Affordable housing advocates celebrated the completed renovation of Buchanan Gardens Apartments on Monday, a $32.4 million project that will serve as a home to 111 families.
The Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing bought the property, just north of Columbia Pike in the Barcroft neighborhood, in 2009. Renovation was phased in, and about 70 percent of the former tenants returned.
"They're beautiful," said resident Kelvin Flores, 27, who lives at the apartment complex with his family. "It's a lot better than it was before."
The housing partnership renovated and furnished a single unit to show residents before the larger renovation began in order to make the transition easier, said partnership president Nina Janopaul. The partnership also provided moving supplies and moving services to the displaced residents.
"An important part of what we do is try to preserve the community," she said.
The Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing considers units "affordable" when the rent is no more than 30 percent of the gross household income. Generally, rates that are "affordable" in Arlington County are considered that way for families making up to $60,000 annually.
Just over half of the Buchanan Gardens Apartments, which previously had no renovation or electrical upgrades since they were built in 1949, are two- and three-bedroom apartments. That's an increase in the larger units designed to accommodate more families, Janopaul said.
The renovated units also have air-conditioning, which had been missing. New "bump outs" were constructed on each building to allow for more two- and three-bedroom units, said Linda Kelleher, the partnership's director of community and resident relations.
The renovated complex includes a new playground and a community center that will house an after-school program.
The units themselves would be considered a bit smaller than the average Arlington apartment.
Resident Corina Grant, who has a fourth-grader, said she was nervous when she first heard about the planned renovation.
"I was very nervous and concerned and I was thinking I don't know the area, I don't know the people,' Grant said during Monday's ceremony. "This was quite an experience for me and my son. But I'm glad we stayed."
She added: "Today we celebrate the culmination of all of our hard work and the beginning of a new chapter in our community."
Arlington County, using money from its Affordable Housing Investment Fund, put up $11.7 million early on to support the project. That allowed the housing partnership to leverage nearly $8 million from the Virginia Housing Development Authority and another $12 million through partners like Capital One Bank. The latter amount represents equity in the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program.
U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., said opponents to the tax credit call it a "loophole" — and that the only way to preserve it is to show off projects like Buchanan Gardens.
"Indirectly, it's a message we need to speak out loud and clear about what can happen when everyone works together in a worthwhile partnership," he said.
Janopaul praised Arlington County Board member Chris Zimmerman and state Sen. Barbara Favola., a former board member, for being early supporters of the project.
During this year's budget debate, Zimmerman tried to increase the amount of money Arlington County contributes to its Affordable Housing Investment Fund.
"The county's role is very important in situations like this," he said. "But we're going to have to step it up if we want to keep up our affordable housing."
Arlington County Board Chairwoman Mary Hynes said the project was a first glimpse of what will eventually be realized by the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Plan.
"We think Buchanan Gardens is the beginning of what that plan will be providing for us up and down the Pike," she said.
"This represents the epitome of our vision, where each person is important."