• Next Meeting--Thursday, Dec. 4, 7:00 PM at the Community Room of the Ballston Firehouse Station (located at Wilson Blvd and N. George Mason Drive). Special guest speaker will be John Vihstadt, recently re-elected Arlington County Board member.

November 15, 2014

Providing public land and public funds to Arlington housing providers does not help tenants

Arlington Greens chair John Reeder spoke to the Arlington County Board on November 14, 2014
(his testimony was his own responsibility)

Good morning members of the board.
I am here to talk about affordable housing assistance and to caution you against just naively giving away public land to developers who fail to actually produce affordable rental apartments under the AHIF program.

AHIF is so ineffectual that it should be abolished, and its funding instead go to the housing grants program which directly and transparently helps mainly lower income people in Arlington. No public land and no more public funds should go to these developers.

The $12 million spent for the AHIF program in 2014 is really welfare for crony developers and delivers few benefits (in the form of lower rents and significantly more apartments) to tenants in Arlington.

In FY 2014, Arlington County spends $37 million from its local revenues for housing assistance, the largest category being the affordable housing investment fund (AHIF) with $12 million, and the second category being direct housing grants ($8 million).

The $12 million spent for AHIF may add at most 125 new CAF units this year (last year only 55 were added), and probably rent for $100 or so per month less than at market rate complexes, yielding a total benefit to low income renters of $150,000 a year. Even over 30 years, AHIF provides far fewer benefits even than its costs.

The new apartments added under the AHIF are very expensive; their rents charged are close to or at market rate rents; and the households served earning generally 60-percent of the area median income ($65,000 for a family of four).

On the other hand, the $8 million spent for housing grants directly and transparently helps about 1,200 households with about $500 per month each in lower rents paid. Its cost equals its benefits.

Households getting a housing grant earn no more than $46,000 (for a family of four), and must be 65 years or older, disabled, clients of county DHS programs (such as formerly homeless) or a working family with a child. Housing grants go to Arlington residents who are the most needy in our community.

The $12 million used today for AHIF could alternatively provide 2,000 households with a monthly rental grant of $500 versus 125 households receiving a $100 a month rent reduction in a new AHIF unit.

What is the better use of scarce local tax revenues to help low income Arlington residents?

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November 7, 2014

Rosslyn residents protest Wilson development of park, Sat. Nov. 8, 8:30 am at Key Elementary

Development,environment,Events — @ 10:43 am

wilson school photo2
Rosslyn residents gather to fight elimination of Wilson School greenspace

The Western Rosslyn Area Planning Study (WRAPS) has proceeded over the past year toward its pre-designated conclusion to develop the Wilson site (School, Park, Playfields). The WRAPS recommendations are terrible for the Rosslyn community: preservation is dismissed, most of the site would be intensely developed with access roads and tall buildings; and very very little open space would be preserved for park and recreation. This in a community which is densely populated and provides limited public green space.

Upcoming on Saturday (tomorrow) starting at 8:30 AM at Key Elementary, county staff will lead a four and one half hour (!!!) presentation of WRAPS plans including some limited opportunity for citizen comment.

Rather than sitting through hours of power-point nonsense, a few of us plan instead to stand at the entrance handing out printed notices bearing statements like:

“Preserve Wilson School and Fields”

“Develop our Park ?? That’s Nuts !”

“Preserve our limited Green Space !”

I recommend people come to the meeting timely; grab a sign; hold it up awhile once you get inside; and then leave. You’ll do something to save our park, and you’ll save your Saturday for family and personal responsibilities.

Mark Antell

Co-chair of the CivFed Parks and Recreation Committee

CivFed delegate from the North Rosslyn Civic Association

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November 5, 2014

Vihstadt wins re-election with Greens support

John Vihstadt, an independent candidate for Arlington County Board, won re-election on November 4 with strong Green support, with about 55 percent of the votes cast. A number of Arlington Greens worked at the polls for him as well as contributing money. Democrats, Republicans, independents and Greens in Arlington all supported him. He was the first non-Democrat to be elected to a four year term on the county board in decades.

