• The next meeting will be on Thursday, Aug 6, 2015 7:00 PM at the Community Room of the Ballston Firehouse Station (located at Wilson Blvd and N. George Mason Drive).

July 27, 2015

Reforming Arlington’s housing assistance program: Housing grants are twice as effective as subsidies for developers of new apartment buildings

house_sketchA key missing item in the debate in Arlington today over the proposed Affordable Housing Master Plan is consideration of the effectiveness of Arlington housing assistance and whether today’s program is efficiency helping tenants . There is no question that Arlington needs to expand funding for its housing assistance to lower income renters, but just expanding ineffective programs is unwise.

Arlington County spends in 2015 about $36 million of its own tax revenues (as distinct from Federal HUD funds) for housing assistance. The largest program is the $12 million for the AHIF program that provides loans and grants to developers to build or renovate apartments that are then rented to lower income tenants (called committed affordable units (CAFs). Most of the households in the CAFs earn 60-percent of the area median income. The second-leading program is housing grants with $8 million that provides monthly rental subsidies to about 1,200 households (averaging about $555 a month). Most of these households are below the 30-percent AMI (about $30,000 a year or less).

The question occurs as to which of the two leading programs provide more effective assistance to low income renters? In recent years, each new CAF has required about $100,000 from the AHIF. On average the rents charged in CAFs averaged about $150-200 per month below the rents in comparable private market complexes. For every million dollars of AHIF funds, about 10 households receive a total of $24,000 in benefits as lower rents charged per year. Most CAF households are in the 60%-AMI income level.

With regard to the housing grants program, 1,200 households received in 2015 an average $555/month grant each or about $6,000 annually. Thus for every million dollars spent for housing grants, 167 households received benefits of one million dollars in lower rents charged. All of these households earned well under $30,000 a year and most under $20,000 a year, including disabled, seniors and working families with children. This is what a million dollars spent for AHIF versus housing grants yields:

Number of households helped…… 10 AHIF 167 Housing grants
Median income level of households 60-% AMI 30%-AMI
Monthly rental reduction per
Household…………………………….. $200 $555
Duration of assistance……………… 30 years 1 year
Total 2015 value of assistance over
30-years………………………………. $480,000 $1 million

If one compares the benefits of a one year housing grant of $1 million to spending that amount in AHIF, the difference is still large over 30 years: the ten CAF apartments yield $720,000 in lower rents, but this economic value in 2015 of such lower rents (considering time and interest rates), falls to $480,000. (The lump sum value in 2015 of receiving $24,000 a year in payments at a 3% interest rate over 30 years). All benefits of the housing grants are received in the first year, whereas the benefits of lower rents in the CAFs accrue over 30 years.

In summary, the housing grants program provides about twice the benefits to renters than the same amount for new construction of subsidized apartments over 30 years. In the first year with a million dollars, housing grants help 167 households, versus only 10 households in CAFs. Housing grant households are the lowest income persons in Arlington, and in addition must be a senior over 65, disabled or a working family with a child, and thus are arguably the neediest group in our community.

It stands to reason that if Arlington County wishes to help the identified 7,000 households living in Arlington earning under 60-percent AMI, the cheapest way to do so is expanding the housing grants program.

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July 13, 2015

Why did Arlington County give $4.5 million away to a profitable company to move to Rosslyn?

The Washington Post reported on July 13 that Arlington County gave $4.5 million (and the State of VA gave $9.5 million) to lure CEB Inc. to move from NW DC to Rosslyn into a new yet to be built high rise office building.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/digger/wp/2015/07/12/high-stakes-battle-ensues-over-advisory-board-co-headquarters/

This article is mainly focused on Arlington and the State of Virginia’s efforts to get the Advisory Board to rent the empty Rosslyn office building with over 500,000 square feet in a 390 foot high building. If Arlington county gave CEB (a company associated with Advisory Board) $4.5 million to go to a smaller building, then you can bet Advisory will get double or triple that to move into the white an existing massive office building that has been vacant since being built for the past two years.

