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Buckingham Village to Undergo Redevelopment

Low-income residents fear they may have to move out of Arlington to find cheap housing.

After living in her Buckingham Village apartment for 37 years, Marie Weekley will be forced to move out in the coming months, along with more than one hundred other residents.

Starting this week, the Paradigm Development Company will begin mailing notices to residents in the complex’s Village II that they will have to vacate their apartments within 120 days, unless they have children enrolled in local schools.

“It’s hard to think about moving,” Weekley, 88, said. “I want to stay. It’s so convenient.”

It is the beginning of a lengthy redevelopment process that will bring high-priced townhouses to the Buckingham community, but will also lead to the creation of a large number of affordable rental units.

Over the next several years the redevelopment plan will result in the displacement of hundreds of Buckingham residents, spurring fears that many will have to leave Arlington to find cheaper housing.

“Let’s not kid ourselves, this is a very difficult situation,” said County Board member Walter Tejada, who facilitated an emotional, three-hour meeting last week between more than two hundred Buckingham residents and representatives from Paradigm. “Retaining affordable housing continues to get harder and harder…but we have to enter into dialogue [with developers].”

During the meeting, many in the standing-room-only crowd that packed into Lubber Run Community Center criticized the redevelopment plan and stated that they had little interest in moving.

“What are we going to do if we are removed from our apartments,” said Victor Lopez. “We’ve paid our rent on time, and it’s not fair to send us to other places.”

Others in the audience lauded the developers for being candid with residents and taking the time to address residents’ concerns in person.

Demolition of the 84 total apartment units in Village II is due to begin sometime this summer. In their place, 69 townhouses are expected to be constructed.

The buildings are more than 60 years old and are becoming increasingly expensive to maintain, said Paradigm President Stanley Sloter.

Paradigm is working with the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing to relocate those families that must leave their apartments in the coming months. All residents will receive a relocation payment, and on-site assistance will be provided to elderly and disabled tenants, said Paradigm President Stanley Sloter.

Some residents who meet a low-income threshold will most likely be placed in affordable units at the adjacent Ballston Park and Gates of Ballston complexes.

Many of the families will have the option of moving into Buckingham Villages I and III, but those apartment complexes are also scheduled to be renovated, with all residents moving out in 2007, Sloter said.

The 360 apartments that currently comprise Buckingham Villages I and III will be torn down and replaced by nearly 200 townhouses and 530 apartments.

ALMOST 150 OF the new apartments are to be affordable units, meaning that those earning less than 60 percent of the region’s median income will be able to afford the rent. The company is also exploring ways to keep some units below market-rates for families who earn too much to qualify for affordable housing.

“We’re trying to provide quality affordable housing for the residents to come back to,” Sloter said. “Our commitment is sincere.”

Sloter said Paradigm is working to ensure that as many tenants can return as so desire, but admits that most of the families currently living in the apartments are unlikely to be able to afford the new townhouses.

Though audience members praised Paradigm for guaranteeing that a large portion of the new apartments will be affordable, they also lambasted the company for contributing to the exodus of low-income families from Arlington.

“You’re pushing poor people out to Woodbridge,” Steven Belling, who does not live in Buckingham, said to Paradigm representatives during the meeting. “Something has to be done.”

Yet there is little the county can do to stop the process, since Paradigm has the legal right to redevelop its Buckingham property in such a manner.

“I don’t like it anymore than you do,” Tejada told the crowd, three-quarters of which spoke Spanish. “Property rights are sacred in Virginia and localities have very little tools in what they can do.”

The county will continue to work with Paradigm to ensure that as many units as possible will be offered at below-market rates, Tejada said.