Greens supported him in his April victory for a midterm election, but he had to stand for election for the full 4 year term in November.

The key issues were the proposed Columbia Pike trolley projected to cost in excess of $300 million from local sources and other financial excesses of the ruling county board Democrats who have controlled Arlington for over 30 years. Arlington Green candidates for many years have opposed the Columbia Pike trolley because of its excessive cost (relative to a rapid bus system), its adverse effect on eliminating affordable rental housing on the Pike, and its negative environmental impact as compared to a rapid bus system.

greens photo with vihstadt nov 5 2014
Arlington Greens Marie Pellegrino and Sandra Hernandes are pictured alongside John Vihstadt at his victory celebration following the election

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October 20, 2014

Arlington school bonds–not ready for approval

Development,schools — @ 5:15 pm

westover library-reed school
(photo of Reed School with Westover Library)

Arlington Greens chairman speech to Arlington Council of PTAs, on Oct. 20, 2014

Good evening members of Arlington PTAs. Let me congratulate you for your volunteer work to improve our community’s public education.

I am John Reeder, an Arlington resident, graduate of Yorktown High School, father of three daughters all graduates of Arlington Public Schools, and chairman of the Arlington Green Party. My wife was a 40-year Fairfax elementary school teacher, and my daughter teaches English in Washington, D.C.

I support spending for public education for all children and excellent salaries for our teachers and school staff. I support capital spending to provide more class rooms, but cannot support throwing money at capital projects without foresight and planning.

I urge you and other Arlington voters to reject the $105.8 million dollar school bond on the November ballot.

Here’s the short answer as to why voters should vote no: the school system is not ready to thoughtfully spend $106 million to add seats to last 30 years.
We voters cannot trust APS to effectively invest these funds without a detailed and a comprehensive plan that parents, educators, and the community all can support. Unfortunately, the APS has failed to accurately project enrollment and capacity over the past two decades.
The board should first prepare a specific plan that supports students and educational programs and adds seats, with engineering and reasonable cost estimates. Then ask voters for an adequate bond for very specific projects, be it for $106 million or $306 million.

Capital funds do not immediately produce new seats. We should not hurry to waste and misapply one hundred million dollars building the wrong or too small schools, and then have to rebuild the same schools in five years. Just 5 years ago, a new, $100 million W-L high school was opened for 1,500 students, but now has 2,046 students.

The school board spends over $500 million annually for operating costs, and now without a detailed, engineering plan, it will get another $106 million to spend somewhere and hope for the best.

There is confusion and missing leadership among school board members and the superintendent. There will be two new school board members this year; parents and PTAs are still divided over where and how new seats should be added. The school board failed to timely adopt a CIP which would have settled the capacity expansion.

There are many unanswered questions:
Will HB Woodlawn move to the Reed School or to a new Wilson site?
Will APS build a new elementary school next to TJ Middle School?
Where should more seats be added and how?
Can we preserve green space around our schools?
Will engineering plans reduce the carbon footprint of new buildings?
Can APS reduce the over $70,000 cost of adding one seat?

Voters: Please reject this bond request.

APS should come back to voters in a year and provide citizens with a well thought out, detailed plan to address the enrollment increase, and then present a detailed bond question to voters so that we in the community can make an informed decision.
Thank you

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October 14, 2014

Adding new schools in Arlington–follow Fairfax’s example and convert an office building

Development,schools — @ 12:06 pm

The Washington Post reported on October 13 about a new elementary school in Baileys Crossroads, Fairfax that is a former office building that can hold 800 students. The cost of the Baileys building including the $9 million cost of buying the empty office building was about $20 million for a student capacity of 795 (they have 700 students today). Baileys Elementary is considered one of the premier elementary schools in Fairfax County, specializing in art and music and drawing students from all over Fairfax as well as the Baileys Crossroads.

baileys elementary new school
(photo of new Baileys Elementary School, courtesy of Fairfax County Public Schools)

