D.C.” [Washington Post]

Fairfax County’s Namesake Questioned — “The [Fairfax County] seal is of a different time. Adopted seven decades ago, it bears a version of the coat of arms belonging to Thomas Fairfax, the sixth Lord Fairfax and a slaveholding British loyalist who once owned much of the land that makes up Fairfax County today. As neighboring counties and cities reexamine their logos and symbols, it seems like only a matter of time before Fairfax County faces its own questions.” [Tysons Reporter]

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Ragtime in Courthouse may be getting a huge break on rent thanks to the Arlington County Board.

On Saturday (May 15), the Board is expected to vote to amend the county’s lease with the long-time local restaurant that would reduce Ragtime’s rent during the on-going pandemic “to a level that it can afford to pay.”

Ragtime is located at 1345 N. Courthouse Road, on the ground floor of an office building purchased by the county in 2012. It leases the 5,000 square-foot space, now owned by the county but previously owned by a private landlord.

Ragtime first opened in 2001 and is owned by Vintage Restaurants, which also runs Rhodeside Grill on Wilson Blvd and William Jeffrey’s Tavern on Columbia Pike.

Ragtime’s business has declined “precipitously” during the pandemic, the county staff report details. In April 2020, sales were less than 10% of normal. Although business has increased in recent months, it remains 50% below normal, the report says.

Due to the drop in sales, Ragtime is unable to pay rent at the rate called for in the current lease, which was signed in 2013 and expires in 2026, according to the county.

“When sales decline substantially below normal, inflexible overhead like employee salaries and utility charges does not decline to the same degree, and accordingly absorbs a greater percentage of sales,” says the report. “This leaves a smaller percentage of sales that can be applied to rent.”

As a result, an agreement was struck that would reduce Ragtime’s rent to the equivalent of 9.5% of its gross sales (as long it doesn’t exceed its base rent rate, which is approximately $19,000 a month).

“As a rule of thumb, restaurants can afford to devote roughly 10% of sales to the payment of rent,” the report notes.

That rate would remain in effect until the restaurant has two consecutive months in which 9.5% of gross sales exceeds its base rent, or for one year after the lease amendment is signed, whichever happens first.

The reduced rate is being backdated to April 2020, and Ragtime is being allowed to hold off on paying back rent.

“Ragtime will begin paying the discounted back rent (based on 9.5% of gross sales) when their sales return to normal,” the staff report says. “This discounted back rent will be payable monthly over a one-year period. The actual revenue impact to the County in FY 2021 and FY 2022 is dependent upon Ragtime’s gross sales as well as the timing of when their sales return to normal.”

“The total estimated revenue shortfall compared to budgeted amounts in FY 2021 and FY 2022 is approximately $100,000,” the report adds.

ARLnow has reached out to Vintage Restaurants for comment, but has yet to hear back as of publication.

There’s also another tenant in the 2020 14th Street N. building that the county owns: Courthouse Deli.

When asked if the county is working on a similar arrangement with that business, a county spokesperson declined to comment specifically due to confidentiality.

“We have worked with all County tenants that have requested relief due to pandemic-related hardship,” wrote a county spokesperson.

Photo via Ragtime/Facebook

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Morning Notes

Rent Rising in Arlington — “Of the 10 top apartment markets in the D.C. metro tracked by Apartment List, average rents are lower than a year ago in six of them. Arlington County, Virginia, remains the most expensive apartment rental market, with an average monthly rent of $2,144. Arlington County rents are still 9.7% lower than a year ago, but rents have bounced back the most, rising by 2.7% over the past month.” [WTOP]

Local Spots on Spring Dining Guide — Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema’s prestigious Spring Dining Guide includes three Arlington or Arlington-connected restaurants: Cafe Colline on Lee Highway, Spice Kraft Indian Bistro in Clarendon, and the soon-to-open Lucky Danger in Pentagon City. [Washington Post]

Arlington, D.C.’s Factory District? — From WAMU’s Martin Austermuhle: “Apparently the idea of re-retroceding Arlington and Alexandria to D.C. was being debated in the late 1800s and early 1900s in Congress. Some believed it would give D.C. a bigger tax base, others said Arlington would be a good place for factories. (Not of cheesecake variety.)” [Twitter]

Thieves Steal Cars With Found Keys — “Between 10:00 p.m. on April 25 and 9:38 a.m. on April 26, the suspect(s) gained entry into the victims vehicle parked in their driveway where a garage door opener was located. The suspect(s) allegedly used the garage opener to gain entry into the victims garage where a second vehicle was located with keys for both vehicles inside. The two vehicles, along with the victims personal property and an undisclosed amount of cash, were stolen.” [ACPD]

