Historic Designation for Westover Put On Hold

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on May 19, 2018.

I am speaking on my own behalf as a Westover resident and one of at least two dozen tenants who were recently evicted from two garden apartments on 10th Road to make way for more luxury townhouse development.

On May 16, 2018 in response to a petition submitted by Arlington resident John Reeder in June, 2016, the Arlington Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board (AHALRB) met to decide whether to grant local historic designation for greater Westover garden apartments. Despite majority support for historic designation and two years to consider Reeder’s petition, the Board adopted a motion put by the chair to defer a decision on advice of County staff.

While this decision is disappointing, it is not surprising as Arlington’s historic footprint has all but disappeared. In historic Jamestown, Charlottesville, Georgetown, and DC whole neighborhoods are off limits to redevelopment. Even Donald Trump got into the act, undertaking a masterful renovation of DC’s historic Old Postal Pavilion in 2016. Not so Arlington. Continue reading

Arlington Housing Investment Fund Trumps Other Vital Programs

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on April 3,2018.

The County Manager’s proposed budget calls for closing a $20.5 million gap with $9.3 million in expenditure reductions, $6.6 million in increased taxes and fees, and $3.9 million in savings.

While I applaud the move to streamline operations, this budget lays an ax to a whole slew of County programs, some of which are critical to County operations. Continue reading

Housing Conservation Districts: the Solution to Ongoing Demolitions

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on December 16, 2017.

I support County staff’s proposal to create a Housing Conservation District (HCD) consisting of the remaining affordable neighborhoods in the County, as well as the incentives provided to preserve the garden apartments therein. Continue reading

Landlords Demolish Affordable Housing Faster Than County Can Paper It Over

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on October 21, 2017.

A report submitted by County staff to the Housing Commission proposes to amend the General Land Use Plan (GLUP), the Zoning Ordinance and the Affordable Housing Master Plan (AHMP) to create Housing Conservation Districts (HCDs) that provide incentives to landlords to preserve the market rate affordable housing within those districts.

Among the incentives are:

  1. awarding bonus density for additions, infill, partial redevelopment, and redevelopment of properties with affordable units;
  2. awarding a partial property rehabilitation tax exemption on the value of improvements to rehabbed properties for up to ten years; and
  3. changing the zoning ordinance to require special exception use permits to construct townhouse developments within HCDs.

The presentation indicates an aggressive implementation schedule with final Board approval in July, 2018.

This plan looks great on paper. The problem is it’s just that—it papers over the elimination of the remaining market rate affordable housing in the County. As fast as staff moves to salvage affordable units, landlords move faster to tear them down.

Just last week I learned that four more Westover properties are slated for demolition and redevelopment. Meanwhile a petition to preserve the historic Westover Village community from further demolitions has languished for almost a year with the Arlington Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board (AHALRB).

This is no accident. County records indicate that the sale price of the three Westover garden apartments demolished in 2013 was $4 million. The total sale price of the 20 luxury town homes that replaced them was $16.8 million dollars or more than 4 times the value of the original properties.

Not only did the developer made a killing on flipping these properties, but the County has profited handsomely in the form of increased real estate tax revenue.

With tax windfalls like this to be garnered from gentrification, the County itself has no real incentive to stop it. Representing otherwise is misleading to those who will be forced out of their homes in the next round of evictions.

PRESS RELEASE: Demolitions Ongoing in Westover Village

August 7, 2017

I’m an Independent candidate in the race for an open seat on County Board in November, and I seek your endorsement.

Among the principal issues facing the County is the steady loss of market rate affordable housing. This week one more Westover Village apartment building was demolished to make way for luxury town homes.

Next week the garden apartment next door to it will be leveled. This brings to 9 the number of garden apartments in Westover Village leveled since 2013.

In 2016 the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) purchased eight apartment buildings housing 68 units to stave off more demolitions. But more than half the tenants in those buildings were evicted because they exceeded 60% of area median income of about $46,000 for one person. So according to APAH’s strict income guidelines, they had to go.

In a fact sheet published in 2016 APAH estimated that there were 450 remaining affordable units in Westover. Subtract from that the 68 it salvaged and the 16 units just demolished, and there are maybe 375 units left.

Since APAH has essentially maxed out its debt capacity in Westover, the only way to prevent the demolition of the remaining units is local historic designation, a petition for which was submitted to the Arlington Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board (AHALRB) over a year ago.