So an 800-student school cost $20 million; that’s about $25,000 per student. Arlington is building a new elementary at Williamsburg MS for a $73,000 per student cost, nearly 3 times the Fairfax cost, and the land there is free unlike Baileys.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/digger/wp/2014/10/08/what-to-do-with-dying-suburban-office-buildings-turn-them-into-schools/

Why can’t Arlington Public Schools buy an empty office building and convert it into a 800-student elementary like Fairfax for $20 million? Drive a hard bargain like FCPS did, and buy a vacant office building. Several months, we wrote an article for Arlington Greens about the over 25 percent office vacancy rate in Crystal City and Rosslyn and the need to recycle these empty office buildings into residential apartments and schools.

Suppose APS paid $20 million for a similar sized building in Crystal City or Rosslyn, and spent $14,000 per student to remodel it into a school like FCPS, a 800 student school would still cost only $32 million or $40,000 per student.

APS is spending $46 million to build the new elementary for only 630 students at the Williamsburg MS campus in 97,000 square feet of space, slightly smaller than the new Baileys Crossroads School. APS cost does not include any funds to buy an existing office building just construction costs using public land. Also, do they really think that only 690 students will enroll there?

http://www.apsva.us/Page/18930

So the cost per student is $46 million / 630 = $73,000 per student seat at the new Williamsburg ES

Arlington is supposed to add 6,000 more students over the next ten years; at $73k per student seat, the APS will need to spend about $440 million for 6,000 more seats. That would mean issuing $440 million in school bonds.

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October 6, 2014

Arlington Greens Vote to Oppose All Four Arlington Bond Questions on the November Ballot

Arlington Greens Vote to Oppose All Four Arlington Bond Questions on the November Ballot

October 6, 2014

The Arlington Greens voted unanimously at their October 2nd meeting to ask Arlington voters to deny the four bonds on the ballot on November 4: the four bonds total $218 million, the largest being $106 million for Arlington Public Schools.

The Greens indicated that the bond questions on the ballot for voter approval or denial were too broad and non-specific, and were essentially blank checks to the Arlington School Board and to the Arlington County Board to spend money for undefined purposes and without any cost or engineering plans.

John Reeder the Arlington Greens chairman said, “Arlington parents distrust the school board, and many feel duped by the School Board’s failure to approve a detailed CIP (Capital Improvement Plan). South Arlington parents were promised years ago a new elementary school, now proposed to be built on scarce parkland next to TJ Middle School.” He added, “Arlington parents should remember that critical on-going school programs were put on the chopping block in the past spring; and now a confused school board and a superintendent propose to rush spending $106 million on plans that are less than educationally optimal for our students.”

Reeder said the County Board similarly failed to specify for its three bond questions exactly where and how it will spend $61 million on transportation infrastructure, $13 million for local parks and recreation, and $39 million on “county facilities, information technology, and infrastructure.” He said, “voters should be wary of allowing the county board to spend over $100 million without detailed engineering and vetted plans because of these past abuses.”

Reeder added, “This county board built a million dollar bus stop on Columbia Pike, diverted many millions of park bond dollars approved by voters for park land acquisition to remodeling a failed Artisphere, and now proposes to spend over $300 million on a doomed trolley.”

The Arlington Green Party has run candidates for the Arlington County Board for the past 8 years. This year it has endorsed, independent county board member John Vihstadt for election in the November election.

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August 26, 2014

Smoke and mirrors on Arlington County Board environmental record

Development,environment — @ 8:56 am

Letter to the editor, the Washington Post from AGP chair John Reeder

Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette boasts (Aug. 24, “Why Arlington joined the battle against climate change”) about Arlington’s record on climate change.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-arlington-joined-the-battle-against-climate-change/2014/08/22/3bb5a146-2314-11e4-86ca-6f03cbd15c1a_story.html