New Glebe Turn Lane Open — Northbound N. Glebe Road now has an added left turn lane at Lee Highway, after a year of construction. The project is expected to wrap up in the fall. [Twitter]

F.C. Lowers Tax Rate, Renames Schools — The City of Falls Church has lowered its real estate tax rate by 3.5 cents, the first time it has reduced the rate since 2006. The city’s School Board also selected new names for George Mason High School and Thomas Jefferson Elementary. [Falls Church News-Press, InsideNova]

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Morning Notes

Metro 29 Diner Back Open — After temporarily closing in late December due to “COVID-19 concerns,” Metro 29 Diner on Lee Highway reopened earlier this week. [Facebook]

Arlington Rents Going Back Up — “In what might be another sign of a return to a semblance of normalcy, average rents for Arlington apartments increased in February for the first time since the start of the COVID pandemic. The 0.7-percent month-over-month increase also mirrored the national index, which reported its biggest monthly increase since June 2019.” [InsideNova]

Alamo Drafthouse Declares Bankruptcy — A centerpiece of some of the changes in Crystal City is the planned Alamo Drafthouse movie theater. But the company just declared bankruptcy, potentially putting new theater projects in jeopardy. [CNBC, @abeaujon/Twitter]

More Edging Work Along Trail — “The morning volunteer session this Saturday has sold out but we still have 8 spots open for the afternoon session. Come help us continue to uncover the [Mt. Vernon] trail and make it a little bit wider.” [@MtVernonFriends/Twitter, Eventbrite]

Don’t Worry About Flipped Car at Fire Station — “Have you driven by one of our fire stations and noticed an overturned car? Don’t be alarmed, it’s likely a vehicle extrication training prop like the one pictured below at Fire Station 5! These vehicles provide us high fidelity training to respond to serious auto crashes.” [@ArlingtonVaFD/Twitter]

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Gov. Ralph Northam made an Arlington apartment building his venue to announce a half-billion dollars in rent relief for Virginia families.

Northam announced the new federal funding for the Virginia Rent Relief Program at Gillam Place, an affordable apartment complex along Columbia Pike. He did so after touring an Arlington vaccination clinic Tuesday morning.

The rent relief “will assist households and landlords with rent payments to avoid eviction” during the pandemic. Virginia residents can apply for up to 15 months of rent relief, for payments dating back to April 1, 2020 and up to three months in the future.

More from a press release:

Governor Ralph Northam today announced $524 million in new federal funding to help keep Virginia families in their homes amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Virginia Rent Relief Program (RRP) is funded through the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program included in the recent federal stimulus package and will assist households and landlords with rent payments to avoid eviction. Governor Northam made the announcement at Gilliam Place Apartments, which is owned by the nonprofit organization Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have prioritized efforts to keep Virginians safely in their homes,” said Governor Northam. “There continues to be an overwhelming need for additional relief to help those struggling to make ends meet. This new federal funding will provide an important lifeline to individuals and families, and bolster our ongoing work to address housing affordability in the Commonwealth. I urge eligible households to act quickly and work with their landlords to seek rental assistance through this program.”

Virginia is immediately putting $160 million into the RRP to increase housing stability across the Commonwealth and will make additional funding available based upon need. The program will be administered by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).

In June 2020, Virginia was one of the first states in the nation to create a statewide rent and mortgage relief program with federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds. To date, the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program (RMRP) has distributed over $83.7 million in 24,294 rent and mortgage payments for households throughout the Commonwealth. Families with children represent the majority of households assisted by the program. Governor Northam and the General Assembly allocated Virginia Housing Trust Funds to continue supporting the program prior to this new federal allocation.

Read More

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Morning Notes

Snow Removal Ordinance in Effect — “A recent weather event has concluded and deposited snow/ice accumulations of less than 6 inches. Arlington’s sidewalk snow removal ordinance requires residents and businesses to clear adjacent public sidewalks of snow and ice by 1:00 PM on Wednesday, February 3.” [Arlington County]

More Back-to-School Dates Expected Soon — “We look forward to welcoming Level 2 Career & Technical Education students to the Arlington Career Center for hybrid/in-person instruction starting [today]. We continue to assess additional student return dates… The next group to return will be Level 2, PreK through second grade and countywide elementary special education students. Return dates for this group will be communicated at the Feb. 18 School Board meeting.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Arlington Rent Declines Slowing — “Arlington’s COVID- and shutdown-caused drop in apartment rents appears to be hitting bottom for now, according to new data from Apartment List, but the county’s rental market is still significantly more affordable than before the pandemic. For the year ending in January, rents in Arlington were down 14 percent from a year before… the drop from December to January was just 0.5 percent, lower than in preceding months.” [InsideNova]