At a public hearing in November, 2016, Westover single family homeowners opposed local historic designation. It didn’t matter that the neighborhood is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places, nor that they can reap federal tax benefits from renovations to their homes as a result of such designation. They were outraged at restrictions it would place on exterior alterations to their homes. Some even argued that the apartments are an eyesore that should be demolished to make way for upscale housing and guarantee more profits for Westover businesses.

AHALRB attempted to appease homeowners by narrowing the boundaries of the proposed local historic district to the apartments, and it tasked County staff to study the matter, but since then the review board has done nothing. No wonder.

County records indicate that the sale price of the three Westover garden apartments demolished in 2013 was $4 million. The total sale price of the 20 luxury town homes that replaced them was $16.8 million dollars or more than 4 times the value of the original properties.

Not only has the developer made a killing on these properties, but the County has profited in the form of increased real estate tax revenue. In fact a net present value analysis that assumes a current tax rate of $1 per $100 of assessed valuation, an annual effective tax increase of 3 percent, and a current APR of 2 percent, put the tax revenue accruing to the County over fifty years at about $8 million.

If the County realizes the same rate of return on the demolition of the remaining Westover garden apartments, it will reap over $100 million in increased tax revenue over the lifetime of their replacements. So what’s not to like about that?

For one thing, there’s a fairness issue. A lot of longstanding, hardworking, responsible tenants are now facing long commutes as a result of displacement from Arlington County.

For another thing, there’s a public health issue. The most recent demolitions were put on hold when it was determined that both buildings were insulated with asbestos, making demolition hazardous for anyone in the nearby.

And there’s an economic issue. While the speculative prices commanded by the developers of Westover Village might be attractive to high income wage earners, they drive up assessments overall, spelling hardship and possible foreclosure for people on fixed incomes, single heads of households, and those who find themselves out of work.

This should be cause for concern to most government workers, given the imminent downsizing of the County’s biggest employer, the federal government, should Trump’s proposed budget cuts be enacted.

Finally the ongoing evictions in Westover undermine the Arlington’s Affordable Housing Master Plan (AHMP), the primary purpose of which is to preserve the County’s affordable housing.

If elected, I am going to call upon AHALRB to expedite consideration of petitions for local historic designation to preserve Arlington’s remaining affordable housing and stabilize Arlington’s housing market.

If elected, I also pledge to:

  • Seek ongoing tax relief for residents and businesses and stop the exodus of federal agencies from Arlington.
  • Preserve green space and emphasize basic services like: streets, schools, libraries and public safety.
  • Promote transparency by requiring publication of official documents at least 72 hours before board and commission meetings.
  • Provide a voice on County Board for all taxpayers.

As a 13-year Westover resident and long-time civic activist–with a Ph.D. in political science and service as a Congressional Fellow–I have both the experience and independence to promote these reforms.

Arlington currently has one Independent on County Board, who is well respected among County residents. Let’s make it two!!!

To find out more about my campaign, visit my website. Better still you can make a difference by endorsing my candidacy.

PRESS RELEASE: Evictions Ongoing in Westover

Comments at County Board Meeting on May 20, 2017.

As a Westover Village tenant since 2004, I find it ironic that Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH), which portrays itself as a champion of affordable housing, now comes before you asking permission to evict half the tenants whose buildings it saved from probable demolition in 2016. Continue reading

Fillmore Garden Apartments Tenants Being Recycled

In 2015 Arlington County Board adopted the Affordable Housing Master Plan (AHMP), the purpose of which was to provide a roadmap to increase the supply of affordable housing in the County.

One of the tools to accomplish this goal was Transfer of Density Rights (TDR)s, whereby a landlord at one location cedes his by-right development potential to another developer in the same community. Continue reading

Westover Tenants May Be Displaced from APAH Properties

As a Westover tenant since 2004, I welcome APAH’s decision to purchase 8 of Westover’s remaining garden apartments with two caveats:

1) APAH CEO Nina Janopaul advised me that she tried unsuccessfully to purchase some of the recently flipped properties in 2014. She was blown off by the owner of the properties. I believe that APAH would be more effective were it operating as the acquisition agent for a housing authority with the clout to play hardball with landlords.

2) I am concerned that APAH may evict tenants earning over 60 percent of area median income (AMI). Continue reading

Westover Neighborhood Recycling In Progress

As many of you know, Evergreene Homes demolished three historic Westover garden apartment buildings in 2013 to make way for luxury townhouses. Developers are at it again. Soon four more 8-10 unit apartment buildings will be demolished to make way for another clutch of million dollar town homes between 11th Street and 11th Road off Washington Boulevard. Continue reading