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Buchanan Gardens Reopens as Dedicated Affordable Housing on Columbia Pike

Uncertainty is over for hundreds of low-income residents in rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.

County leaders cut the ribbon at Buchanan Gardens, which will now offer affordable housing to hundreds of residents on Columbia Pike.

County leaders cut the ribbon at Buchanan Gardens, which will now offer affordable housing to hundreds of residents on Columbia Pike. Photo by Michael Lee Pope.

As Pedro Gonzales walks up the stairs to his second-floor apartment at Buchanan Gardens, he beams with pride. This has been his home for the last 22 years, when he emigrated from El Salvador. But when the apartment complex was for sale a few years ago, he and his neighbors became concerned that this rapidly gentrifying stretch of Columbia Pike would no longer have a place for him.

“I like living here because I don’t drive. I take the bus,” said Gonzales as he opens the door to his apartment. “And living here is very good for taking the bus. The bus goes every 15 minutes.”

As he walks into apartment 202, he shows off the new fixtures and the energy-efficient appliances. Outside, the 11-building complex has a new community room and a new playground. That’s because the 111-unit garden apartment complex near Barcroft Elementary School reopened this week after a renovation transforming it into Arlington’s newest affordable housing complex.

“It’s very important for us that this is a project that will support people who are at income levels that are at 50 percent or 60 percent of the median, and some times even lower,” said Susan Dewey, executive director of the Virginia Housing Development Authority. “The bottom line is that this is about the people who live here, and the people who are going to be able to have productive lives because of what our partners have been able to put together.”

THE RENOVATION was created by a partnership between Enterprise Community Partners and the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing. Funding comes from the federal government, the commonwealth of Virginia and Arlington County. U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8) helped secure a $12 million low-income tax credit. Touring the complex during a ribbon-cutting ceremony this weekend, the congressman said that Buchanan Gardens will allow people who already live and work in Arlington to stay here rather than moving to a far-flung community.

“Right now, you need $15 an hour at a minimum for a two-bedroom apartment in Arlington,” said Moran. “That’s just not affordable for people at the minimum wage.”

Buchanan Gardens was built in the 1940s, when Arlington County was experiencing a population boom because of the rapidly expanding federal government. Like many of the garden apartment complexes across Arlington, Buchanan Gardens was constructed to house federal workers and their families. In more recent years, the apartments became an important landmark in the cultural map of the county.

“In the last 30 years, as we became a place of immigration and we have people coming here from all over the world, these became places where people could afford to live,” said Arlington County Board Chris Zimmerman. “They became really important to the kind of diversity that we have now become known for.”

WHEN THAT DIVERSITY was threatened by market forces, Corina Grant wasn’t sure what she was going to do. A native of Guatemala who came to Arlington in 2009, Grant was filled with dread at the prospect of leaving the county because she could no longer afford to live at Buchanan Gardens.

“I wasn’t certain of the future,” said Grand. “I felt very scared because I didn’t want to go anywhere else. I didn’t know the area. And I was close to my son’s school and to my job, so I wanted to stay here.”

Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing already operates about 1,000 committed affordable housing units in the county, so the addition of 111 new units is a substantial addition to the existing stock. The renovation was financed through the federal tax credits, which are administered though the state government. Some private lenders helped finance the deal, and the Arlington County government kicked in money to bridge the gap. After the capital-improvement has been financed, the county government will be subsidizing the rent of tenants who qualify for aid.

“This shows that when people work together, we can make good things happen and live up to our vision that people from all walks of life can live in Arlington,” said County Board member Walter Tejada.