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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December 18, 2013

VOICE–many days late and dollars short comes up with affordable housing half -measure

Affordable Housing — @ 1:47 pm

arlington mill apartment design (above design from of Arlington County Government)

Back in the fall, Arlington Greens asked for VOICE (which has roughly 8 faith community members in Arlington) to support the housing authority referendum but they refused. The referendum went down to defeat on a 30-70 percent vote, and the lack of a strong positive voice of approval for affordable housing from the faith community to support a housing authority certainly did not help. VOICE prefers apparently to work closely with the Democratic ruling party behind closed doors and support a dysfunctional housing assistance program, rather than acknowledge the terribly deficient housing assistance program in Arlington. Some of the VOICE member churches receive county funding or need good relations with the Democrats, and it would appear are fearful of annonying Democratic county board members.

As the Sun Gazette describes below, VOICE created a seemingly parallel, but legally nonbinding effort at the same time of the housing authority referendum with a petition signed by 10,000 people most of whom do not live here in Arlington, and then reducing the affordable housing crisis to encouraging the county to give public land to private housing contractors to build more expensive subsidized housing for people making over $60,000 a year.

“When land is free, you can accommodate those people who get lost in the shuffle,” said Robert Buckman, a leader of the VOICE effort.

Actually, APAH was given free public land and is building the Arlington Mills Apartments on Columbia Pike at a cost of $250,000 per apartment. With APAH’s high overhead costs and the costs of repaying all the borrowed money, tenants accepted must have an income of $60,000 for a family of four (60-percent Area median income) to get one of the “subsidized” apartments. The “free public land” did not significantly lower the price of the units.

APAH also charged about $1 million in legal expenses for the “free public land,” so the land was not actually “free.” This is because APAH must create a legal fiction with the county government to receive the public land since Virginia law prohibits the operations of rental housing on public land except in cases of a county housing authority.

Meanwhile the Fairfax Housing Authority indicates it builds subsidized apartments in Fairfax on public land for about $100,000 each. Yes, the housing authority in Fairfax spends less than half of what Arlington spends on new units.

Public land is very helpful and would reduce the costs of building more apartments, but with the high overhead costs of county housing contractors like APAH, AHC and the rest, the subsidized rental housing is affordable only to higher income persons and excludes the truly low income, disabled and those living on social security and most retail/service jobs in Arlington.

Advocates Press for Affordable Housing Units on Public Land
by SCOTT McCAFFREY, Staff Writer Sun Gazette Newspapers |Dec 9, 2013

