The term “affordable housing” can mean many things; it is most often used to describe housing that receives some form of government subsidy to keep rents low. It can also mean housing that’s naturally affordable as rents are low simply because the market rent for the units falls into the range that can be considered affordable to a low- or moderate-income household. This usually occurs due to amenities, condition, age, and/or location of the units. In Arlington, these apartments are referred to as market rate affordable housing or MARKs. Many, but not all, of the older garden apartment buildings in Arlington can be classified as MARKs.
In the Arlington area, we are losing these valuable, affordable housing resources at an alarming rate. From 2000 to 2016 the County lost 14,603 MARKs, mostly through rent increases. These older apartments are also being lost through redevelopment, often replaced by either higher cost rental housing or luxury townhomes.
Preservation of MARKs has been identified as a priority in the county’s Affordable Housing Master Plan. To date, acquisition through the Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF) has been a productive tool for preserving affordability, but AHIF budget resources are limited. Other means available to produce replacement housing rely on planning and zoning tools including the Affordable Housing Ordinance, the Special Affordable Housing Protection District (SAHPD), Bonus Density, and use permits.
Current Policy Efforts: Housing Conservation District
With the loss of MARKs continuing at a rapid pace, the County has embarked on an attempt to improve on the set of tools available to preserve the affordability of MARKs or to encourage replacement of MARKs lost due to redevelopment. The first step in this effort resulted in a detailed report published in March 2017, Market Rate Affordable Housing: An Approach for Preservation. The report focuses on MARKs in areas that are not already covered by detailed land use plans and offers recommendations for new and updated tools to be pursued by the County.
In December 2017, the Arlington County Board approved Phase 1 of a proposal for a Housing Conservation District (HCD) that will provide protections and incentives to preserve or replace affordable apartments in market rate affordable buildings. The main action taken with the approval of Phase 1 is a change in the approval process for new townhomes being developed within the HCD boundaries, which will now require site plan approval. This change is expected to slow down demolitions such as those seen in the Westover neighborhood.
Phase 2 of the plan, which includes developing a set of incentives to help property owners renovate or redevelop their properties in exchange for affordability protections, will be developed throughout 2018.
Learn more about the Housing Conservation District:
- Read the full staff report for Phase 1 of the Housing Conservation District proposal, approved in December 2017. This report includes an HCD Policy Framework that will guide the implementation of the district as well as detailed maps of each area covered by the district.
- See a list of properties included in the HCD boundaries as of December 2017.
Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance report on market rate affordable housing preservation
- Charting a Way Forward: Preserving Market Rate Affordable Housing in Northern Virginia’s Inner Suburbs
Urban Land Institute report on multifamily workforce and affordable housing
- Preserving Multifamily Workforce and Affordable Housing: New Approaches for Investing in a Vital National Asset
Examples of MARK Preservation
- Read an overview of the Westover preservation challenge