The Wash
The Park Shirlington Apartments include 14 residential buildings with 293 units. Standard Communities bought the property with the help of Arlington County to commit all units to long-term affordable housing for the next 75 years. (Rachel Looker / The Wash)

Developer commits to long-term, affordable housing at Arlington property

A long-term commitment to preserve affordable housing in Arlington County is locking in a property with over 290 affordable units for 75 years.

A commitment to preserve affordable housing in the Shirlington neighborhood of Arlington County will result in the largest number of affordable units the county has seen within a property in the last five years, according to the county’s affordable housing master plan.

Standard Communities, a company that works to create workforce housing nationwide, purchased the Park Shirlington Apartments on South 31st Street in 2017 in partnership with Arlington County.

The county loaned Standard Communities $6 million through its affordable housing investment fund to acquire the property.

The property’s 293 units in 14 residential buildings will be renovated and committed to long-term affordable housing for the next 75 years, Standard Communities’ Steven Kahn told members of the Fairlington Citizens Association in September.

“Our goal when we approached the county was to say, ‘Can we work together and figure out a way to compete against the market-rate players — the folks who want to raise rents or build higher luxury housing here?’” Kahn said during the meeting.

Park Shirlington will account for 293 of the 1,422 total affordable units in Arlington County in the last five years, according to the county’s 2020 Affordable Housing Master plan.

“It’s been a real priority for the county and there’s been a real effort to do everything to avoid displacement of current tenants so they can stay in their homes at an affordable price in the long term,” Melissa Danowski, the principal development specialist for the Arlington County Housing Division, said.

Renovation project targets 70-year-old buildings

The buildings were constructed in the 1950s and have had no large-scale renovations completed in the past 20 years, according to Kahn. The phased renovations will take place during the day to allow residents to continue to live in their units, he said.

The renovation project will update appliances, kitchen and bathroom fixtures, electric and plumbing and update common areas like laundry rooms, stairwells, parking lots and sidewalks.

Danowski said Standard Communities plans to utilize low-income housing tax credits for the renovation. The company is working out the financing details with the Arlington County board.

The rent for the renovated units might fluctuate for tenants depending on their current rent, Kahn said. Rents are limited to be affordable to residents making 60% of the area median income. The tax credit program creates fixed rent numbers and sets maximum allowable rents.

Arlington County has also approved a Tenant Assistance Fund to allocate $124,000 to help tenants who may face rent increases, Danowski said.

Park Shirlington resident Nelson Rodriguez walks his son home from school after picking him up from Abingdon Elementary located next to the property. Rodriguez said his unit has had many problems and said the renovations should be good for the community. “It’s a nice place to live around here because the school is close for us and the kids,” he said. (Rachel Looker / The Wash)

Fairlington Citizens Association President Guy Land said the civic association has supported Standard Communities and Arlington County’s plan for the project.

He said the project’s key aspect is preserving affordable housing in the community and preventing market-rate housing from replacing it. The plan is a major commitment to affordable housing for the area, he said.

“I have described this as a win, win, win,” Land said.

He said the project allows the neighborhood to maintain its current character, avoids the risk of greater density and traffic congestion and protects the current residents of Park Shirlington from being displaced.

“It’s good for the residents in Park Shirlington and it’s good in helping achieve the county’s overall goal of preserving and expanding the amount of affordable housing that’s available in Arlington,” Land said.

Current residents in the dark

Standard Communities’ Kahn said during the Fairlington Citizens Association meeting that they are working to communicate with residents about the project and posting flyers in English and Spanish.

“We’ve let them know in no uncertain terms regardless of what they hear or what the rumor mill is, we are not displacing residents,” he said.

However, many Park Shirlington residents said they were unaware of the details of the renovation project and unsure of a specific timeline for its completion.

Park Shirlington resident David Santoni walks his dog Daytona outside his apartment. Santoni said he has seen a lot of turnover at the property in the three years he has lived there. (Rachel Looker / The Wash)

David Santoni and his rescue dog Daytona have lived at the Park Shirlington Apartments for three years. Santoni has heard about many plans for the property over the years ranging from affordable housing to building a 20-story luxury apartment building.

He said he has seen a lot of turnover of tenants and said he thinks turning the property into long-term affordable housing will be good for the community.

“A lot of it’s just the buildings falling apart,” he said of the property’s current state.

Resident Janice Coleman, who has lived on the property for almost five years, said there is a definite need for renovations.

“It’s run for low-income families so I think a lot of the residents don’t speak up because we have vouchers and different programs,” she said.

Resident Janice Coleman walks her daughter back to their apartment. Coleman said she is unsure if the renovations will take place next year after hearing about multiple plans for the property. (Rachel Looker / The Wash)

She said she has been aware of past plans for the property that have not come to fruition and remains skeptical the renovation project will happen.

“I’ve heard that a lot of times, but nothing changes,” she said.

The phased renovation project is set to begin in 2022 following the county board finalizing financial details later this year. Renovations are expected to take 18-24 months.

Rachel Looker

I am a Washington D.C.-based reporter pursuing a master’s degree in journalism and public affairs at American University and working as a political/investigative fellow at USA Today. I cover Arlington County for The Wash.

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