Those who are doing the asking consider it an easy-to-grant request, and the answer they receive could help determine the direction of the county government’s affordable-housing policy for years to come.
Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement, or VOICE, is asking County Board members to direct staff to analyze a list of publicly owned sites that could be used for affordable housing, and report back next April with the three most feasible sites.
The goal? Cut the cost of construction by building on parcels that the government already owns.
“When land is free, you can accommodate those people who get lost in the shuffle,” said Robert Buckman, a leader of the VOICE effort. “We want to be a national example for the use of public land.”
The ecumenical organization plans to present County Board Chairman Walter Tejada on Dec. 12 with a 10,000-signature petition in support of its effort, then turn up en masse at the Dec. 14 County Board meeting to press its case.
The petition incorporates a list of prospective sites where housing could be built, including the Arlington Career Center, East Falls Church Metro station, Central Library, the parking lot of Lubber Run and Department of Parks and Recreation facilities in the 3700 block of South Four Mile Run.
Boosters say it is not a pie-in-the-sky endeavor.
“We’ve done some of the vetting,” said Marjorie Green, another VOICE leader. “We’ve talked with developers about the economic feasibility.”
The list of prospective parcels should not be limited to the VOICE proposal, Green said. “We want them to look at other sites,” she said.
If there is a local model for going forward, it is the Arlington Mill Community Center on the western end of Columbia Pike, a project that includes a 122-unit rental property built by the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing. The first tenants are slated to move in early next year.
“Arlington Mill needs to be replicated,” said Buckman, who cautioned that future projects can’t take as long in the planning stage as that one did.
VOICE leaders have been meeting individually with County Board members over the past week. Organizers of the effort say board members have been receptive and asked informed questions, offering varying degrees of support for the concept.
VOICE of late has pressed for changes in county policy that would provide housing for those with significantly less income than those traditionally helped by the government’s existing policy, which focuses mostly on families earning no less than 50 percent of the region’s median income. VOICE wants the focus shifted to assist those earning between 30 percent and 50 percent of the median.
Specific targets remain a work in progress, but backers of the idea think enough space on public land can be found to build 1,500 units over the next three to five years. Those units are needed to replace low-cost, market-rate housing that is falling to redevelopment across Arlington.
In a timeline put together by VOICE, the county government would move forward next June with a three-year plan for adding housing to public parcels, then cast a net for proposals from both for-profit and non-profit developers. Under the proposed timeline, ground-breaking on the first project would take place in December 2015.
But it all will begin, or perhaps end, with the decision by County Board members on whether to direct staff to move forward and set specific dates for steps along the way. While the government is engaged in a multi-year housing study, VOICE activists are seeking a definitive answer on their proposal this month.
“We understand this is difficult, but we’re not giving up,” Buckman said. “If you don’t have deadlines, this could take forever.”

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November 19, 2013

Arlington housing authority fails again–the empire strikes back again

Arlington Greens and their community supporters enthusiastically supported the housing authority referendum in 2013, but were unable to overcome propaganda from the two major parties, particularly the Democrats, and some voters adversion to public housing for lower and working class people in Arlington.

The approval share of votes cast in 2013 was very close to the share in the prior referendum in 2008 (a Presidential election year), about 31 percent:
2008 2013
Votes Percentage Votes Percentage
Yes 32,808 33.1% 19,726 30.8%
No 66,235 66.9% 44,305 69.2%

The Republicans and the Democrats both urged voters to vote no, and distributed sample ballots indicating this.

The Democrats further circulated a mistake prone and misleading document to voters with factual errors. Their most amazing claim is that they really want to keep Arlington a diverse community, “where individuals from all walks of life can afford to live.” What a joke–this is totally at odds to the 11 percent drop in Latinos living in Arlington over the past 13 years and a drop in the number of black residents as well, all or mostly because of higher rents, and the Democratic ruling Party’s failure to have an effective housing program to just maintain the number of lower income minorities living in Arlington!

Working income people of all types simply cannot live in Arlington today. Arlington today does not have anywhere near the number of people from all walks of life living here. Fewer than 10% of Arlington firefighters live here; fewer than 80% of police, and fewer than 40% of public school teachers. Arlington firefighters union supported the housing authority because it could then offer as does the Fairfax Housing Authority today subsidized rental housing for lower earning firefighters as well as teachers, police, county employees and nurses and critical medical staff working at the Va Hospital Center.

Some factual Pinnochio statements on the Arlington County Democratic Committee sheet on the housing authority:

It (a housing authority) would not bring any new tools, authority, or funding for affordable housing.”Totally wrong on all three points. An authority under Virginia law can underwrite and issue its own housing bonds at low interest rates (something Arlington cannot do today); it can own land and directly operate rental housing (something Arlington County cannot do today), and it can secure HUD funding and HUD credit guarantees for its housing bonds issued, and automatically obtain Federal tax credits. Obviously, a “housing authority” brings new authority powers as elaborated under longtime Virginia law. There are about 22 Virginia jurisdictions with a housing authority today.

“Arlington is creating and preserving more affordable housing units per 1,000 people than any other county in Northern Virginia
Over the past 13 years, Arlington has lost an average of 1,200 affordable rental units offered by private owners and added only 300 affordable subsidized units, a net loss annually of 900 units annually. Arlington is not creating any affordable units, it is losing nearly 1,000 units a year. Fairfax, Falls Church and every other jurisdiction in Northern Virginia (except for the City of Alexandria) has kept more affordable units than Arlington, and remain more affordable than Arlington. DC is now more affordable than Arlington.

