Board Approves $1.5 Million for Housing Assistance

By Mark Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Arlington County Board on Saturday approved $1.5 million in rental assistance for tenants of the Buckingham Village apartment complex who, until recently, faced displacement.

The allocation is the second of three phases in the county's plan to provide affordable housing options for Buckingham tenants.

The World War II-era complex at George Mason and North Pershing drives is home to about 1,000 low- and moderate-income residents who pay $825 to $1,500 a month in rent. It was slated to be demolished and replaced by upscale townhouses until the county stepped in last year.

In June, the County Board approved a sweeping plan to preserve the complex. Under the plan, the county will spend $32.1 million to purchase a section of the complex called Village 3, with 400 apartment units, to maintain it as rental housing and convert it into a historic district, which will make it eligible for state and federal tax credits.

The county will spend an additional $14.8 million to buy adjacent land for a park and for street improvements, $7 million to build 100 units of affordable housing and $2 million for park improvements. Some of those expenses will be recouped from tax credits, federal funding and other sources, county officials said, and the county's actual cost could be $44 million.

Most importantly for residents, the plan maintains affordable housing and will allow tenants to remain at Buckingham or nearby. In exchange, the property owner, a partnership of Paradigm Development and UBS, was given the right to build more units on one of the parcels that required a site permit.

The redevelopment package included an affordable housing fund allocation to help households earning up to 60 percent of the area's median income, or about $57,000 a year for a family of four. Saturday's action aims to help families that earn more than that percentage of the area median income -- too much to qualify for tax credits -- but that would still be spending a significant portion of their incomes on rent for market-rate units. For example, an affordable one-bedroom unit could rent for $1,000 a month, compared with a market-rate rent of $1,650, said David Cristeal, development specialist coordinator with the county's Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development.

"One of the main goals was to minimize and prevent displacement," Cristeal said. "The challenge of the tax credit system is it has an income ceiling."

The $1.5 million allocation is to the Committed Affordable Non-Tax Credit Unit program, which will provide 60 affordable units at Ballston Park at Historic Buckingham Village for households whose annual incomes fall between 61 and 80 percent of the area's median income, or between $57,000 and $76,000 for a four-person household.

"To try to hold the community together, which is the key point, we came up with this CANTU program, which is really designed to provide assistance to that band of people, many of whom are just marginally over that income level," said Stan Sloter, president of Paradigm Development.

Added Cristeal: "We expect this program will help keep tenants from being displaced that otherwise would have been displaced. If it's a family that has a child in a public school, they get to keep attending that public school."

The affordable units that will be available at Ballston Park will come from the 279 market-rate units currently in that complex, in addition to 233 affordable units not affected by the subsidy. The 60 units will be available to non-tax credit income qualified households for up to six years, which Cristeal said is the average tenancy, or possibly longer. The $1.5 million is expected to cover the six-year cost of the CANTU program and will come from the affordable housing investment fund.

Subsidies will vary based on household: A household earning closer to 60 percent of the area median income will receive a larger subsidy than a household earning close to the 80 percent mark. To provide flexibility, the rent for all subsidized households will be 30 percent of their respective incomes.

The first phase of the county's plan was $7 million to build 100 units of affordable housing. The next phase will involve renovating 140 units in the Village 3 section of Buckingham.

Sloter said tenants could begin moving into the Ballston Park units as early as next week.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company