But in truth, Arlington’s environmental record is pretty shabby. Board members favor high-intensity, high-rise buildings despite their increased demand for electricity and water, while allowing developers to expand building footprints and increase paved surfaces. Some recently built county buildings are energy hogs, having failed to include state-of-the-art solar and geothermal systems (examples can be found on the Washington-Lee and Yorktown High School campuses). Arlington’s heat sink has increased rapidly as the mature tree canopy and green space have disappeared.

house with solar

LEED certification, for which developers receive “bonus” density, is oftentimes mostly cosmetic and lacking in solid environmental benefits. The Arlington County Board’s “smart growth” policy has triggered overdevelopment and the conversion of Arlington’s lower cost residential areas into neighborhoods only the wealthy can afford. This policy has forced thousands of moderate-income residents to flee to Woodbridge and beyond, exacerbating the very sprawl smart growth was supposed to halt and increasing traffic congestion and greehouse gas emissions.

Democrats like Fisette play environmental politics while excluding independent and third-party voters from meaningful participation that might result in actual improvements to Arlington’s environment. We need leaders in Arlington who support genuine green principals, not ones who just pretend.

John Reeder
Chairman of
the Arlington Green Party

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July 26, 2014

County finances housing scam at William Waters Apartments–

william waters apt rosslyn va (William Waters Apartments from Wesley Housing Development Corporation)

On July 24, the county board approved a nearly $1 million loan to Wesley Housing Development Corporation to renovate 21 already subsidized apartments at the William Waters Apartments located on Adams Street off Lee Highway. These units were substantially renovated about 9 years ago, but Wesley Corporation will spend another $400,000 per unit to upgrade them. It will then raise the rents on the units, and then the county government will have to pay for the higher rent levels because the tenants cannot afford them! The new rents charged will not cheap–$1,130 for a one-bedroom and $1,330 for a two bedroom, but the tenants today cannot afford these new higher rents, so the county has to provide over $100,000 to pay part of the higher rents that go up because of the lavish renovation.

The county board’s decision to finance renovation of the William Waters Apartments, a garden apartment building off Lee Highway with 21 CAF units, and to finance tenant displacement costs is an example of Arlington’s wasteful approach to spend $400,000 per unit to renovate perfectly good apartments at William Waters.

There was no proven need to renovate the building; according to Wesley Housing Corporation’s webpage, these apartments were substantially renovated in 2005 with new kitchens, wall repairs, windows, smoke detection system, roof, rehabilitated electrical system, wall plaster and convectors.

And even if there is a need to renovate, a NEW apartment can be built for about $130,000 in the Washington DC region according RS Means, a construction expert firm. So how can $400,000 be spent in just renovation? Better to tear it down and build new apartments at one-quarter of this renovation cost of 50 year old modest units.

Today 9 years after the 2005 renovation, Wesley proposes to spend $8.2 million to again renovate 21 apartments at a unit cost of about $400,000 per unit. The hard construction cost is $100,000 per unit—about what a totally new unit would cost; the remaining $300,000 are soft costs, the developer’s fee, and repayment of past loans and financial costs. Spending $400,000 per unit to renovate apartments that are otherwise okay is wasteful.

Crony capitalism is the game being played with Arlington County housing program dollars. Tenants are made worse off and scarce taxpayer dollars given to insiders and their corporate friends.

There was $151,000 given to Wesley for a tenants assistance fund that would pay for their moving expenses and to pay the higher rents after they move back into the renovated units. Wesley bears responsibility for assisting and relocating their tenants, and not the county. Wesley in 1990 entered a contract with the county to supply 21 CAF apartments for 30 years, and has a contractual obligation to these tenants as well. Moreover, why does Wesley have to charge higher rents that its current tenants cannot afford to pay? This is not affordable housing but UNAFFORDABLE housing!

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Million dollar subsidized apartments in Arlington, and crony capitalism and a gross waste of money

pierce queen apts (Photo from Wesely Housing Development Corporation)

The Arlington County Board on July 23, 2014 approved a nearly $7 million loan from the county’s affordable housing investment fund to Wesley Housing Corporation and its corporate partner Bozzuto to build a new apartment building with mostly luxury rental units at Pierce Queen Apartments in Rosslyn. The project is really not about affordable housing at all, but about a developer Bozzuto building a 12 story new commercial apartment building in Rosslyn with the county government and federal government financing it. It is really an stark example of the county’s failed housing program and another example of the county’s unaffordable housing program.

