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September 8, 2013

3,600 apply for 122 new affordable apartments in Arlington

Affordable Housing — @ 1:54 pm

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The Washington Post article below aptly illustrates the acute shortage of rental apartments that persons making under $60,000 can afford in Arlington.
According to the VA Tech Center for Housing Research in 2010 there were 14,000 households (about 28,000 persons) lacking afforable rental housing in Arlington, using the HUD recommendation for maximum housing expenses. Today in 2013, with the rapid rent increses (13 percent in 2012 alone), there are many more, possibly 15,000 to 17,000.

Arlington in 2013 has about 6,500 subsidized units, but probably 16,000 more units are needed, and not just for low income and disabled people, but by many who earn as much as $65,000 for a 4-person family. Landlords and developers are squeezing tenants by raising rents and demolishing modest apartments for luxury ones.

While it is commendable that 122 more units were built, this does nothing really to meet the needs of the over 14,000 families who need to be able to rent an apartment within their budgets.

The Arlington Mill apartments will be rented mainly to people making 60% of the area median income ($64,000 for a family of four); those making only 40% or 50% AMI will not have access to the majority of th 122 units. The Mill units cost about $250,000 each even though Arlington County donated the land to the developer; thus, lower income folks will not qualify to rent these new apartments.

All County Board chairman Tejada can do is mumble platitudes. The county’s current housing assistance program has failed nearly every goal set by the county board over the past ten years.

The Washington Post,
3,600 apply for 122 new Arlington apartments
By Patricia Sullivan, Published: September 6, 2013
In a display of the demand for affordable housing in Northern Virginia, more than 3,600 people have applied for a chance to rent one of 122 new affordable apartments still under construction along Arlington County’s Columbia Pike.
The volume of applicants surprised even the nonprofit developer of the Arlington Mill Residences. Hundreds of people were expected to seek a spot in the complex via lottery, but on the first of four days that the waiting list was open, they began lining up before dawn. By 6 p.m., 949 people had applied.
Nina Janopaul, president and chief executive of nonprofit developer Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, called the outpouring of interest “a case of a dramatic rise in demand for affordable housing in the close-in area.”
The new construction on Columbia Pike, next to a new community center, she said, proved highly desirable.
The increasing cost of living in the inner suburbs, especially in northern Virginia, has taken a significant toll on the number of apartments considered affordable to families. In 2000, about 20,000 of the 35,000 rental apartments in Arlington were ranked as market-rate affordable; now, only 6,000 of the county’s 43,000 rentals are.
Those who lined up early last week for the chance at the new apartments attested to the difficulty of finding affordable rentals.
“I pay $1,600 for a one-bedroom” on the west end of Columbia Pike, said Senait Worku, a coffee shop cashier who works two jobs, as does her husband. “We have lived here seven years, and we want to try for lower rents.”
Among the taxi drivers, computer techs and disabled senior citizens, a pregnant Melkam Tebeje turned up at the rental office with several members of her family.
“We need to have an apartment without paying a lot of money,” she said. An Alexandria grocery store cashier, Tebeje said she can’t save for school because her rent is so high. “If I get one of these [apartments], I can go to school, too, but now I don’t have time because I work two jobs.”
The four-story apartment building, at 901 S. Dinwiddie St. just behind the newly opened Arlington Mill Community Center, will be affordable to people or families earning less than 60 percent of the area’s median income, which would mean a family of four with an income of $64,000 or less could qualify. Most of the apartments have two or three bedrooms. A dozen of the units will be set aside for those with very low incomes, and another dozen are wheelchair-accessible apartments. A wing with eight efficiency units has been set aside for those who are the very hardest to house, such as the homeless, APAH officials said.
APAH’s Janopaul said the high demand is not restricted to Arlington Mill.
“We have a huge waiting list at our Parc Rosslyn [building], but they didn’t apply all at once,” she said.
Local and state governments have been trying to subsidize the creation and preservation of apartments for area residents, because pushing the non-affluent to outer suburbs exacerbates the Washington area’s traffic congestion and because many communities value a mix of people who earn a variety of incomes.
The $31 million Arlington Mill Residences are being financed with an $8.9 million loan from Virginia’s low-income housing finance agency, and with $22 million in federal tax credit housing money from Bank of America. It sits atop a parking garage, built with a loan from Arlington County that’s since been repaid. The property is on land owned by the county and APAH has a discounted 75-year lease.
The demand for the rentals “is amazing, no question about it,” said J. Walter Tejada (D), chairman of the Arlington County Board, who made increasing affordable housing the board’s top priority this year. “At the same time, it doesn’t surprise me. It validates the challenge that we recognize and we have to meet. . . . These are not giveaways. We make loans, we work with developers — this is how we do affordable housing in Arlington.”
Half of all four-person family households in the Washington region this year earned more than $107,500; half earned less, including beginning teachers, police and firefighters, retail employees, construction workers and many professionals. Most are priced out of the home-purchase market and often struggle to find adequate rental housing. The average rent in Arlington last year ranged from $1,422 per month for an efficiency to $2,782 for a three-bedroom unit, the county reported, rising 13 percent from 2011.
Affordable housing advocates say that the situation has been getting worse over the past decade and is now a crisis.
“If you are not safely and decently housed, it’s hard to hold a job, it’s hard to do well in school, and you are more likely to have health issues,” said Michelle Krocker, executive director of the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance.
APAH and its construction partner are still sorting through the applications, entering them into a spreadsheet and determining how many of the 3,600 applicants qualify for the Arlington Mill apartments. The lottery to award the units is expected to be held late next week.

© The Washington Post Company

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