A story on subsidized housing that appeared in The Virginia Weekly of June 22 conveyed the mistaken impression that the Fairlington Citizens Association was against the Beacon housing project proposed for South Arlington. In fact, the Association supported the proposal.
Arlington County may have moved one step closer to solving a problem that has plagued housing officials for years: How to provide housing assistance for the estimated 7,500 low- and moderate-income families who need help and aren't getting it through federal and local subsidy programs.
Ohio real estate developer James D. Klingbeil has applied for a $1.4 million federal grant under Section 8, the major federal housing subsidy program, which would permit 360 of the 1,800 units in the Buckingham apartment complex to be rented to those families.
That announcement was made at a five-hour public hearing last week called to determine whether the County Board should use its power of eminent domain to acquire vacant land owned by Klingbeil and in turn sell it to the Boston-based Beacon Co. to build a 275-unit subsidized housing project. After an hour of complicated debate the board voted not the use eminent domain.
For the past year Beacon has held numerous meetings with county officials and had been trying to buy the vacant land from its previous owner, Gerald Freed, who reportedly refused to sell. Freed said he wanted to sell Paramount Communities - which included Buckingham and Claremont apartments and the two large tracts of vacant land - as a package, which he did, last spring, to Klingbeil for $48 million.
But while negotiating unsuccessfully with Freed and Klingbeil, Beacon secured a commitment of $1.4 million in Section 8 funds for its proposed project. It is that commitment, which expires next month, that Klingbeil is seeking to have transferred to Buckingham, where a substantial renovation will coincide with a substantial rent increase. Many of the apartments in Buckingham are rented by low- and moderate-income tenants, a sizeable number of whom are Vietnamese refugees.
For the past few months local housing officials have been warning the County Board that unless substantial progress is made in assisting low- and moderate-income families, Arlington's federal community development funds could be jeopardized.
"We have not been making any progress at all for housing for low- and moderate-income families," said board member Joseph S. Wholey recently. he noted that for the past three years Arlington has submitted reports to HUD stating that housing for low- and moderate-income families lagged while substantial progress had been made in providing housing for the elderly.
"Thousands of families in Arlington are in housing they can't afford," said Wholey at the hearing. "There are thousands of families who are paying as much as 50 percent of their income in rent." (Under the Section 8 program, a family pays no more than 25 percent of its income in rent. The balance of the rent is paid by the government to the landlord. Should the tenant default, the government is responsible for paying the rent.)
Beacon Vice President Harvey Steinberg told the board, "This project will (give) blue-collar workers affordable housing Arlington." Steinberg said that most of the project would consist of housing for moderate-income families. Under Section 8 guidelines, a four-member family with an annual income under $18,000 is considered eligible for moderate-income housing a family with an income under $11,250 would qualify for low-income housing.
"We are not proposing public housing with all its attendant problems," said Steinberg, whose firm has built a project in Richmond visited by county officials. "You know what you're getting with us - a socially conscious developer with a proven track records. HUD is now moving to cut off funds of those counties which don't meet their (housing) goals."
HUD acting area director Thomas R. Hobbs said, "Proportionality problems exist in each jurisdiction. As far as I know, Arlington funding isn't in jeopardy now."
Klingbeil associate Jerry Vogel said that his firm had no intention of selling the vacant land. Another Klingbeil representative, Frank Stavroff, said hs firm would probably build townhouses on the site.
The recommendation by county planning director Robert Wheeler that the board use its power of eminent domain to acquire the land from Klingbeil if necessary to preserve the Section 8 funds currently committed to Beacon drew fire from some residents in the area.
"We're concerned about low-income housing," said Sebert Kieffer. "We're amazed at the entire proposal. Look at the housing projects in D.C. and Maryland. It does nothing but deteriorate the neighborhood." His remarks were greeted with loud applause.
Fairlington Citizens Association president Allen Gromment said in a letter to the board, "No further Section 8 housing should be considered in South Arlington unless and until the same or a greater number of such units are in place north of Arlington Boulevard where the majority of Arlington's moderately priced rental housing presently exists.".
"Frankly, I'm not disposed to use eminent domain for this project," said board Chairman John W. Purdy. "Besides, the matter will probably be litigated by Klingbeil," a speculation Stavroff later confirmed.
"I think it's more likely that we'll get more housing faster from (Klingbeil)," agreed board member Dorothy T. Grotos. The board then voted not to use eminent domain. The next day Purdy sent a letter to HUD officials expressing strong support for Klingbeil's application. County officials said they expect HUD to approve the funds transfer.
County officials note that even if Klingbeil succeeds in getting Section 8 funds, the county still faces a serious shortage of low- and moderate-income family housing and a number of formidable obstacles.
"The county has been looking for someone to build subsidized housing since 1972M" said planner Tom Parker recently. Beacon was the first developer seriously interested in building a subsidized housing project, he said. Other officials noted that because of greater maintenance costs for family housing, most developers are more interested in building housing for the elderly.
Wholey noted that the scarcity and high cost of land, and the fact that some landowners are holding land for speculation have been major problems in providing subsidized housing. "HUD procedures are rather cumbersome," he added.
"The cost of purchasing land or rehabilitation are so high," said Virginia Peters, executive director of the non-profit Wealey Housing Corporation. "I wish we could find someone who owns a garden apartment and would make a donation as a tax write-off so we could rehabilitate it."
County officials are also concerned about the future of another Klingbeil property, the 500-unit Claremont complex on S. Walter Reed Drive. Claremont houses at least 2,000 people, many of whom are low-income or newly arrived immigrants.
Last week a Klingbeil associate said that Claremont would probably be converted to condominiums in the next few years, a move that would force several thousand low-income residents onto the already glutted Arlington housing market.