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Recognizing Affordable Housing

Financing, renovations, neighborhood involvement help bring four housing awards to Arlington.

For Lewis Bromberg, the struggle to retain affordable housing in a booming real estate market isn’t just about buildings and financing plans. It’s about how to treat a neighbor.

As president of the Waverly Hills Civic Association, Bromberg has heard objections to keeping apartments that are affordable for low-income families in the county’s increasingly upscale neighborhoods. While some Arlingtonians said “Not in my back yard,” Bromberg drummed up support for an effort by the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing to restore Lorcom Arms Apartments last year. He succeeded, getting 98 percent support for the project in his civic association.

Along the way, both APAH and Waverly Hills gained attention in the region – attention that culminated with awards this week.

Nearly 500 guests came to the Fairview Park Marriott in Falls Church for the Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers Awards, honoring housing projects and services for low- and moderate-income residents of the DC area during 2002.

Four of those awards went to groups in Arlington – three honoring work on Lorcom Arms, a 40-unit apartment building on North Woodrow Street in the Waverly Hills neighborhood of North Arlington.

LAST YEAR, APAH completed a massive renovation of the building, providing air conditioning, computers and Internet access for resident, keeping the garden-style apartments from being demolished and upgraded to expensive luxury housing.

The renovation earned APAH the award for Best Project in Northern Virginia. United Bank won Financier of the Year honors for providing much of the funding for APAH’s work on Lorcom Arms.

Douglas Peterson, APAH executive director, called Lorcom Arms a “shining example of what affordable housing can be. No one, when they drive by it, thinks it’s affordable housing,” he said.

Arlington’s success in affordable housing went beyond bricks, mortar and Internet wiring. The Residential Services Program of AHC, Inc. won the Best Community Life Program award for services like pre-kindergarten education, after school mentoring, computer learning centers, teen clubs and senior citizen groups designed to help tenants of affordable housing units become self-sufficient.

Waverly Hills Civic Association won Nonprofit Friend of the Year, the first time a civic association in the area received such an award.

Dick Herbst, a member of APAH’s board of directors, remembers projects in other neighborhoods, where residents shuddered at the thought of affordable units nearby. The experience with Waverly Hills was different. “They were pleased to hear we were coming in to renovate,” he said.

APAH board members cultivated that relationship, making changes to the property that addressed neighborhood concerns. “Something as simple as adding a few extra parking spaces meant a great deal to the community,” said Herbst.

NONPROFIT DEVELOPERS, like APAH and AHC, face an uphill battle when competing for valuable land with private developers and real estate trusts, which can often finance new projects quickly.

Funding projects like Lorcom Arms takes a more involved process, said Scott Ritter, United Bank senior vice president. “To get these projects financed, it takes public and private money coming together,” he said.

APAH’s reputation for well-managed properties made the prospect more appealing though. “It was just a good opportunity for the bank—a good property in a good location,” said Ritter.

Each successful property and each award adds to APAH’s visibility in financial circles, and increases the likelihood of securing funding for future affordable housing development, Ritter said.

APAH’s newest property is Columbia Grove, a 210-unit apartment complex currently being renovated and scheduled for a grand re-opening this fall.