• 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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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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May 13, 2014

A Green’s perspective on Arlington’s affordable housing progam–complete failure

Affordable Housing — @ 10:26 am

house_sketchPublic testimony from Arlington Green member and former AGP chairman Steve Davis before the Arlington County Board on May 10, 2014

Good morning members of the County Board.

Today I am here to speak about our affordable housing program In 2013, the county added only 55 new committed affordable housing apartments (CAFs). The county board years ago set a target of adding 400 new CAF units annually. So last year the county government met only 14% of your target.

Last year in Arlington, the number of private affordable market rate apartments fell by 1,613—so the county housing program added 55 units, and then market forces took away 1,613. Only 3,437 affordable private rental apartments exist today (down from 20,000 in the Year 2000). The Va. Tech Center for Housing Research says Arlington needs 14,000 more affordable rental apartments for people making less than 60-percent of area median income.

$250,000– is the unit cost in AHIF (Arlington Housing Investment Fund) funds for each of the 66 affordable apartments CAFs at the Serrano Apartments on Columbia Pike for renters earning 60-percent or less AMI; the actual total cost of each these apartments was $250,000 as well. The total AHIF loan you approved last month was $16.5 million for the Serrano.

In January, you approved a separate $7.8 million loan for APAH for 71 new CAFs ($110,000 per unit in AHIF funds) at the Carlin Springs Apartments. These new units actually cost $538,000 each ($38.2 million total cost) even though APAH already owned the land. Free land does not mean low cost apartments.

$100 million—is what it would cost annually in AHIF funds to add 400 CAFs annually at the average cost of $250,000 each.

Given the need for 14,000 more apartments, and the exorbitant cost of new CAFs, our program will never succeed.

I suggest once again you look to the model of the Fairfax County Housing Authority that today adds CAFs for $100,000 per unit, and mainly houses people in Fairfax who make under $40,000 a year.

house_sketchSteve Davis

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April 22, 2014

Greens collect toiletries for Arlington homeless persons: bring to our May 1 meeting

We asking all Arlington Greens to bring new or unused sample toiletries to our next AGP meeting which will be held on Thursday, May 1 at 7:00 PM at the usual meeting place the Ballston Firehouse Community Room (Wilson Blvd and Geo. Mason Drive).

We agreed at our April meeting to collect as many as possible and give them to the ASPAN homeless shelter program which still support homeless people in the summer months thought their shelter is now closed. So if you have any sample sized shampoo, hand soap, shaving cream, toothpaste, deodorant, etc. that you may have picked up while staying at a hotel or motel, please bring them on May 1.

You can also go to the dollar store or Shopper’s food warehouse and find full size bottles of shampoo, shaving cream, etc.

thanks

John Reeder

chairman – AGP

Current winter shelter

Current winter shelter

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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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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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