Condominium and cooperative conversion are quite the fashion in Arlington, but some of these projects are getting all dressed up with nowhere to go, according to a report from County Manager A. H. Griffin.
The county has lost 26 percent of the rental units in existence 10 years ago through conversion, according to the housing status report. Converted units are going vacant, however, because of the slack home-buying market.
"In spite of high financing costs, the conversion trend has not slowed down in Arlington, and it does not appear that it is going to slow down," the report said.
It noted that five complexes have been converted this year, including two with low-cost housing: the 212-unit Park Glen complex on S. Arlington Mill Dr. and the 114-unit Highland Hall on S. Glebe Rd. "Park Glen is one of the largest-low income complexes left in the county," the report continued."It is anticipated that families with children residing there will have a difficult time relocating within the county."
But conversion is one thing and sales is another. Some developers are getting the required variances and approvals from county and state real estate commissions for their projects, but they are revising their plans and continuing to rent the properties, or they are slowing their marketing.
At the Arlington Tenant-Landlord Commission's September meeting, Buckingham Venture announced its withdrawal from the sales market of a planned second phase of 224 cooperative apartment conversions at Buckingham Village.
The owners of Highview Park, which, like Buckingham, was converted in 1981, "gave the tenants the required notice but did not require the tenants to leave and did not market any of the units," the status report said.
Since the report was issued in August, The Homestead, a development of 102 middle-cost units, also has "put its operations on hold," according to Fran Lunney of the county housing staff, who is executive director for the tenant-landlord commission.
Her report also noted that "the owners of Adams House [a 65-unit rental apartment complex on N. Adams Street] had ceased marketing activities and are currently rerenting units, while the developer of Arlington House was both selling and renting."
Susan Ives of Ives and Associates, who handles public relations for Stein & Co., the Chicago-based developer of Buckingham, said that of the 372 apartments in the first phase of cooperative conversion, 252 had been sold and, of those, 239 settled.
In phase two, 13 have been sold to former tenants but not settled; 27 renters moved to Glebe Road Apartments, which is managed separately from the rest of Buckingham Village; 26 moved elsewhere in Buckingham; 37 renters moved elsewhere in Arlington, 43 left the county and 78 did not report.
Asked whether remarketing of phase two is anticipated, Ives responded, "You bet." New renters will be offered insiders' prices to buy, and the developer will follow Arlington guidelines on notice, right of first refusal, relocation assistance and special provisions for elderly or handicapped tenants, she said.
According to Edward Brandt, the county's housing section chief, a state law that took effect July 1 does not require certain provisions in the county guidelines -- conservation of 20 percent of the units for handicapped and elderly and a three-year controlled lease -- to be followed if property, like the Buckingham, was converted before that date.
Susan Korfanty, president of the Buckingham Tenants Association said, "We're happy it went back rental." She and her husband have rented their two-bedroom apartment in an unconverted area of Buckingham Village since 1975 and pay about $300 a month, far below the figure of $430 that the county's Department of Community Affairs gives as the average for Arlington.
Ives quoted rates for phase-two apartments as starting at $360 a month for a one-bedroom unit and $450 for a two-bedroom, pointing out that all the units are benefitting from extensive site repairs and improvements, and that the refurbished units -- of which there are 164 -- have been completely renovated. This includes new appliances, through-wall fair conditioning, carpeting and new windows.
Korfanty, meanwhile, asserts that "people who really need the mass transportation system, with the advent of it, are having the least access to it because of the real estate values." Buckingham lies off Route 50 near the Ballston and Virginia Square Metro stations.
One solution is for the tenants to organize to buy their apartments, Korfanty said, adding that approval of a redevelopment and housing authority -- a referendum proposal on the Nov. 2 ballot -- would establish a means of financing such acquisitions at below-market interest rates.
This issue was raised and debated for two hours at the monthly meeting last Monday of the Arlington Housing Advisory Committee, where it was noted that federal housing funds are about to dry up. At the end, the committee voted six to three to recommend passage of the referendum to the county board, with the proviso that the housing authority function only as a financing agency, not as a developer itself of real estate.
Housing authorities exist in all major jurisdictions of the metropolitan area. Some have large staffs and combine their services with a wide range of county services; others are autonomous. The issue is controversial in Arlington, with opponents contending that it would sap county resources, lead to public housing and be beyond control of the county.
"It's like bringing in the 5th Army to help schoolchildren cross the street," one opponent charged at the meeting.
Proponents argue that the authority's revenue-raising mechanism would be subject to scrutiny and approval by the county board and to limits imposed by regulations governing such bond issues. Its purpose would be the issuance of tax-exempt bonds to be used for rehabilitating rental property and other rehabilitation projects, for helping tenants associations get financing, and for financing mortgages below market rates.
The subject turned to Buckingham at the advisory committee meeting, with Melodee Bawden, program supervisor for Arlington's rent assistance and development office, noting that the county had done "months of work" and hired consultants to explore ways for tenants to take advantage of Stein & Co.'s offer of 230 apartments. For lack of "seed money" or a "bargaining chip" that locally available financing would have provided, the sales negotiations came to nothing, she said.