Taxpayers should NOT be giving subsidies to get big businesses to move across jurisdictions in Arlington or anywhere in the U.S. (or the world for that matter). The developers who built 390-foot empty office building with no commercial tenants in mind and have left it empty for two years are to blame. That’s capitalism for you: there are winners and losers, but the government shouldn’t finance the losers. Otherwise we are into crony capitalism or lemon socialism. Risk should be borne by investors who make mistakes and not local Arlington taxpayers who urgently need to pay for more schools, parks, and safety net aid for things like homeless assistance and housing assistance.

What does Arlington County really get for its $4.5 million and Virginia’s $9.5 million? Many of CEB employees will never live here in Arlington or even Virginia; the amount of sales taxes obtained from stuff these employees might buy in Rosslyn at lunchtime is trivial. The main revenue Arlington gets is property tax, and if the county gives away $14 million of that initially, how long will it take to get it back?

County Board members apparently have accepted the idea that Arlington County has to start giving out subsidies to big business to locate here in empty space. The economic development spending is now about $12 million, up a $1 million from last year. The $4.5 million given away to CEB is about equal to the increase in county spending this past year for all programs except public schools. Our county’s legitimate needs are overwhelming our tax revenues and we cannot afford any white elephants such as tax give aways, the now cancelled Pike trolley, the now closed Artisphere, and the yet-to-be build $60 million aquatic park in Crystal City.

The best economic advice for these billion dollar developer corporations and realty trusts: lower the rent asked for your vacant office space or convert it into residential use. Government dollars should be used to fund our community needs and not go into the treasuries of major corporations.solar panels commercial

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June 1, 2015

Arlington County to sell Reeves farmland–Greens say sale is a bad idea

Development,environment — @ 8:42 am

The Arlington County Board voted the week of May 20, 2015 on a divided 3-2 vote to sell the historic, 90-year old Reeves Farm House located next to the Bluemont Park in Arlington. Arlington Greens oppose this decision.
reeves farm house arlington va Photo: courtesy of Michael Pope, Arlington Considers Future Of Its Last Dairy Farm, July 11, 2011, WAMU Radio, http://wamu.org/news

The accelerated, sparsely publicized final decision to sell the Reeves’ farmhouse to a private enterprise is distressing. Government transparency and historic preservation are two core values of the Arlington Green Party. The sale of this farmhouse (circa 1900) does not uphold these principles.

While the AGP has yet to take an official stand, I feel that not maintaining the Reevesland farmhouse misses educational opportunities to teach at-risk students hands-on, marketable skills of restoration and preservation. Skills such as these are transformative and can provide a less traditional student with a passion to learn.

The Reeve’s farm house could have also been transformed into a place that the public might pay to visit, thus creating a destination for tourists and generating tourism revenue for Arlington. Internships to learn and assist with the inner workings of a living museum could have provided other practical skills for children.

Sandra Hernandez
Marie Pellegrino
Arlington Green Party Co-Chairs

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April 19, 2015

Observations from Mark Antell, a longtime Green and community activist on the County Board’s meeting on April 18 on the Wilson School Building in Rosslyn

Wilson School

Wilson School

I attended the County Board meeting this AM (April 18). Almost all business was focused on my neighborhood greenspace: the Wilson School and adjoining Rosslyn Highlands Park. To no ones surprise, the plan emerging from today’s meeting remains: ‘knock down the historic school, cede parkland to a developer (in exchange for his building a firestation). Walt Tejada was the sole dissenting voice, a tongue far less silver than the rest of speakers, but far more honest.

I was particularly disturbed by Mr. Vihstadt’s arguments. He spoke highly of the “robust” (his words) Western Rosslyn Area Planning Study (WRAPS) which the county set up to engage the community on plans for this site. But WRAPS wasn’t ‘robust.’ Most of my community, most community activists throughout Arlington, know that WRAPS was a staged event to provide cover for a prearranged deal. Most WRAPS meetings occurred after the County had already secretly signed an MOU to cede land to the developer. On one occasion the WRAPS process slipped and allowed citizens a poll. Participants voted overwhelmingly against putting a road through a diminished Rosslyn Highlands park. But the road is still in the plans.

I recommend we think long and hard about ever endorsing Mr. Vihstadt again.

