• Next Meeting--Thursday, Sept. 4, 7:00 PM at the Community Room of the Ballston Firehouse Station (located at Wilson Blvd and N. George Mason Drive).

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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June 10, 2014

Arlington parents and residents oppose building a new large sized middle school in Rosslyn at Wilson School site

Development,schools — @ 10:13 am

A group of parents and residents are circulating a petition to the APS board against a mega school proposed to cover most of the Wilson School site. Mark Antell, a Green members, heartily supports their perspective and recommend that civic minded citizens sign the petition.

The Arlington Green Party has NOT taken a position on this petition, but several Green members endorse this petition and oppose building a mega school at the Wilson School site. Community activists have mentioned other locations for a needed middle school in the county–for example, two closed schools–the Fairlington Community Center in south Arlington, and the Madison Recreation Center near Chain Bridge in north Arlington, as well as existing empty commercial office buildings in Crystal City, Rosslyn, and other locations.

wilson school photo2

Here’s the petition site

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/vote-no-to-1300-seat?source=s.icn.em.cp&r_by=10703771

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May 6, 2014

Arlington Preservation meeting–May 13 Panel: State of Preservation in Arlington

Development,environment — @ 3:22 pm

environmental earth with hands

May 13 Panel: State of Preservation in Arlington

When

Tue, May 13, 7pm – 9pm GMT-04:00

Where

The Fillmore Room, Boulevard Woodgrill, 2901 Wilson Blvd., Arlington

For more information, go to Preservation Arlington, Inc. that is sponsoring this panel discussion
www.preservationarlington.org
environmental earth with hands

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April 28, 2014

Early thoughts on Proposed Redevelopment of the Wilson School in Rosslyn

Early Thoughts on Proposed Redevelopment of the Wilson School from Mark Antell, longtime Rosslyn civic activist
wilson school photo2
Some History
In the 1980s through the mid 1990s, the Wilson School building did not host a school. But the playfield was maintained, and it was heavily used evenings and weekends by the community. By 1997, the school building was back in use, as a ‘swing space’ for elementary schools undergoing renovation. The playfield however, was rendered unusable by trailers.
Over the last decade, Arlington Public Schools (APS) and Arlington County Government have proposed several initiatives to densely develop the Wilson School property. North Rosslyn Civic Association has opposed such proposals with a consistent message that the Wilson Site should be used for education and community service. We’ve been fortunate to receive strong support for that position from RAFOM (the Civic Association south of Wilson Blvd.), and from a number of civic-minded individuals and organizations throughout Arlington.

Now
Today, the school is underutilized. It hosts only two programs, the delightful Mongolian School* program on Saturdays, and a once a year ‘holiday fiesta’ for our low-income families. Otherwise the Wilson School is unavailable for adult education or other community use. Also, the playfield is largely unusable.

The Current Proposal
APS proposes to build a new school on the property and to provide a functional playing field. Detail is lacking, but below I provide my early take on what we, the nearby residents, should regard as positive about this proposal; what we should regard as objectionable; and what we need answers about.

Pluses
The most positive feature of the new APS proposal is that it uses the Wilson site appropriately, for education. Parents of students will form a powerful lobby to assure that developed and recreation space are optimized. The community would gain meeting space, adult education space, and both outdoor and indoor recreation space. For way way too long we’ve not had a playfield in our community. Here’s a chance to get one.

Minuses
The Wilson School is an historic building. A new building will likely possess little of the charm, and little if any of the history.
The proposed new middle school would be many times the size and height of the current Wilson School. It would add substantial density affecting traffic, parking, views, etc. This would be the first ‘urban school’ in Arlington, and in my experience, APS staff does a horrible job the first time they tackle anything. We will do ourselves and incoming students a great service if we sharply question this project before it is ‘set in concrete.’

Unknowns / Questions we should raise early on, before they become issues
What happens to our pedestrian path, sitting area, small playground, and basketball court? It’s not clear. I understand that the future of these existing green/recreation areas will be discussed in a separate process, the West Rosslyn Area Planning Study (WRAPS). It might be a good idea to ask that study to examine whether the Wilson Firestation should be replaced at its current location, or whether it might be better to use that land for additional playspace for the very large school planned next door.
The new school will, inevitably, schedule some activities outside normal school hours. Which school resources (gym, meeting space, educational space, playfield) will be available for community use, and when will they be available?
It would also be a good idea to decide if we, the nearby residents, want the playfield to be available for use after dark.

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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 28, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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March 17, 2014

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

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

wintershelter building2
Dear County Board members:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Reeder
winter shelter building

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February 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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June 23, 2013

Arlington Public School Board decides to sell the Wilson School in Rosslyn

Development — @ 4:45 pm

wilson school photo2APS Board decides to sell the Wilson School
by Mark Antell, longtime community advocate for Wilson School

Editor’s note–another version of this article was published on the website of Arlington Preservation.