The county already allocates more than $20 million annually for affordable housing development. Since 1996, Arlington County has spent $132.6 million for housing.” Arlington County spends about $6 million annually for affordable housing development, under the so-called AHIF (Arlington Housing Investment Fund). It does not spend $20 million annually. With those $6 million, the county adds about 300 subsidized apartments (CAFs) annually at a very high cost per unit. The most recent CAFs added at Arlington Mill cost about $250,000 each (with free public land), more than twice what the Fairfax Housing Authority spends per unit.

What is really important is not how much Arlington County spends, but what its results are: the county actually spends annually of its own funds over $30 million for all types of housing assistance including rent subsidies, low income homeowner tax defferal, etc. But its program is very expensive per person helped and ineffective because it has failed to meet nearly every goal set to preserve rental housing. Its high costs mean that mostly the subsidized units do not serve lower income people, but only those making $60,000 and above. Its program is fractured, ineffective and expensive mainly benefiting the developers and contractors who get the county funding.

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October 25, 2013

Sandra Hernandez testifies for Housing Authority at Arlington County Board

Affordable Housing — @ 4:41 pm

Good morning members of the Arlington County Board: Oct. 19, 2013   I am Sandra Hernandez and here today to tell you why Arlington residents should vote FOR a Housing Authority on November 5th.   

Walking on Columbia Pike, I met a young brown skinned woman carrying a baby who asked me where she could find information on affordable apartments in Arlington. “No where”. Why doesn’t Arlington have One single place for referral to available subsidized units, located on 85 separate properties, and operated by about 30 separate private organizations?

Fairfax County Housing Authority provides referral at one location to subsidized units, and keeps a centralized waiting list and housing information.

Our county government spends millions for housing, but my Latino community in Arlington is decimated as rents rise, and apartments are replaced by million dollar homes. The Latino population in Arlington fell by 11 percent since 2000 as affordable, private market-rate apartments fell by over two-thirds.  As Arlington becomes whiter and richer, Latinos are pushed out. 

At a 2013 Latino Housing Forum, residents complained that they worked 3 jobs to barely pay $1,700 rent, some end up at AFAC food bank because they cannot afford rent and food.

Why is the CEO of the largest not for profit affordable housing contractor making over $250,000 a year when  in Fairfax, the volunteer, citizen-run housing authority controls and audits subsidized units to make sure tenants are treated well and that contractors are not over paid?

In March 2013, HUD confirmed to Arlington Mercury Newspaper that an Arlington housing authority WOULD qualify for HUD funds. A well run authority could improve treatment of tenants, reduce costs of rental units, get Federal funds and SAVE MONEY.

Thank you and please vote yes for the Housing Authority November 5th

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October 6, 2013

Arlington’s subsidized housing: disjointed, and poorly targeted

Affordable Housing — @ 1:10 pm

Arlington’s housing assistance program relies primarily on 6,500 apartments that are provided by a series of private companies and nonprofits to county residents, supposedly at rent levels below private market rate rental properties.

In response to a Freedom of Information Request to Arlington County, we received data on the operations of Arlington affordable housing units (committed affordable units or CAFs). As of spring 2013, the county reported it had about 6,500 CAFs units, some of which are still under construction and thus unoccuppied.

<Number of separate properties and providers
These 6,500 units are located in 85 separate properties by 29 separate for-profit developers, landowners, and nonprofit housing groups. There are 103 units designed for the disabled, but only 37 of these units actually house disabled individuals.

