April 16, 2014

Overblown and overstated new subsidized apts on the Pike–too few and too expensive

Open Letter to the editor of the Washington Post April 15, 2014
from AGP chairman John Reeder

It is commendable that the City of Alexandria and Arlington County are attempting to preserve existing affordable rental housing in Arlington, but the article overstated the number of truly affordable units created in two apartment complexes recently, and overlooked how inadequate are the housing programs in these two jurisdictions (Patricia Sullivan, “For thousands looking for affordable rentals about 200 more in Northern Virginia,” April 12). The Serrano Apartments in Arlington and the Hunting Terrace Apartments in Alexandria, the Post indicated, together will add “more than 200 units,” but the actual affordable units added are closer to 60.

solar panels commercial

In exchange for $16.5 million in Arlington local funds (and probably tens of millions of more dollars in Federal tax credits), the developer of the Serrano is providing only a net new 64 apartments that meet the “affordable” definition under HUD regulations out of the 280 apartments in the building, i.e. affordable to households making 60 percent or less of the area median income.

The Alexandria project is much worse: only 24 affordable apartments out of 443 new units. Since 115 units of the now existing Hunting Terrace Garden Apartments will be demolished, and probably 20 percent or so rented for affordable levels (a one-bedroom rate of $1,200 a month), the Alexandria project will add a net zero affordable apartments. Bottom line for the two projects: about 64 new affordable units in Arlington and none in Alexandria.

The cost to Arlington County and local taxpayers to add 64 net affordable apartments will be $250,000 per apartment. These apartments are so expensive that only persons making generally above 60-percent of the area median income or $64,000 for a family of four qualify. Tenants making $30,000, 40,000 or even $50,000 a year cannot rent these new units.

According to data of the Virginia Tech Center for Housing Research, the City of Alexandria has the least affordable rent apartments in the State of Virginia and the entire Metro D.C. region. Arlington is the second least affordable place. This is no accident, but a deliberate policy in both areas.

Both jurisdictions over the past two decades have embraced development policies designed to displace residents and tenants making under $60,000 a year. Both operate expensive and largely ineffectual housing programs and refuse to adopt new housing approaches that could cost effectively keep or add affordable units for lower income and working people already living there.

Note.–this is personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily repreent the views of the Arlington Green Party.

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April 9, 2014

Green endorsed independent Vihstadt wins county board seat

John Vihstadt, an independent candidate for Arlington County Board, won election to an open seat in a special election held on Tuesday, April 8. The Arlington Green Party endorsed John in January, and provided volunteers and other help to him in an effort to get him elected as the first non-Democrat on the county board in 15 years.

Vihstadt was called a “fusion candidate” since he received support from the Arlington Greens, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and independents. Arlington Greens felt that he championed some of their local policy issues, in particular ending two huge proposed wasteful vanity projects, a trolley up Columbia Pike scheduled to cost taxpayers more than $300 million, and an aquatics center in Crystal City projected at more than $60 million in taxpayer funds.

Arlington Greens chairman John Reeder said he and other Greens enthusiastically supported Vihstadt, and believe that his election may bring in more transparency and fiscal accountability in Arlington where the Democratic Party till now had a monopoly on all elected positions. Reeder said that Arlington has more pressing needs for public funds, particularly for building more affordable rental housing, more school classrooms, and fixing aging public infrastructure in Arlington. Greens supported a public housing authority referendum last year in Arlington in an effort to finance more affordable rental housing.

For more information, read Patricia Sullivan’s article in the Washington Post

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/polls-open-in-arlington-for-election-to-fill-chris-zimmerman-vacancy-on-county-board/2014/04/07/8537211a-be87-11e3-b195-dd0c1174052c_story.html

John Reeder
chairman the Arlington Green Party

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April 4, 2014

Vote for John Vihstadt on Tuesday, April 8 for Arlington County Board

Arlington Greens endorsed independent John Vihstadt for election to the vacant seat on the Arlington County Board on Tuesday, April 8. We urge all Arlington voters to support John: we feel he supports many of the same issues that Greens have for many years and will be a welcome addition to a county board with only Democrats.

