For many years now Arlington has been locked in an impossible struggle against a powerful force: its own desirability as a place to live.
In fact, so many people want to live here that the price of housing has spiraled out of reach for all but those in the highest income brackets. Fortunately for Arlington, AHC Inc. has been a dedicated and creative ally in this fight since 1975.
This week, AHC celebrates 30 years of service to the community as a private, non-profit developer ensuring quality, affordable housing for those of all income levels. With a multi-pronged approach, including programs dedicated to home ownership, home improvement and affordable rent, AHC has helped thousands of Arlington residents over its three decades.
WALTER WEBDALE, the president and CEO of AHC calls the housing situation in Arlington an "affordability crisis."
The numbers back Webdale’s claim. The 2006 Rent and Vacancy Survey performed in February found that the average rent for an apartment in Arlington County ranges from $1,123 for an efficiency, to $2,160 for a three-bedroom unit. According to testimony by Andrew Keyes, chairman of AHC, at a budget committee in March, the median sales price for a single-family home in Arlington is more than $620,000.
Webdale credits AHC's remarkable success and longevity to its discipline and commitment. "We have stuck to our mission," he said. "We act like an efficient, effective business."
AHC has played an important role in Arlington's affordable housing strategy since it is one of the only organizations with a capacity to build large projects, said County Board member Jay Fisette. "It's an anniversary worth celebrating," he said. "They just seem to get better each year, and bigger because the problem gets larger."
Susan Retz, a member of the Arlington County Housing Advisory Commission who served as a member of AHC’s board of directors from 1980-1982, has been impressed by the flexibility and creativity shown of the organization. AHC has a knack for "finding very ingenious ways to provide affordable housing."
She also praised the inventive strategies employed by AHC to both preserve existing housing as well as to work with the county on development rights and zoning laws to keep down the cost of new projects, despite a dearth of available land.
A good example is the Woodbury Park project. According to Webdale, AHC located an existing building with a large parking lot for residents. AHC then worked with the county to get the lot rezoned so that they could build two, nine-story complexes on the land, adding a garage below to take care of parking needs.
AHC'S PROPERTY management arm rents about half of the units in the new buildings for standard market prices and uses the profits to subsidize affordable rents for the others.
AHC has an array of programs which, according to Retz, "addresses the whole gamut of housing." AHC offers a variety of ways to help families buy homes, but also takes a wider view of the situation by offering loans and grants to help qualified homeowners renovate their properties. This serves to increase property values and improve neighborhoods, AHC officials said.
The nonprofit also runs a very successful resident services program. With seven on-site community centers located around Arlington, AHC has many offerings for youth, including summer camps, tutoring, preschool and an after-school program. The centers also provide adults with computer training and ESL classes.