Arlington County has a newly-established Housing Conservation District to protect market-rate affordable housing in 12 areas. County staff are currently engaging with the community to develop a series of zoning and financial tools to incentivize continued housing affordability in these locations, and are meeting on a regular basis with a Housing Conservation District Advisory Group comprised of fourteen representatives from stakeholder groups including nonprofit organizations, and public commissions. Additional community events are tentatively planned for the summer and details on those events will be posted to this webpage.
- What is the Housing Conservation District?
- The HCD is a special planning district that was created to encourage the retention of housing affordability. This will be achieved by allowing a context-appropriate spectrum of development, ranging from renovation and addition to infill and redevelopment in exchange for dedicated affordable housing units.
- There are 12 areas included in the HCD, these are:
- Leeway Overlee
- John M. Langston
- Waverly Hills
- Spout Run/Lyon Village
- North Highlands – East
- North Highlands – West
- Lyon Park – North
- Lyon Park – South
- Long Branch Creek
- Why was the Housing Conservation District Created?
- In 2000, there were nearly 20,000 apartment units in Arlington that were affordable to lower-income households (or those earning less than 60% of the area median income). Today, only about 2,500 of those units remain. Most of those 17,500 losses resulted from rent increases, although redevelopment has also been a factor. About 3,000 of these units have been preserved as permanently affordable.
- The market-rate affordable apartment units that do remain in Arlington are often found in aging buildings located in more established apartment neighborhoods like Westover, Waverly Hills, and Penrose. Unlike the compact urban villages of Ballston, Pentagon City, and Rosslyn, these areas function as “satellite” apartment neighborhoods where residents live in smaller-scale apartment buildings in more suburban settings. Many of these neighborhoods were developed during the 1940s when two-family homes (like duplexes) were more prevalent, and when apartment buildings were designed to resemble large mansion houses surrounded by open lawns and gardens. Units in these so-called “garden apartment” buildings tend to be smaller and, at least to contemporary standards, may be seen to offer fewer or outdated amenities. Based on these qualities, units in these apartment buildings have traditionally rented at affordable levels.
- In addition to providing affordable rental housing, many of these apartment buildings are historically significant, representing the design ideals and aspirations of earlier generations. As these buildings age, they become more expensive for their owners to repair and maintain. Faced with mounting costs, owners sometimes choose to sell these buildings to developers or investors or else redevelop their properties themselves. When redevelopment occurs, existing affordable apartment units are lost and are typically replaced with new and more expensive housing.
- Recognizing that the supply of affordable rental housing continues to decline and that few mechanisms have traditionally been in place to support the owners of these affordable housing resources, the Arlington County Board created a Housing Conservation District on December 16, 2017 and established this new overlay district in 12 areas where apartment units continue to rent at affordable levels.
- As an overlay district, the Housing Conservation District (or HCD) will provide property owners with access to new and voluntary zoning and financial incentives that can help retain and promote affordable housing.
- Where Is the Housing Conservation District?
The Housing Conservation District includes twelve of Arlington’s older and more established apartment communities.
Each property in the HCD is zoned so that apartment buildings can be built by-right, meaning that designs need only comply with established Zoning Ordinance and building code requirements to be approved for construction permits. To view a more detailed map of a particular HCD area, click on the relevant link below.
- What Types of Incentives Are Being Considered?
The County is considering a variety of zoning and financial incentives to support ongoing housing affordability within the Housing Conservation District.
Potential Zoning Incentives:
In exchange for dedicating some dwelling units for low- to moderate-income households, the County is considering allowing property owners to:
- add additional dwelling units within an existing apartment building.
- expand an existing apartment building or build new housing somewhere else on the property.
- access more flexible zoning standards (i.e. building height and setbacks) to partially or fully replace an existing apartment building with a new apartment building.
Potential Financial Incentives
The County will be considering:
- revising an existing rehabilitation tax exemption program to better respond to the needs of owners in the district.
- possible property tax benefits for affordable housing.
- How Is This a “Conservation” District?
Through proposed Housing Conservation District incentives, the County would be aiming to:
- Conserve a supply of affordable dwelling units.
- Conserve historically-significant buildings, where feasible.
- Conserve the multi-family character of the identified areas.
- Conserve a mix of smaller and more affordable housing types that can appeal to residents of different income levels and at different life stages (for example, small apartment units for recent graduates and duplex housing for young families or retirees).
- Townhouse Development in the Housing Conservation District
In adopting the Housing Conservation District on December 16, 2017, the County Board also adopted a Zoning Ordinance amendment requiring additional community review for new townhouse development within the boundaries of the HCD. Throughout 2018, and in conjunction with development of HCD incentives, County staff will be working to determine whether this policy should be continued, modified, or repealed moving forward.
- What Opportunities Are There for Community Engagement?
- County staff recently held a series of informational meetings on the Housing Conservation District. These included focus group meetings with the owners of HCD apartment buildings, a Lee Highway Alliance Educational Forum, and a Community-Wide Open House. Click here to review a summary of the feedback received during these meetings. In general, meeting participants have expressed support for the overall goals of the district.
- Other interest include:
- adding units within existing buildings (i.e. English basement units)
- additional options for transferring development rights
- smaller dwelling units
- clear permitting processes and expectations
- options and incentives that don’t require “strings” or large investments
- updates to the existing Multifamily Rehabilitation Partial Property Tax Exemption program
- mitigating potential impacts to low income renters displaced through HCD incentives
- property tax benefits for providers of affordable housing
Housing Conservation District Advisory Group (HCDAG)
County staff has convened a Housing Conservation District Advisory Group (HCDAG) to help assess and refine proposed HCD incentives. The HCDAG is comprised of representatives from fourteen stakeholder groups, nonprofit organizations, and public commissions. Please visit the HCDAG webpage for more information on the advisory group and for related meeting agendas and materials.
Additional public meetings are tentatively planned for the summer to update community members on proposed Housing Conservation District incentives. If you would like to sign up to be notified on upcoming events and major project milestones, please provide your email address in the “subscribe” box on this page.
- Additional Resources
The Housing Conservation District is one of multiple County projects working to implement the goals and objectives of the Affordable Housing Master Plan. In 2017, for example, the County Board adopted a Zoning Ordinance amendment that introduced more flexible standards for creating accessory dwelling units in residential basements or over existing garages. Through that amendment, the County took steps to allow for smaller and more affordable housing options in single-family neighborhoods.
The following links provide background information on the initial development and adoption of the HCD:
PowerPoint Presentation from the December 16, 2017 County Board Public Hearing
County Board Report for the December 16,2017 County Board Public Hearing
County Board Report for advertisement of public hearings (includes the Housing Conservation District Policy Framework, General Land Use Plan amendment, Affordable Housing Master Plan amendment, and Zoning Ordinance amendment)
Market-Rate Affordable Housing: An Approach for Preservation March 2017 report
MARKS preservation presentation from the June 21, 2016 County Manager’s report to the County Board