Early Voting
If you are not going to be able to make it to the polls on Tuesday, April 8th, or even if you work outside the County, you can vote absentee early now. You can go to 2100 Clarendon Blvd., Suite 320, Arlington, VA 22201 and vote 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. today, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. tomorrow or 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday. There is NO early voting this upcoming Monday. This will be a close, low turnout, special election, so every vote matters a lot.

It’s now less than a week out – remember to vote Tues., April 8th at your normal polling place, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m

For more information on John Vihstadt, go to www.voteforvihstadt.com

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March 28, 2014

County-paid study supports trolley, but ignores Arlington’s office space glut

The Washington Post this week described an eonomic study of the benefits of building the Columbia Pike trolley as being highly beneficial to developers and landowners, but of course used past economic data that reflected a commercial offic space boom prior to 2012 that has come to a screeching halt.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/consultants-columbia-pike-streetcar-would-bring-more-money-growth-than-bus-transit/2014/03/26/a8e7cb14-b518-11e3-b899-20667de76985_story.html

The county spent $98,000 for this study which of course supported the county board’s view.
If this is such a great deal to invest well over $350 million, why don’t the developers and commercial landowners along the Pike pay for it? This is a classic ploy to get the public to pay for something that benefits private landowners. The building of such a trolley will take five years and involve massive traffic backups and inconvenience for Arlington residents.

Moreover, if the county has to spend many hundreds of millions of dollars just to preserve what little affordable rental housing is left on the Pike, as well as public infrastructure to support more residents and businesses, the $310 million to $750 million in new local tax revenues will disappear rapidly.

Former Arlington County board member Chris Zimmerman who was the chief patron for the trolley made clear from the beginning that his primary objective for the trolley was development, not transportation.

Another major flaw of this study is of course that it assumes that favorable commercial office space and luxury apartments market will continue at its pace of the past ten years. The trolley was proposed more than 10 years ago when development was occurring at a rapid pace; Arlington avoided the effects of the 2008 recesssion owing to higher military/national security spending. Now that spending is dropping like a stone, federal government contracts dropped over a third in the latest quarter in the Metro DC area.

As to the development goals of fully developing the Columbia Pike area, no one seems to pay attention to what is happening in the already developed areas of the county–Crystal City, Pentagon City, Rosslyn, and yes even to Courthouse, Clarendon, Va Square and Ballston. The commercial office vacancy rates there range from 25 to 15 percent and are rising. In the fourth quarter 2013 there are the equivalent of 22 empty office buildings just in Rosslyna and Crystal City areas (see related article on office space glut below).

Why would any business lease space farther out on the Pike when there is abundant vacant space along the Metro rail corridors? street carEven building new luxury rental apartments and/or condos along the Pike may be a bad idea. Without high paying military contractors and the military, renters cannot afford to pay these

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March 17, 2014

Adding solar panels on Arlington public buildings–start with new homeless shelter bldg

Open letter from AGP webmaster John Reeder to Arlington County Board, March 14, 2014

wintershelter building2
Dear County Board members:

Yesterday during a break while on jury duty at the Arlington Courthouse tenth floor, I looked out the window and recognized below the roof of the new county building that will house our long needed homeless shelter and county employee office.

Would it be possible given that this building and utility systems must be totally redone, to add solar panels on the roof and/or a green roof, both of which would reduce its carbon footprint and the cost of electricity?

Such a solar system would be a significant public example of the county government leading the way as an environmental model. It appears the roof of the building has unobstructed south view, perfect for solar panels.

By the way, I would like to add that I and the Arlington Green Party have long supported a year round homeless shelter, despite what individual Green members may have stated recently about their personal views. The year round shelter with the ASPAN office a long overdue step in our affordable housing program. I applaud the opening of this shelter as soon as possible, and would support keeping the current shelter building open until the new one is ready.

However, as you are aware, there are virtually no places in which to located many of the clients of the homeless shelter. Our group homes and group townhouses are totally full, and there are few if any vacancies in our committed affordable apartment (CAFs) and these will not accept previously-homeless people making well under $30,000 a year. There are seven vacancies in our CAF apartments this month, and the minimum income needed is around $34,000.