In brief, the project will cost about $36 million and will net the county government about 26 more subsidized units which is about $1.3 million per new unit! The county’s $7 million loan to the developer works out to about $250,000 per CAF unit. The kicker is that all the tenants living in the 78 subsidized units will then have to pay higher rent–and the county will have to pay part of the higher rents because the tenants do not earn enough money! So the county actually made things WORSE for tenants by allowing unneeded renovation.

The current Pierce Queen Apartments have 50 subsidized apartments, and 28 additional units (CAFs) will be added. Unfortunately the cost per new unit added is extraordinary high, and in addition rents will be raised in order to pay for these expensive new units.

The proposed project will have 78 CAFs, an addition of 28 CAFs. The total cost of the project is $35.6 million so the marginal cost of adding 28 new CAFs is $1,271,000 each. The unit cost for all 78 CAFs is $456,000. Either way, it is ridiculous to be paying either sum for a modest apartment.

In terms of the use of the county’s AHIF, the cost per new CAF is $250,000; the cost for the new CAFs and the current CAFs is lower $89,000 per unit. However, the 50 CAFs already at the complex were paid for years ago with federal and county financing and should not be counted.
The county government’s housing target is to add 400 new CAFs per year; last year the county added 55.

The 78 CAFs at Pierce Queen will be rented to higher income persons: 40 units to renters earning up to 50% AMI and 38 units for renters earning 60% AMI. This project will not meet the county’s housing target that at least 25% of new CAFs be affordable to people earning 40% AMI.

Is this the best deal the county government can get to add new CAFs in Arlington, and is this the best use of the limited AHIF funds? The county housing target is to add 400 new CAFs a year, and it cannot done at at a cost of a million bucks per unit nor even at $250,000 of AHIF funds per new unit. Four hundreds new CAF units at this rate would cost $100 million dollars in capital spending annually.

Wesley already received substantial county and federal funds to purchase and renovate Pierce Queen, and is contractually required to keep these 50 apartments for many years more. Why did the county government let Wesley out of its contractual agreement to provide 50 low cost CAFs?

The county Board needs to ask hard questions of your housing staff as to why these un-affordable housing projects are so expensive, and how it can find developers who can truly build affordable low cost apartments.

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July 21, 2014

Affordable housing: county wastes dollars and accomplishes little

Arlington Green John Reeder spoke at the Arlington County Board meeting on July 19 about affordable housing.

Good morning members of the Board.

I am here today to discuss affordable housing and why giving away free public land to high cost government contractors is a bad idea, and failing to address high cost housing is a mistake.

In 2013, the county added only 55 CAFs or 14% of the 400 goal to the current 6,500 CAFs. The CAFs added were very expensive per unit, and land costs were often small or irrelevant to the high costs.

Look at two recent projects: The Carlyn Springs Apartments and the Arlington Mills Apartments.

In January 2014, you (the county board) gave an $8 million loan to APAH to build 71 new CAF apartments at the current Carlyn Springs Apts complex which APAH already owns. The average cost of the 71 CAFs was $538,000 each. APAH already owned the land so the cost of this land was free.

Then about 4 years ago, you gave APAH free public land at Arlington Mills site and loans to build 122 CAF apartments. The cost was $250,000 per unit. Most renters accepted earned over 60% of area median income ($67,000).

Nearly all of the for-profit and non-profit developers of CAFs in Arlington are very high cost and highly inefficient.

Free land does not mean low cost apartments.

The CAFs are so expensive that only higher income people can afford to rent, and, of course, then the county can only add 50 CAFs a year too few to meet our need.

The county board government needs to hire low cost builders; the Fairfax Housing Authority builds its CAFs in Fairfax County for $100,000 each which it then rents mainly to families earning under $40,000 a year.

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