The largest housing provider is AHC, Inc. with 34 percent of the CAFs, followed by APAH with 16 percent. The next largest are Paradigm Inc. with 6 percent (all at Buckingham Gardens area), and ARHC, Inc. (5 %) that operates the senior housing complex Culpepper Gardens. In total there are 29 separate firms or organization providing subsidized housing unde contract with the county.

The county has to date unable to provide the number of employees these firms or organizations employ to operate these units, and unable to document the administrative costs of opeating these units.
Income of residents of the CAF units
The county provided limited data on the income of the residents of 409 CAF units. For these 409 units (out of 6,500 total), 12 percent of residents have incomes above 60-percent of the area median income (AMI), 46 percent of these units have residents with an income of 60 percent AMI; 27 percent have income at the 50-percent AMI; and 6 percent have incomes of 45 percent AMI or less. There were also 10 percent of the units with residents with “Federal support” and thus their incomes could not be determined. These data confirm that these CAF units are rented mainly (58 percent) by people making 60 percent of the AMI or above.

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September 29, 2013

Arlington trade association offers half truths and distortions on housing authority

Affordable Housing — @ 5:08 pm

The Alliance for Housing Solutions (AHS), Inc. is a trade association composed of housing contractors, banks, and commercial builders, and Democratic Party cronies to the County Board. AHS recently issued a broadside attack against the Arlington Housing Authority referendum. This is not a surprise since this group relies on Arlington County housing progam dollars to support the lavish executives salaries and profits, and an authority would more carefully spend public dollars on housing assistance and would cut their profits, high salaraies, crony status and waste. http://www.allianceforhousingsolutions.org/save-dates-2/

We answer their allegations and half truths, and often totally bogus statements below:

AHS says, A Housing Authority would bring no new resources….
As we have elaborated before, an Arlington housing authority would enjoy Virginia and U.S. housing benefits not available to Arlington today, among them guaranteed access to Federal tax credits, access to HUD credit guarantees on housing bonds issued, and access to some of the over $2 billion given out to U.S. public housing authorities by HUD.

AHS says, Arlington County has created more affordable housing units per 1,000 people than any other county in Northing Virginia….Arlington County has built or preserved about 300 affordable apartments each year over the past decade, mostly for higher income people making above $60,000 annually, but meanwhile private market and developers destroyed about 1,000 affordable apartments annually, meaning a net loss of over 700 affordable apartments each year since 2000. If Arlington does nothing different, all private market affordable apartments are gone in a few years. Yes, Arlington County is spending money, but ineffectively and not enough to even stop the loss.

AHS says HUD has provided no new funds or funding for new housing authorities since 1994.
This is totally wrong. According to an article in the Arlington Mercury Newspaper in March 2013, HUD indicated that a housing authority would be eligible for some of the funds from the HUD Capital Fund that last year gave out $2.41 billion public housing authorities. http://arlingtonmercury.org/countywide/elections-2013/hud-funds-for-housing-are-available%2C-but-worth-it%3F/

There is no evidence that a housing authority can do better in private financing than the county’s existing private affordable housing developers.
This is bogus on many accounts. There are a half dozen or more private housing developers in Arlington, all with their own financial staff and costs attempting to issue bonds and get financing. A single county agency can do this for much less in total costs. Moreover, according to the Fairfax County Housing Authority, it is able to issue housing bonds at a lower cost in both underwriting costs and bond rates than private bond issuers. Fairfax Housing Authority receives a credit repayment guarantee from HUD that lowers the interest rate it pays on its bonds issued to finance housing projects in Fairfax County. Most private housing providers operating now in Arlington also operate in Fairfax County and operate under the Fairfax Housing Authority funding and direction.