Moreover, many of the homeless have mental and/or addiction issues so that realistically they need to be placed in a specialized residential program outside the shelter. Right now these longer term residential programs are totally full. You need to fund more group homes and group town houses.

thank you for your attention to improving the new homeless shelter,

John Reeder
winter shelter building

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February 22, 2014

Arlington Housing Study Taskforce: ‘Re-Arranging the Deckchairs on the Sinking Titanic’

Affordable Housing — @ 11:10 am

About a year ago when the Arlington Greens were just beginning their advocacy of a public housing authority in Arlington to better deal with affordable housing, the Arlington County manager appointed yet another “Arlington Housing Taskforce” to come up with solutions for this problem.

She and the county board refused to appoint an Arlington Green representative of course, and the taskforce has the usual group of insiders, Democratic Party supporters, government contractors, and others seeking favors or funds from the county government.

Not too many “new ideas” in that bunch. Yet another example of government appointing yet another taskforce and coming up with recommendations not likely to be implemented nor to be effective in any event even if implemented.

Then the county housing department spends $375,000 to hire a GMU professor to further “study” the issue and support this aimless group. So a county government supported group of citizens over the past year has done nothing and now needs $375,000 contractor to support it in its work which consists mostly of hot air.

What is to study about Arlington’s affordable housing program except that is an abject failure–failing to stem the tide of nearly three-quarters of existing affordable rental housing disappearing since 2000, and that the county’s nearly $60 million a year program needs to be junked.

This past week of February 21, the taskforce came up with housing principles (see link below). These principles are clichés and nonsense. For example:

http://arlingtonva.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/15/2014/02/Housing-Study-APPROVED-DRAFT-PRINCIPLES.pdf

Affordable housing should be safe and decent.
Wow, pretty radical. Does anyone in their right mind think that housing of any sort should not be “safe and decent?” Then they have to hire a bigshot GMU professor at $375,000 to help this hapless group come up with this drivel.

No housing discrimination in Arlington!
Wow. That is also against Federal, Virginia and county law, already.

County government leaders should be involved in affordable housing solutions.
Wow again. YOU THINK?? Arlington is already the second most expensive place in the entire region and the state to rent; about three-quarters of the current affordable rental stock is gone, and you think your elected county leaders ought to be involved? Over HALF of county residents rent today; don’t you think that leaders should be worried and concerned about how tenants are treated and excessive rents?

Some cynics think that today the county board members are only concerned about the profits of big time developers in Crystal City and Rosslyn, and forget the wellbeing of the majority of people who live in Arlington who rent their homes.

house_sketch

Just my opinion.

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February 11, 2014

Convert Empty Commercial Office Buildings in Crystal City and Rosslyn into Affordable Apartments

crystalcitypic1crystalcitypic3The rapid exit of many Defense Department agencies from both Crystal City and Rosslyn left an astounding 25 percent of the existing commercial office buildings empty in the fourth quarter 2013, according to the Arlington Economic Development Office. The overall Arlington commercial office vacancy rate is not much lower—20 percent in the fourth quarter 2013 (Economic Indicators, http://www.arlingtonvirginiausa.com/?LinkServID=8CBD27F2-1D09-08FB-3B16404C0DD82AE3&showMeta=0

The vacancy rates in Ballston and Virginia Square area are now 15 and 17 percent, respectively. The Northern Virginia average vacancy rate is now about 17 percent so there are plenty of other vacant buildings in other Metro adjacent areas competing for office building tenants, particularly along the Tysons Corner -Reston corridor. These buildings become more attractive with the opening of the Silver Line.

Arlington vacancy rates are going to rise higher as more Defense agencies and related military contractors leave Arlington for military bases like Fort Belvoir owing to BRAC. The General Services Administration (GSA), the real estate arm of the Federal Government, has so far terminated about 20 building leases in Crystal City the most impacted area in the Metro region through the end of 2013, and will end another 34 building leases by 2019, according to a Washington Post article (“D.J. OBrien, “CoStar: Despite jump in office vacancy rate, Crystal City shows resilience,” September 29, 2013.)

The end of 20 building leases led in part to a 25-percent vacancy rate in Rosslyn and Crystal City, the end of another 34 building leases is going to raise the vacancy rate much further.

