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.

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