Since 1949, 11 brick apartment buildings have sat on a hill just above Columbia Pike in Arlington County, sheltering about 100 families. Over time, the plumbing aged, the stormwater sewer began failing, plaster and concrete cracked, and the small apartments started to feel colder in winter and hotter in summer.
This week, three years after Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing bought the complex, Buchanan Gardens Apartments is newly renovated, expanded and almost fully occupied. The electrical system is upgraded, the sewer lines are fixed, the buildings are now energy-efficient, and apartments have central air and new appliances. Twelve of the 111 units are barrier-free, accessible to those in wheelchairs or who have mobility problems. Additions were made to the buildings to increase the number of two- and three-bedroom units.
In Arlington, where the average two-bedroom rental apartment costs $2,036 per month, and where about 6,000 of the 43,000 apartments in the county are considered committed affordable (which means a family of four with income less than $60,000 can handle the rent), every new apartment makes a difference.
Corina Grant, who works at an area hospital and who has a nine-year-old son, had just moved into the Buchanan complex in 2009 when she learned a big renovation was planned, and she might have to temporarily move while it was underway.
“I was very nervous and confused,” she told officials Monday at the ceremonial ribbon-cutting. “I was thinking ‘I don’t know the area, I don’t know the people.’”
She got the help she needed, and like 70 percent of the residents who were there when construction was underway, she returned to the improved complex.
Accomplishing this goal took a partnership of APAH, a nonprofit affordable housing developer, the county, the Virginia Housing Development Authority, Capital One Bank, Enterprise Community Partners, Hamel Builders, architects Wiencek + Associates and many others.
It also took $32.4 million, with $11 million from Arlington County’s affordable housing fund and $12 million from federal low-income housing tax credits. The commonwealth kicked in $7.7 million.
“It’s really unheard of that we’d have th is type of support at all levels of government,” said Susan Dewey, executive director of the Virginia Housing Development Authority. “APAH is probably the premier affordable housing organization in Virginia, and probably the country.”
Congressman James Moran (D-Alexandria) noted that the federal tax credit is at risk of budget cuts. “The only way we’re going to keep it is point out projects like this that work so well,” he said. “Not only in the lives of these families, but in the life of the larger community.”
The entire Arlington County Board turned up for the ribbon-cutting. Chair Mary Hynes noted the sound of construction of a community center being built just across Four Mile Run. She reiterated what APAH president Nina Janopaul had earlier said about “affordable living is not just affordable housing.” Transportation improvements, such as the Columbia Pike streetcar project, and developing more residential and retail along the busy road also factor into the future of the area.
“We think Buchanan Gardens is beginning of what that [Columbia Pike] plan will begin to produce for us,” Hynes said.