Wealthy Arlington County, VA is redeveloping old apartments to boost affordable housing

Here in wealthy Arlington County, Virginia—where Revitalization News is based—affordable housing has been getting the short end of the stick for over a decade, as major real estate development firms have exerted significant influence over the County Board’s redevelopment decisions.

Fortunately, the county has “good bones”, thanks to a wise decision made almost a half century ago. When the feds wanted to create the local Metro system—which was a response to public outcry over the wanton destruction being wreaked on low-income (mostly African American) neighborhoods by urban planners and highway engineers—they wanted to run it down the middle of Interstate 66.

The Arlington County Board at the time rebelled, and wouldn’t approve the rail line unless its path connected the county’s existing population centers. This created a “necklace” of stations in key locations. The county then wisely created a growth strategy that focused almost all future development around those stations, creating a series of vibrant, high-density “downtowns”, while preserving traditional neighborhoods.

This—combined with their decisions to create numerous public parks and to make all new government buildings LEED certified—made Arlington the birthplace of the national Smart Growth movement.

The County Board of the past decade or so has largely failed to continue that sort of innovative, progressive behavior. But the county has nonetheless remained one of the most livable in the country, despite rapid population growth, thanks to that intelligent strategy put in place decades ago. The only real losers have been lower-income residents, who are finding affordable housing increasingly rare. So, the following announcement comes as very welcome news.

Queen’s Court apartment as they look today.
Photo via S.L. Nusbaum Realty Company.

On February 27, 2018, the County Board committed to a $7.9 million Affordable Housing Investment Fund loan to help rebuild Queen’s Court South in the heart of Rosslyn (one of those “downtowns” we mentioned above). The action follows the Board’s February 2017 approval of the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing’s (APAH) Site Plan for the project.

The Board’s action today fulfills part of the vision of the Western Rosslyn Area Plan by helping finance the construction of affordable housing,” Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol said. “Rent increases are putting much of our once-affordable rental housing beyond the reach of working people in our County. We are delighted to help APAH replace Queen’s Court with many more affordable units, a majority suitable for families, that are committed to staying affordable for 75 years.

The Board voted 5 to 0 to commit the $7.9 million loan for Queen’s Court South, at 1801 N. Quinn Street. Queen’s Court, built in 1940, is part of the Western Rosslyn Area Plan that the County Board adopted in 2015. APAH, a non-profit affordable housing developer, has been operating the property as affordable apartments since buying it in 1995. The existing apartments are one-bedroom or studios.

The WRAP envisioned redevelopment of the western area of Rosslyn with affordable housing, a new Rosslyn Highlands park, a new fire station, a mixed-use development and a new public secondary school. It recommended maximizing the affordable housing on the Queen’s Court parcel.

Queen’s Court now consists of 39 affordable garden style studio-and one-bedroom apartments. All households will be relocated before redevelopment begins and any who meet the income requirements would be eligible to move back into the new building.

The majority of the units will be affordable to households earning up to or below 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI). Three units will be affordable to households earning up to 80 percent of the AMI.

The approved redevelopment will yield a net gain of 388 bedrooms over the existing 39-unit building. The 249 new affordable units will include studio, one, two and three-bedroom units, and more than half of them will be family sized. Nine of the new units will be permanent supportive housing, and 15 will be accessible. They will be contractually obligated to remain affordable for 75 years. Learn more about the Queen’s Court project, which also will include dedication of a 9,000 sq. ft. site for the northern leg of Rosslyn Highlands Park.

Financing:

APAH will apply to the Virginia Housing and Development Authority for competitive 9 percent low income housing tax credits for Queen’s Court South, which will contain 90 affordable units.

If APAH is awarded the 9 percent low income housing tax credits by VHDA, the Board is expected to consider a second AHIF request of up to $11.8 million for the remaining 159 units this fall. Although Queen’s Court North and South will be separated into two land condominiums for financing purposes, the development will be built in one phase, with all 249 units in one building.

After the Board approved its Site Plan in February 2017, APAH submitted an AHIF application for $24 million as part of the County’s Fiscal Year 2018 Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) process for affordable housing funding, to redevelop the property. Staff selected the Queen’s Court project to move forward with AHIF negotiations and the public process.

During the negotiation process, APAH reduced the AHIF request for the entire development by $4.3 million. The AHIF reduction was a result of APAH working with VHDA to increase the amount of certain VHDA low interest loans that are being layered with the VHDA senior loan. APAH also agreed to contribute another $2 million in equity to the development resulting from the transfer of the property into the tax credit partnership.

Public engagement:

The North Rosslyn, Radnor/Fort Myer Heights and Colonial Village Civic Associations all participated in the Site Plan Review Committee process for the Queen’s Court development, along with the Rosslyn Business Improvement District.

APAH also met with the Atrium Condominium Association and presented to the Rosslyn BID several times. APAH has met with residents to discuss the redevelopment plans and financing. The Housing and Tenant-Landlord Commission reviewed the AHIF request.

AHIF is Arlington County’s main financing program for affordable housing development. Created in 1988, AHIF has helped create the majority of Arlington’s nearly 7,500 approved affordable rental units for low and moderate-income households. It is a revolving fund that, together with the County’s Affordable Housing Ordinance, provides incentives for developers through low-interest loans for new construction, purchase and rehabilitation of affordable housing.

Renderings courtesy of Arlington County.

See Arlington County’s Affordable Housing Master Plan website.

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