Mark Antell

Rosslyn resident and long-time member AGP

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March 4, 2015

Columbia Hills Apts: affordable housing for the well to do

solar panels commercialComments of John Reeder, treasurer of Arlington Greens, speaking at the county board hearing on Feb. 24, 2015 (these comments do not necessarily reflect the position of the Arlington Green Party):

Dear County Board members:

I oppose the approval of the zoning request and the $20 million in county AHIF funds to build these two apartment buildings in west Columbia Pike area located at 1010 S. Frederick Street, off Columbia Pike. APAH a nonprofit developer has requested about $20 million in county loans from the Arlington Housing Investment Fund (AHIF).

I have spoken several times against excessively costly affordable housing projects that are simply not affordable to low income people in Arlington. This is yet another such wasteful project. Please reject this proposal and send APAH back to the drawing board to come up with lower priced units for low income persons, namely those earning below 40-percent of the area median income (AMI) which is roughly $30,000 to $43,000 a year income).
Please read over details in the staff report presented to you:

l. 80 percent of the 229 units in the two new buildings are only affordable to persons earning above 60-percent AMI ($45,000 for a single person and $64,400 for a family of four).

2. Only 4 percent of the units are affordable to low income persons making less than 40-percent AMI. You have set your housing goal that at least 25% of new CAF units be affordable to 40-percent AMI renters: NONE of the AHIF projects for new CAFs have come close to your 25% goal.

3. Each new unit will cost about $$394,000 each–nearly four hundred thousand bucks. The $90 million total cost is very high–$7 million in developers fee, $6 million in “soft costs,” and $10 million in land/acquisition costs. The hard construction costs are $67 million or $227,000 per apartment which are well above Washington, DC regional costs. Are they building the Taj Mahal or affordable basic housing?

4. The land is quite expensive at $10 million or $44,000 per apartment. APAH claimed publicly that it owns the parking lot land and that the land is free. In fact, it does not own the land at all and it will cost taxpayers $10 million to buy a parking lot in western Columbia Pike. There are entire commercial buildings for sale in that area for less than $10 million.

Approving AHIF projects to build very expensive new CAFs which ipso facto cannot be rented to low income people in Arlington is a terrible waste of our public local dollars that could be used better t provide other forms of housing assistance to the needy rather than subsidies for developers and contractors like APAH.

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February 4, 2015

Battle for Brooklyn community continues in 2015 with Arlington very similar

We Greens showed the documentary Battle for Brooklyn last week at Central Library despite snow and bitter cold and we had a good turnout. The documentary highlighted the fight of community activists in Brooklyn to prevent the demolition and displacement of many moderate income renters and home owners to allow the building of a billion dollar project for a NBA basketball arena (now called the Barclays Center) and new luxury and so-called “affordable housing.”

The New York Times article in their February 4 edition, , Vivian Yee and Mirreya Navarro, “Some see risk in de Blasio bid to add housing,” http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/04/nyregion/an-obstacle-to-mayor-de-blasios-affordable-housing-plan-neighborhood-resistance.html provides an interesting historical follow up to what happened to Brooklyn later and now that a progressive de Blasio replaced billionaire Michael Bloomburg as mayor. Bloomburg was an advocate for the sports arena and openly said he wanted more millionaires in New York, as the article describes:

“….But many New Yorkers feel that projects from the era of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg like Pacific Park, a multi-building complex around the Barclays Center formerly called Atlantic Yards, did not deliver on their promises of affordable housing quickly or comprehensively enough.”

NYC new mayor De Blasio says he wants to build more affordable housing, but like Arlington, this affordable housing is not affordable for most low income and even middle income renters. Now Brooklyn community activists are calling for no development at all if the only alternative is high rise buildings that mainly house high income person–80 percent luxury housing and 20 percent “affordable.”

The article indicates,
“Another common concern is that the financing deals to build affordable units do not serve those who need them most: extremely low-income residents making 30 percent or less of the area’s median income, or less than $26,000 a year for a family of four in the city’s five boroughs and Westchester County. Most new affordable units are now open to households in the range of 60 percent of the area’s median income.”

This is the rule for Arlington’s affordable housing–60% AMI is the minimum income needed to get into Arlington’s subsidized units.

Same development patterns here–promise affordable housing in the middle of a luxury project.

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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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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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