Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

clark-fcnpThe affordable housing projects built in Arlington blend in discreetly.

But the sign labeling the handsome buff-and-brick Arlington Mill Residences at South Dinwiddie and Columbia Pike includes four letters that help brand the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing.

Without APAH’s good offices, the unique four-story apartment building atop a county parking garage might still be on some idealist’s drawing board.

On March 24, the ribbon-cutting for Arlington Mill drew a crowd that included county board members past and present, as well as members of the original four “faith-based families” who founded APAH 25 years ago.

“Being first is hard,” Nina Janopaul, president and CEO of the entrepreneurial nonprofit, said of working with the county on its first “public land for public good” project. Completing the $32 million energy-efficient complex of 122 units “took a lot of juggling of who is responsible for the sidewalks and installing the light bulbs,” she said.

The daisy chain of players ranged from the county’s departments of environmental services and human resources, to Bank of America, to the Hitt Contracting Co. that built the adjacent community center, to Paradigm Companies management, to the Virginia Housing Development Authority, to APAH’s donors, to the “advocates raising the flag for social justice,” Janopaul said.

After APAH won the competition to build the complex in 2010, it took advantage of a rising market to come within $5,000 of the $255,000 per unit cost and then used extra proceeds to lower the rent for 20 percent of the units. “But the hardest part,” she stressed, was picking the 122 lucky families from among the 3,000 applicants who earn 30 percent to 60 percent of area median income. “We got heartbroken phone calls afterward – and we must remember those folks are still looking for housing.”

County Board Chairman Jay Fisette praised the “commitment of Arlington leadership going back” to 1980s-90s board member Al Eisenberg. “We are victims of own success,” he said, citing Arlington’s quality schools and rising enrollments that have made “every square inch” unaffordable to many. “But there are also moral and economic competitiveness aspects,” Fisette added, touting Arlington’s devotion of 5.2 percent of its budget to housing, compared with 0.9 percent for Alexandria and 1.3 percent for Fairfax.

Robert Rozen, a tax attorney and APAH volunteer chairman, cited the importance of the federal low-income housing tax credit along with state and county policies. He noted Arlington Mill brings APAH’s housing units to over 1,200, at 14 sites.

“The level of support for public housing in Arlington is unusual,” said Brian Tracey, senior vice president of Bank of America, which contributed a $14 million construction loan and $22 million in equity.

The attendees, who toured the model apartment with its large closet space, also heard from Veronica Minor, who with her husband is a newly designated resident. With its gardens and playground overlooking woods around Four Mile Run, Arlington Mill is “a great location, close to shopping,” she said. “I like the elevators because I have health issues.”

She’s one of many in what Janopaul called “the village making affordable housing happen.”

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The Sunday before, the county rolled out the long-fought-over outdoor museum at Fort Ethan Allen on the grounds of the Madison Center. Uniformed Civil War reenactors made the dedication come alive 150 years since that fort was real.