There are a total 22 million square feet of commercial office space in Rosslyn and Crystal City (9 million and 13 million square feet, respectively), 5 million square feet vacant. A typical, 11 story- office building has about 225,000 square feet of usable space, and thus there are the equivalent of 22 empty office buildings in Rosslyn and Crystal City today.

A typical residential apartment building of 11 stories can accommodate around 200 apartments; this was the size of a recent residential apartment building in Crystal City built over the old post office site. Twenty-two commercial office buildings renovated into residential apartments could provide roughly 4,400 apartments; more if the units were smaller in size.

How much would a vacant office building cost to acquire? The county recently purchased a fully occuppied 7-story office building at the Courthouse for use as a county office building and homeless shelter for $27 million. An empty office building is worth considerably less since the dollar value of a building is largely a function of the office rents received or potentially received.

If an empty 11-store office building can be acquired for $20 million and potentially converted to 200 apartments of about 1,100 square feet each, the un-renovated cost of each apartment is about $100,000. Keeping renovation costs down to $100,000 per apartment, would mean an affordable apartment could cost $200,000. If the building contained 200 small efficiency 600 square foot apartments and 100 1,100 square foot apartments, were built instead of the larger 1,100 mix, the average costs would be $170,000–$70,000 per unit acquitision and $100,000 per unit renovation.
This cost is still below what the most recent affordable apartment complext cost ($250,000 per unit at Arlington Mills).

Together Rosslyn and Crystal City have 13,000 residential units (respectively 7,000 and 6,000). Another 4,000 apartments would increase their total residential units by about 30 percent, and bring in a good mix of mixed income residents. Neither area has an abundance of affordable units; Rosslyn in particular has lost many thousands of low rise affordable apartments owing to gentrification.
Both areas are “office building deserts,” lacking a good balance of residents and commerce. From an urban planning perspective, adding 4,000 affordable apartments would be good.

Arlington today needs about 14,000 more residential apartments to meet its shortage of affordable housing, according to the Va Tech Center for Housing Research. If 4,000 affordable apartments could be acquired at a modest cost from owners of empty office buildings, it would be a major boost to meeting the shortage.

Arlington County owing to the high cost of acquiring or building new apartments (even on public land) has been unable to add even 300 units annually. In 2013, the county added only 55 units. Meanwhile market forces eliminate about 900 units annually owing to demolition, (more…)

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January 17, 2014

Arlington Greens Endorse independent John Vihstadt for County Board Mid-term Election

Candidates — @ 3:29 pm

vote1Arlington Greens Endorse Vihstadt for County Board Mid-term Election
January 17, 2014

Arlington Greens voted on January 16 to endorse independent candidate John Vihstadt for Arlington County Board election to be held this spring to fill the vacant seat left by the resignation of Chris Zimmerman.

Arlington Green Party Chair Steve Davis noted, “The Arlington Green Party endorsement of John Vihstadt shows that people across the political spectrum can find common ground in supporting independent-minded candidates like John who have a positive, inclusive vision for Arlington’s future. We look forward to working with John on his election campaign.”

This is the first county board election in the past seven years in which the Arlington Greens have not nominated their own candidate. This year the Greens have chosen to endorse Vihstadt who shares the Greens’ opposition to expensive vanity projects, such as the Columbia Pike trolley and the Long Bridge aquatics center, at the expense of funding core county programs such as schools, safety net spending, and affordable housing.

In 2013, the Arlington Greens nominated Audrey Clement who received about 32 percent of the votes cast against Democrat Jay Fisette. The Arlington Greens also supported in 2013 the creation of a housing authority to keep more affordable rental housing in the county.

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January 10, 2014

More cities ban polystyrene foam, citing environment, USA Today, Dec. 21, 2013

environment — @ 5:24 pm

More cities are banning the material used in everything from packing to takeout containers.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/12/21/polystyrene-foam-ban/4141835/

And it's increasingly unwelcome in communities across the USA.