On June 18, the Arlington Public School Board unanimously approved a ‘letter of intent’ to sell Wilson School and Playfield to Penzance Properties (owners of the CVS building next door). As best I can tell, no citizen advocate was aware that this was an agenda item for the June 18 meeting. One had to ‘drill down’ into the web agenda to see any mention at all of Wilson School. So, in a single action the School Board abandoned its own policy on Wilson without effective notice and therefore without a single peep from the public. I’m not sure if the horrible notification was due to APS staff incompetence, or if APS Board members purposely avoided facing citizens that they’d assured, with words and smiles, that the issue was not yet settled*.
At the bottom of this report see documentation of APS Board positions on Wilson.

A few weeks prior, Arlington County staff presented a proposed “Wilson School Special Planning Study” to several civic association leaders. The name of their project has changed to the “Western Rosslyn Development Plan” but the message is the same. I provide a link to the proposed plan below. The County proposal is similar in most respects to a development plan for Wilson that APS put forward … and then withdrew about 7 years ago due to citizen dissatisfaction. Special interests never sleep. If their eyes are closed, it’s because they’re scheming. I provide my review of the County proposal follows immediately below:

- The study area covers the Wilson School and playfield, the Rosslyn Fire Station and parking lot, the Rosslyn Heights Park (tot-lot and basketball court), the path that connects North Rosslyn to Wilson, plus the committed affordable Queens Court apartments.
- The proposed plan calls for “at least” 60,000 square ft2 (1.5 acres) of community space. That’s substantially less than what we’ve got now. I’m unaware that this proposal is informed by any evaluation of the availability and need for recreation space in our surrounding community (ie. Rosslyn). Also, the plan takes little note of the recommendation of Arlington’s Historic and Landmark Review Board that the school and playfields are an historic site.
- The plan involves development (probably high and intense) of two thirds of the site.
- There’s no mention of retaining the existing walkway through the property.
- Wilson School is gone gone gone. Maybe we’ll get a plaque.
- The plan includes construction of 200 units of affordable housing, probably via redevelopment of the existing Queens Court apts. However, the plan disregards preserving other highly threatened, nearby affordable housing (particularly the Crestmont and LeMar apts). So the plan countenances destruction of about 150 units of affordable housing to build 200 units.

The affordable housing lobby is engaged big-time in this West Rosslyn Study. I am reminded of the ‘housing project’ advocates of the 1960′s who focused on construction over all other priorities, including housing preservation or the needs of a healthy community.

If you’d like to learn something about Wilson School and why it should be preserved, the absolute best starting point is “Save Wilson School,” a film available on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JChPyzRBnTY

This APS board decision should be a wakeup call to civic- minded members of our community that our Arlington governance has lost it’s way in the darkness of secret negotiations and deals.

Links:
-Approved motion to sell Wilson at the June 18, 2013, APS Board meeting

http://www.boarddocs.com/vsba/arlington/Board.nsf/files/98T65N13474A/$file/New%20Business%20-%20Motion%20061813.pdf

-Minutes of the January 31, 2008 APS Board meeting (see pages 6 and 7)

http://www.apsva.us/cms/lib2/VA01000586/Centricity/Domain/176/013108mi.pdf

-Western Rosslyn Development Plan website:

http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/CPHD/planning/studies/page89886.aspx

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January 9, 2013

Housing authority: Ten good reasons to support it in Arlington County in 2013

Why Arlington Needs a Housing Authority

Virginia law provides housing authorities with unique powers to help preserve affordable housing. Unlike Alexandria and Fairfax County, Arlington doesn’t have one. Please sign the petition to place a referendum on the ballot next November asking Arlington voters to approve a housing authority. Here’s why:

1. Preserve Existing Affordable Units
Since 2000 more than two-thirds of Arlington’s affordable rental units have disappeared. The Arlington Housing Authority will reverse this trend by purchasing rental properties and keeping them affordable.

2. Provide Housing for Public Employees
Most Arlington firefighters, police and teachers can’t afford to live here. The Housing Authority will set aside housing for public employees to buy or rent. This will make Arlington a better place to live and work.

3. Leverage Money for Affordable Housing
The Housing Authority will leverage money for affordable housing by issuing long-term tax-exempt bonds to finance low income housing.

4. Act as a Land Trust
The Housing Authority will preserve historic apartment complexes and their surroundings.

5. Operate Subsidized Housing Units
The Housing Authority will receive federal funding to build and operate subsidized housing.

6. Consolidate Low Income Housing Programs
County housing staff are now scattered among a lot of agencies. Under the Housing Authority, staff will report to one voluntary board of directors appointed by County Board. This will assure a unified approach to public housing.

7. Condemn Substandard Housing
The Arlington Housing Authority can condemn, acquire and renovate substandard properties slated for demolition or redevelopment, saving paying tenants from eviction.

8. Qualify for HUD Loans and Grants
The Housing Authority will qualify for federal loans and grants not available to Arlington’s existing non-profit housing providers. HUD provides extensive funds for U.S. housing authorities.house_sketch

9. Provide Economies of Scale
The Housing Authority will either contract directly or negotiate with existing non-profits to purchase and/or renovate properties at the most affordable price.
10. Advocate for Affordable Housing
The Arlington Housing Authority will advocate for affordable housing on a par with schools, recreation centers and libraries.

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