Arlington Ranks No. 14 in ‘Walk-Friendly’ List — “About 30 years ago, Arlington took the lead in suburban redevelopment in Virginia, creating walkable urban areas around the metro system. Now that momentum has pushed Arlington (and its most walkable neighborhoods of Clarendon-Courthouse, Ballston-Virginia Square, and Lyon Village) into the top walkable cities — something we can expect to continue when Amazon moves in.” [MSN]

Hope’s Prison Oversight Bill Dies — From Del. Patrick Hope (D): “This is not the end — only the beginning. Every agency in Va must be transparent and accountable to the public which they serve. We will regroup and come back next session with a bill that prioritizes [Virginia Dept. of Corrections] oversight.” [Twitter]

Case of the Stray Hockey Sticks — A shipment of hockey sticks destined for the Washington Capitals practice facility in Ballston, to be used by new Caps acquisition Zdeno Chara, was apparently mis-delivered to a random New Jersey man’s home. [ESPN, Barstool Sports]

Bezos Relinquishing CEO Role at Amazon — “Jeff Bezos said Tuesday that he will step down as chief executive of Amazon, leaving the helm of the company he founded 27 years ago. Bezos will transition to the role of executive chair in the third quarter of this year, which starts July 1, the company said. Andy Jassy, the chief executive of Amazon Web Services, will take over as CEO of Amazon.” The company yesterday revealed designs for the second phase of its Arlington HQ2. [NBC News]

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A recent national report has revealed that rents in Arlington have dropped by 14.8% since last March, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by ApartmentList.com.

Arlington has had the seventh-largest decrease compared to other (much larger) markets, like New York, San Francisco, and Seattle. D.C. had the fifth-largest decrease.

Between December and January, Arlington rents decreased by nearly 2.5%.

The median two-bedroom rent in the county is now $2,032, according to the report. However, Arlington still has the most expensive rents in the D.C. region, topping fellow close-in suburbs like Bethesda and Alexandria.

There’s one huge reason for the drop.

“It’s really tied to the economic carnage [from] the pandemic,” says Terry Clower, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University. “Most of the jobs that we have lost have been in the hospitality services and retail sectors, which are typically disproportionately renters.”

Clower says parsing out data shows the pandemic has also caused behavioral changes in terms of renting. In general, high-rise units have seen a larger drop in demand than lower-rise properties, Clower notes.

If part of your calculation of where you want to live at the moment is based on how dense the development is, how [crowded] it is in the elevator,” says Clower. “Then, you are less likely to live in a high rise.”

Ballston and Rosslyn, in particular, have seen an influx of these dense-living types of properties, mostly due to construction prior to the pandemic, though there are more in the pipeline.

What’s more, there’s lower desire at the moment to live in high-density areas, according to Clower. While rent prices have declined in Arlington, they’ve risen in further D.C. area ‘burbs.

“Areas like Fredericksburg, Virginia… or Charles County, Maryland, rents have increased,” says Clower. “You’re getting… that effect of fleeing the dense inner suburbs to the less dense outer suburbs.”

The need for more space, as well, has shifted some renters to exploring buying single family homes. Between a lack of housing inventory and rising home values in Arlington, says Clower, demand for residences in the outer suburbs have also exploded.

“Most households in our region are two-income earner households, especially families with school-age children,” says Clower. “Kids need a place and both [parents] need some place to work inside the house, preferably not the kitchen table.”

Plus, lower interest rates have also encouraged first-time home buyers.

While rent decreases may be good for renters, it’s not good for property owners, developers, or even the county as a whole.

Clower says smaller landlords, those that only own a few properties, are not getting any break on mortgage payments, meaning decreasing rents impact their ability to pay their mortgage. In terms of the bigger developments, units are generating less revenue.

“They are less valuable in the market, which means that… the property taxes paid to local governments should be reduced as well,” says Clower. “Because they’re less valuable and generating less income.”

Arlington County depends on these property taxes to balance its budget and provide services to residents. But the full impact of all of this may not be seen until further into the future.

“The fiscal and economic down side of this pandemic is going to last well beyond… when we start getting the pandemic under control through the vaccinations,” says Clower.

Right now, it just may be a great moment to rent in Arlington. Clower says we can probably expect a continued slight dip in rents, but the big drop-off probably has already happened with vaccinations starting to happen.

“If you are looking for a good deal and prefer to be a renter,” says Clower, “it’s probably a good time to lock in a relatively long term lease.”