The New York City Council last week passed a ban on polystyrene foam food containers, as well as the sale of loose polystyrene foam "peanuts" used in packing. Both go into effect July 1, 2015. Albany County, N.Y., passed a law in November banning use of polystyrene foam food containers, joining the ranks of such cities as Portland, Ore.; San Francisco; Seattle; and Amherst, Mass.

Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray is proposing a ban there.

"Some businesses ... are already phasing it out. It's a matter of pushing it, making it a policy," said Chicago Alderman George Cardenas, who is co-sponsor of legislation introduced earlier this month that would ban the sale of polystyrene food packaging in the Windy City. "It's not eco-friendly, if you will. This is just something that needs to be done."

The bans are the result of decades-long campaigns by environmental advocates, said Andrew Moesel, a spokesman with the New York State Restaurant Association: "Styrofoam is a useful material. It maintains heat. It's cost effective. But the fact is, it's not very good for the environment."

Technically, Styrofoam is a trademarked polystyrene product of Dow Chemical used in such applications as building insulation and craft products, not in food containers.

For foes of polystyrene foam food containers, its problems are numerous. "Polystyrene foam doesn't break down easily, and it's easily dispersed by the wind," creating a litter problem in streets and local waterways, said Garth Schultz, city operations and environmental services manager for El Cerrito, Calif., where a ban will go into effect Jan. 1.

Aside from the litter problem, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy pointed to concerns about the health affects of the chemicals that make up extruded polystyrene foam in justifying the ban. "You get takeout, the steam melts that lid," he said. "It's going into your food. Eventually, you're going to get sick from it."

Opponents of such bans, such as the American Chemistry Council, have been pushing for communitywide polystyrene recycling programs in places like New York City as an alternative to proposed bans there.

Restaurants themselves are increasingly turning a cold shoulder to polystyrene foam food containers. Fast-food titan McDonald's Corp. announced in September it would phase out foam cups at its 14,000 U.S. restaurants in favor of paper cups in coming months. It quit using polystyrene clamshell containers for burgers in 1990.

And Dunkin' Brands Group, the parent company of the Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robins chains, said in its most-recent corporate social responsibility report that it is rolling out an in-store foam cup recycling program at all its locations, but that it hopes to introduce an alternative cup within two to three years.

Moesel said the restaurant industry "generally likes to be on the cutting edge of environmental protection, make it more green. But (alternatives) have to be affordable. Our concern has always been the bottom line, especially with mom-and-pop and ethnic-type restaurants. If you're running a small Chinese restaurant, you can run through 500 cartons a day."

Brookline, Mass., which started a ban on polystyrene foam food containers and disposable plastic store bags in November, has so far handed out more than 50 waivers to affected businesses as they look for workable alternatives and work through the stock they have on hand, said Alan Balsam, director of public health and human services

Starting next month, the town will probably start issuing warnings. "Ultimately, we'll fine people, (but) we don't want to hurt anybody's business," Balsam said. "With the (town's) trans fat ban, after the waivers expired, people complied. I think the same will happen here."

Moesel said that as more major communities such as New York City change over, "that will have an impact on the marketplace. That hopefully will ultimately drive down the price of alternatives. We believe this is the future."

Daneman also reports for the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle

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January 4, 2014

Adding Solar Panels to Your Arlington House in 2014

environment — @ 11:40 am

house with solar A homeowner in the Westover neighborhood of Arlington is promoting a bulk purchase for solar panels, coordinated bythe World Wildlife Fund. Individual homeowners anywhere in Arlington can sign up to get the bulk discount being organized by Community Power Network in conjunction with WWF.

Here’s the information:

The WWF’s Solar Bulk Purchase: install solar on the roof of your own house with a group of other homeowners so that it is easier and cheaper. Join us! www.CommunityPowerNetwork.com/WWF ”
According to this information, in addition to a discounted rate, you can get a 30% Federal tax credit (not deduction, but actual credit).

Apparently this would be a 3.34 kWatt system. The cost after an estimated group discount of $2,700 and the 30-percent federal tax credit would be about $7,000.

Your savings on electricity would vary, depending on your house, current electricity use, etc. Electricity today costs about 11 cents per kilowatt hour in Arlington. A typical house may save $40 per month or more from having a 3.35 kW solar system.

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