Securing Affordable Housing in Arlington

Securing Affordable Housing in Arlington

County Board approves $6 million loan to save nearly 300 affordable housing units.

As affordable housing stock dwindles in the region, the main loss is market rate affordable housing (MARKS). These are homes that are affordable to those in Arlington making less than 60 percent of area median income. They are disappearing. About 14,400 have been lost since 2000 due to rent increases, condo conversions and redevelopment. But on Monday night at a County Board meeting, approval of a $6 million loan to the Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF) means staving off the loss of 294 MARK units and converting them into committed affordable housing.

The proposal was met with overwhelming support from the board, though also with a few reservations about how the project would proceed after approval.

The project acquires the Park Shirlington apartments along 31st Street S, just north of I-395. The total project cost is $72 million, $66 million of which is the cost of purchase, $3 million in acquisition closing costs, $1.5 million in capital reserves and $770,000 in debt reserves. The $6 million AHIF loan helps the project secure the rest of the funding mostly from loans from Citibank and Candeur Group. All 294 units in the project will be affordable to residents at up to 80 percent of area median income.

“Arlington County is experiencing affordable housing crisis,” said Michelle Winters, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Housing Solutions. “Park Shirlington is at risk of becoming another loss. County is right to be preserving this kind of acquisition.”

However, Winters expressed concerns about the project’s future costs. In the presentation, staff said the project will likely require further AHIF funding in the future for a second phase of work on the site, though a cost projection was premature. Winters argued that with so many other affordable housing projects in line for funding, it would be unfair for this new project to cut ahead, though she said the competition underscored the need for greater AHIF funding.

The County Board expressed agreement with Winters.

“I have questions about the process going forward,” said County Board Chair Jay Fisette. “We’d love to move everyone to the top of the list but that’s not possible. As staff reviews this with all the competing interest in mind, the board will be looking hard at that.”

County Board member Katie Cristol, while expressing excitement and whole-hearted support for the project, had concerns about the way the project was presented out-of-cycle. Affordable housing projects typically compete for funding in an annual cycle, but given the large number of units at risk and the time-sensitive nature of the option to buy, staff initiated an out-of-cycle funding process. The staff report notes that this may reduce the levels of AHIF funding that might have been otherwise available during the in-cycle budget approval process.

But despite these concerns, the County Board unanimously approved the loan.

“Without the National Foundation for Affordable Housing Solutions, it’s highly likely all of these buildings would have been demolished by somebody else and something like very high, expensive townhouses,” said Fisette. “And for that, we thank you.”