AHS says A housing authority would need a staff.The Fairfax Housing Authority has NO staff of its own, relying on existing Fairfax Planning, Housing and Human Services staff. The Housing authority board members are volunteer citizens who serve without salary. Arlington County already employees abundant and competent housing staff to handle the housing functions, no need to hire more immediately, and in fact our current staff would work better together working as a team. As importantly, Arlington County already pays for a bloated and overpaid private employees working at cross purposes in many of these private housing developers; we could cut these wasteful expenditures and reduce staff costs of both public and private contractors, saving public funds.
AHS says A housing authority would lessen competition (for housing development funds).
Actually the opposite has occurred in Fairfax County: the Fairfax County Housing Authority builds new affordable apartments at about half the cost of Arlington units (even in cases where the land is free). Fairfax Housing Authority forces the housing developers to compete strongly to keep the costs of affordable units low. Arlington housing developers today are crony contractors who cannot deliver quality at a low price, frequently overcharge rents or provide lousy conditions to their tenants. An authority will cut government costs per unit. This waste includes the lavish salaries these housing contractors receive: the largest housing developer in Arlington pays its chief executive over $250,000, a salary higher than the county manager or the school superintendent!

AHS says Arlington commits more local resources per capita to affordable housing programs than either Fairfax or Alexandria and produced more committed affordable units per person than either jurisdiction.Yes, Arlington County spends more funds than Fairfax or Alexandria, but that is because Arlington has virtually no private market rate affordable housing left. According to the Virginia Tech Center for Housing Research, Arlington has the second most expensive rental housing in the Metro DC area and about one-seventh of Arlington households (14,000) need affordable rental housing because their high rents cause them to be “housing cost burdened.” Unfortunately, the funds that Arlington has spent have generated few apartments, and those mostly very expensive. In June, over 3,000 people applied for one of the 120 new Arlington Mills apartments, each of which cost about $250,000. Mostly only people earning $65,000 a year can qualify to rent one of these subsidized, overpriced units.
AHS says the creation of a housing authority would actually slow down or suspend these efforts (to build or retain affordable housing in Arlington) at the worst possible time…Nearly all of the housing developers operating in Arlington have operated for years in Fairfax County and the City of Falls Church under the auspices of the Fairfax Housing Authority. That Authority has won awards and plaudits from HUD for its efficient and speedy process to issue bonds and get funds for its projects. That Authority automatically obtains the critical Federal Tax credits for its new projects, whereas Arlington has to compete and wait and hope that its projects MIGHT get federal tax credits that typically provide one-third or more of the funds for a housing project.

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September 25, 2013

Arlington Green Chairman Davis speaks before County Board on Housing Authority

Affordable Housing — @ 1:24 pm

steve davisSeptember 21, 2013: Speech to the Arlington County Board meeting

Good Morning Board Members,
I’m Stephen Davis, and I’ve been living in Arlington for over 33 years. I’m here today to talk about Arlington’s affordable housing problem.

Recently Arlington County touted the opening of the new Arlington Mill Community Center and the completion of 122 units of “affordable” housing at Arlington Mill Residences located nearby. But the price tag on Arlington Mill shows why the County’s approach to affordable housing isn’t working.

The apartments cost $31 million to build, which comes to about $250,000 per unit. The Washington Post reports that there’s already a waiting list of 3,600 people for those units, and families earning less than $64,000 per year need not apply, as most units aren’t affordable to people earning less.

According to the financial director of the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority the cost of constructing an affordable unit in Fairfax is about $100,000. So why did Arlington pay 2.5 times that amount even though the county owns the land on which the Arlington Mill apartments were constructed?

Arlington housing non-profit Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing got the no-bid contract to construct the units, and therein lies the problem. When non-profits don’t have to compete for business and County Board itself measures compassion in dollars spent rather than dollars spent wisely, there’s no incentive to economize, and both the taxpayers footing the bill and the tenants paying the rents are short changed.

I f Arlington had a non-partisan housing authority like Fairfax County, it could shop around for a better price. Thus more people could be served at lower cost, and taxpayers and tenants would win.

Instead of propping up a flawed system the County Board should focus on preserving the existing diminished stock of affordable housing through a non-partisan, citizen-led housing authority whose top priority would be to ensure that all income groups have access to Arlington’s housing.

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