Category: Housing

ADUs Better than Long Commutes for Recycled Tenants

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

I generally support the loosening of regulations on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) to compensate for the dwindling supply of market rate affordable housing throughout the County.

As a tenant in one of the few remaining affordable garden apartments in Westover Village, I welcome the prospect of moving to an ADU as opposed to a flat in an outlying suburb once my building is demolished. I suspect that a lot of homeowners with limited income or uncertain employment would also welcome the prospect of a tenant on the premises to help with the mortgage.

Nevertheless I share the concerns of Suzanne Sundburg, who is critical of allowing ADUs to be constructed within 1 foot of an interior lot line. Said Suzanne in a recent email blast:

“These units can be used for short-term rental (aka Airbnb) as well as long-term rental. Exterior ADUs can be constructed within 1 foot of a shared property line — potentially closer to a neighbor’s dwelling than to the owner’s main dwelling. The result is an enhanced economic incentive to increase impervious surfaces accompanied by the loss of both green space and mature tree canopy (the remains of which is largely concentrated on single-family lots).”

The prospect of loss of privacy and increased runoff due to reduction of setbacks is likely to engender opposition to the loosened ADU regulations among single family homeowners. Add to that the fact that no impact analysis of loosened ADU regulations is publicly available.

Without a more restrictive interior lot setback requirement and an honest assessment of the impacts on streets, parking, green space and school enrollment. I don’t think the regulation is ready for prime time. I hope staff presents an impact analysis at the public hearing scheduled for this item and is prepared to negotiate it with homeowners.

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. (more…)

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. (more…)

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). (more…)

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. (more…)

Affordable Housing Master Plan Is Unaffordable

The Arlington Affordable Housing Master Plan (AHMP) has admirable goals, principal among them that: “Arlington County shall have an adequate supply of housing available to meet community needs.”

The question is whether constructing 15,800 CAFs in the next 25 years is feasible and affordable. If not, then the plan should be scrapped.

AHMP is predicated on the assumption that densification reduces housing costs. Yet long time civic activist Suzanne Sundburg has demonstrated that densification has just the opposite effect.

Pointing to the fact that the 3,000 CAFs constructed in the past decade have not met the loss of more than 13,000 market rate affordable units since 2000, she described the situation in a recent letter to County Board with the following analogy.

“No matter how fast a dog runs, it can’t catch its own tail. And using “bonus” and other density to add CAFs works the same way. More density 1) inflates land values, 2) raises housing prices, and 3) destroys MARKs at a faster rate than CAFs can be added. Doing more of the same on a larger scale and expecting a different result isn’t a ‘plan’ but it is a good definiton for ‘insanity.’”

So much for feasibility. Then there is the question of cost. While the plan itself provides no cost estimate, you can guesstimate the annual cost using some available numbers:

• new CAF construction—$58.2 million per year, discounted to reflect the payback of existing CAF construction loans
(632 units per year x $100,000 per unit less $5 million per year AHIF loan payback);

• average annual rent subsidy for new CAF residents–$17.3 million
(632 units added annually x $7,000 average subsidy x .30 proportion subsidized*325)/25 ;

• annual school subsidy–$21.3 million
($20,000 per student x 1,064 new students per year,
472 CAF units for new county residents per year and CAF student generation factor of .8;
8,569 new market rate units and market rate student generation factor of .08, i.e. 472*.8+8569*.08=1064 );

• School construction outlay for one 725 seat elementary school per year–$50 million;

The total–$146.8 million per year exclusive of transportation and other impacts–is simply unaffordable. The fact that the County is trying to sell this plan without a price tag should send a message to the voters—Caveat Emptor–let the buyer beware!

Voters should instead lobby for Sundburg’s recommended solution to the housing crisis:

1. Stop building CAFs. Private developers can build units more cheaply than can the county, so limit new construction to onsite affordable units in market-rate developments.
Using the RSMeans online QuickCost Estimator tool, the cost in Arlington to construct a 6-story, 180,000 square foot apartment building with 200 units ranges from $24 million to $30 million, or $135,00 to $170,000 per unit.

By contrast Arlington CAFs’ recent per-unit construction costs have ranged from over $250,000 (Arlington Mill) to over $270,000 (The Springs), without land acquisition costs. According to GMU’s 2014 Assessment of Arlington’s affordable housing program and policies, the CAF financing gap is increasing. The average estimated cost of $85,000–$100,000 per unit—the amount that we must finance using local dollars—will only grow larger based on the AHMP’s focus on producing units at 60% AMI, a higher percentage of family-size units, and locating CAFs in more expensive areas like the R-B corridor.

2. Redirect AHIF dollars to purchase the few remaining MARKs. According to the recent Development Forum presentation (see slide 28), there were only 3,437 MARKs left countywide (as of 2013) that are affordable to households earning less than 60% AMI. This would give us a better chance of preserving what remains and protect those already living in Arlington. Pursuing an unachievable target (adding 12,363 new CAFs) to make up for historic losses means that we are much more likely to lose all the remaining MARK housing. Focus limited resources on what can actually be saved and those who are actually living here right now rather than the many who want to move here.

3. Reallocate AHIF funds to expand housing grants, because unlike CAF rentals, housing grants can be targeted to current Arlington residents (with stronger oversight than is permitted/required under the HUD Section 8/Housing Choice Voucher program). Currently, 80% of housing grant funds are used to subsidize the rent of very low income elderly, disabled and families who live in Arlington. These CAF residents pay 40% of their income (if they have any) for housing. Shifting the use of taxpayer funds from construction to rent subsidies could enable Arlington to provide more support to those in greatest need who are already living in our community today.

4. Encourage developer construction of on-site affordable units rather than off-site construction or contributions to AHIF— to guarantee a more equitable geographic distribution of units. Rather than concentrating affordable units in certain buildings or areas through AHIF-funded construction of new CAFs, this method guarantees that new CAFs will be dispersed amongst all the new buildings coming online countywide—and at an overall lower cost per unit.

5. Broaden the focus of housing efforts to include a greater emphasis on aging-in-place/supportive housing. Return the real estate tax deferral/relief program for the elderly and disabled to the Commissioner of the Revenue, who will expand the program to a greater number of eligible seniors.

Include more strategies to address supportive or group housing for those residents with severe mental or physical impairment, including the increasing number of autistic children who will not be able to live independently once they reach adulthood.

6. Perform a comprehensive fiscal impact analysis of the plan including its impact on schools (e.g. the students generated by all the market-rate housing needed to produce/preserve affordable units). Failing to provide realistic cost projections (with the exception of general fund revenue needed for AHIF) borders on malfeasance and is hardly a recipe for success, if the true goal is preserving affordable housing.

7. Acquire more public land to meet the needs of a growing population. Parkland isn’t a luxury but a necessity. Without it we are building slums not communities.

In sum the AHMP is a political ploy to make people feel good as they are being recycled out of the county. It solves a political problem by papering over the gentrification that continues apace.

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