The old Columbia Heights apartment complex just north of Columbia Pike is the latest success story in the ongoing revitalization of one of Arlington's main corridors.
Now known as Monterey Apartments, the 109 units of the three-story, tree-lined, garden-style community have been undergoing heavy-duty renovations for the past year. Residents began living in almost-new units in April.
Yesenia Marmol and her sister-in-law, Dora Marmol, both lived at the complex in the mid-1990s. Dora Marmol and her family bought a condo, but her sister-in-law recently moved back to Monterey to be near work. She found out about the renovations when the new management called and invited her to move back.
Of the apartments in years back, Dora Marmol said: "It was awful. It's 100 percent nicer now."
It's a better place to live not only because of the structural improvements, but also because of changes in the neighborhood, the relatives said.
"It's only going to get better now with those new expensive condos they're building," said Dora Marmol, gesturing toward a nearby construction site.
"There was some gang problems before, but I haven't seen any of that this time," Yesenia Marmol said. She sees at least one police cruiser every night driving past the community. She doesn't hear late-night yelling anymore or see broken bottles littering the street.
Renovation on the five structures built in 1948 is about two-thirds complete, said property manager Margaret Hess. Work is on schedule to finish up before the end of the year, according to Robin Batra, president of Silverwood Management.
The property retains its pedestrian scale and suburban feel. It's nestled into a neighborhood of other garden-style rental communities. A few blocks away, the apartment buildings give way to townhouses and single-family homes to the west, north and east, while the shops, restaurants and businesses of Columbia Pike sit just a block to the south.
The best part of the renovation for residents on moderate budgets is that all of the units will rent as affordable housing. This means that residents earning up to 60 percent of the area's median income may apply. The income levels, adjusted per household, range from $36,450 for one person to $60,540 for a family of six. The maximum number of residents per unit depends on the number of bedrooms; no more than two residents per bedroom are allowed.
Overcrowding contributed to the decline of the property, which was one of the most run-down complexes in Arlington. "It was appalling," Batra said of the vermin-infested, garbage-strewn interiors. The buildings had never been renovated; cabinets and fixtures were from the 1940s.
Silverwood Associates of Leesburg bought the property for about $10 million last year from a District real estate development company, Jess Fisher and Co. "This is definitely the finest product we've built in Arlington County. . . . These are essentially new apartments except for the actual structure of the buildings," said Mark Silverwood, president of Silverwood Associates. This is the fourth affordable housing project Silverwood has undertaken in Arlington and, if the company has its way, not the last.
"We wish there were the opportunity to find more housing to renovate and bring more affordable housing to the community," Silverwood said.
The number of units at the Monterey was reduced from 152 to 109 when two groups of buildings were torn down to make way for the new condominiums Silverwood is building next to the apartments. The condos are being advertised from the $100,000s.
Each renovated rental unit has a heat pump, giving residents their own thermostat and independent temperature regulation. The units have double-pane vinyl windows and new hardwood or carpeted flooring, kitchen cabinets and appliances, bathroom tubs, sinks, tiling, cabinets and plumbing improvements. Each comes pre-wired for high-speed Internet access.
External improvements include new roofs, re-pointed bricks and secure front-entry intercoms. The site will eventually include a parking lot and playground for residents and their children.
Angeles Marin has lived at the complex for five years. When renovations began, she said, she wasn't worried about having to leave because she never even thought about an increase in rent. When she found out the units were to remain affordable and were available only to those who would qualify, she was fairly certain her housekeeping salary would safely put her under the income cap.
Marin said her rent has not changed since she moved into one of the newly renovated one-bedroom units on Greenbriar Street. She is delighted with the new apartment and new location.
The transition between buildings was easy for her because two neighbors from her old unit on Florida Street also moved to the new building. The renovations are helping her to get to know her neighbors even better because they are all experiencing something new together.
"We are a small community. I like it because if something happens, we can help each other," she said.