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Morning Notes

Rent Falling in Arlington — “The median rental price in Arlington for a two-bedroom apartment of $2,032 at the end of the year was down 14.8 percent from March, when the pandemic hit, according to the analysis. Arlington is among of 12 major urban communities that have seen rents fall by more than 10 percent since COVID’s arrival.” [InsideNova, WTOP]

Hotel Guest Arrested for Punching Cop — “Hotel management requested police stand by while they removed individuals from a room for violation of hotel policies. Management advised the guests they would need to leave, and while two of the occupants began to collect their belongings, an argument ensued between them. The dispute continued outside of the room and began to escalate, at which point officers separated the parties. The suspect then allegedly threw an unknown object into the elevator and rushed towards an officer, striking them with a closed fist.” [ACPD]

Compass Apologizes for Rogue Social Post — D.C.-based cafe chain Compass Coffee is apologizing for posting a screenshot of a tweet that said “Republicans are not our countrymen. They are terrorists…” on its Instagram account. “Sorry about this!” Compass said about the post. “Absolutely not what we believe or in line with our values. Currently investigating what / who posted this.” [Twitter]

Bishop Reflects on Capitol Riot — Writes Diocese of Arlington Bishop Michael Burbidge: “The mutual respect we must have for law and order was disregarded. Rather than being treated with respect for the inherently noble work with which they are entrusted, police officers and federal agents in and around the Capitol buildings were, in many cases, attacked, injured and harassed in the line of duty. We should all thank them for their courage and service.” [Arlington Catholic Herald]

Local Nonprofit Has New Leader — “Diana Ortiz, who has more than two decades in the social-safety-net world, has been tapped as president of Doorways, the non-profit safety-net provider. She succeeds Caroline Jones, who departed earlier this year to take a post with the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing.” [InsideNova]

Beyer Staffer Tapped for White House Role — “Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) today congratulated his departing Chief of Staff, Tanya Bradsher, who was appointed by President-elect Joe Biden to serve as Senior Director for Partnerships and Global Engagement on the National Security Council… Beyer announced that his Acting Chief of Staff Zach Cafritz, who had previously served as Deputy Chief of Staff and Legislative Director, would take over as Chief of Staff.” [Press Release]

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Morning Notes

Modification to Red Top Development — “As currently proposed, the building would have 269 residential units instead of the previously-approved 247. The unit mix will span from studios to two bedrooms, and the ground-floor units will have private entrances, including a lone three-bedroom unit. The development will also include 134 vehicular spaces and 108 bicycle spaces on a below-grade level.” [UrbanTurf]

Spotted: First Snowflakes of the Season — The first snowflakes of the season in Arlington fell yesterday. Though the few flakes that briefly fell did not amount to any degree of accumulation, it was enough to prompt a few social media posts. [Twitter, Twitter]

Rental Assistance for Day Laborers — “Arlington County Board members on Dec. 12 are expected to reallocate funds from the Shirlington Employment and Education Center (SEEC) to support rental assistance for day-laborers in the community. The plan will move $32,000 of the county government’s annual grant of $208,643 to SEEC to directly focus on rental assistance by making direct payments to landlords.” [InsideNova]

Inmates, Deputies to Be Tested — “Sheriff Beth Arthur announces all Sheriff’s Office staff and inmates housed at the Arlington County Detention Facility will be tested for COVID-19 on December 10th and 11th by the Virginia National Guard.” [Arlington County]

Nearby: MoCo May Nix Indoor Dining — “Indoor dining at restaurants in Montgomery County could soon be shut down, a new measure to combat the spread of COVID-19. Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich announced his proposal on Wednesday afternoon during a media briefing held with county and medical officials across the state.” [Bethesda Magazine, Washington Post]

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Morning Notes

Garvey Stands By Streetcar Stance — “It cost her the goodwill of many in the county’s Democratic ranks, and four years ago nearly cost her her job, but Libby Garvey says she has no regrets. Garvey, now seeking a third full term on the Arlington County Board, used the Sept. 8 Arlington County Civic Federation candidate forum to remind voters of her full-throttle opposition to the Columbia Pike streetcar system – the biggest political controversy of recent years.” [InsideNova]

Local Man Facing Child Porn Charges — “An Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force investigation by state and local agencies has resulted in the arrest of an Arlington man. Detectives arrested Luis Hernandez Orozco, 25, and charged him with two counts of Possession of Child Pornography. He is being held in the Arlington County Detention Facility.” [Arlington County]

Arlington Somewhat Affordable for Renters — Arlington has ranked No. 18 on a new list of the “Cities Where Renters Can Afford to Live Alone,” which ranks locales based on average rent for a studio or one-bedroom apartment, relative to the median income in the area. [SmartAsset]

Drive-In Movie on Saturday — “The drive-in is back, and coming to a neighborhood near you. Gather the family and cruise down to Ballston to watch an exclusive screening of Night at the Museum at Ballston’s Drive-In Movie Night. Tickets include free sweet treats, but be sure to bring your own movie snacks.” [Ballston BID]

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