Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Weekly Update--Gates; Police, Mini-Golf

Today’s Buckingham HeraldTrib:
I know it’s not Wednesday, but I will be out of town tomorrow and will not have/take the time to blog. In fact, don’t look for too much here until Monday, where I’ll try and update you a little about Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse. Should be fun.

One little item, today’s Washington Post covered the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority’s decisions regarding funding for smaller road projects in the area. One project that may have again not received funding (I don’t know for sure if it was even on the radar) is an upgrade to the exit ramp from westbound Arlington Boulevard onto Glebe Road. I’ll look into this a little more when I get a minute. This is a plan long in the making that would expand that exit and create a merge lane about where the car dealership and purple building are.

Headlines today (scroll down to read the stories):

  • Affordable Apartments: The Paperwork Hassle
  • Sports Commission to See Mini-Golf Plans
  • Police Notes for Buckingham

Headlines from earlier in the week (scroll down farther to see them):

  • Pedestrians Meeting About Glebe/Carlin Springs Intersections
  • This Weekend at Lubber Run Amphitheatre
  • A Little More About Music (kid’s music, that is…)
  • Letter: AHC Not a Partner with Paradigm
  • McDonald’s Drops Their Request to Supersize Their Signage

Enjoy and let me know what you think. Don’t forget to get your friends interested in the blog. Send the link to them. I know some of you have been doing this since I’ve added a handful of people to the mailing list (welcome to you new comers), but I am always looking for more people. If you like what you’re reading, please ask them to email me, and I’ll put them on the list.

Affordable Apartments: The Paperwork Hassle
This is the second of two stories on the Gates of Ballston tenant relocation. The first part (posted on June 2: “After a Major Renovation, Some Tenants Feel Harassed”—click the link then scroll down) ran through some of the troubles tenants are facing as they move back into the renovated units of the Gates of Ballston apartments.

Today’s story looks at the issue of overcrowding and income verification in affordable housing at the Gates.
Gates of Ballston residents who live in the affordable units—the 350 apartments that rent below market value to people of modest means—have many hoops to jump through in order to live, residents and at least one activist have said. They have to submit to semi-annual inspections of their apartments; they have to use locking gates on the property in order to get into backyards where bicycle racks and garbage dumpsters are. They have had to learn how to use newer appliances and central heat and air conditioning units. This might seem easy enough to most readers, but some of the residents cannot read in their own language let alone English, or they come from very small, Central American villages with very different customs, said Lois Athey, a long-time activist with BU-GATA, the tenant’s association. The language barrier and lack of assistance, Ms. Athey has said, has led to an overall feeling of harassment.

Added to that is an annual assessment of each apartment’s income.

“It’s an aggravation they have to go through one time a year,” said JoAnn Cubbage, the chief of the county’s Housing Services Sector. “Some people are just intimidated by it.”

Once a year, people in the “committed affordable” units—apartments that will remain affordable for decades—must recertify their incomes to make sure that the total income for the unit remains below 60 percent of Area Median Income, as determined by HUD. In 2007, that’s $39,690 per year for a single person, and $56,700 for a family of four.

A family should be able to bring all the required materials for verification in one meeting, Ms. Cubbage said, but the materials must cover everyone earning an income in the unit—spouses and children alike.

These are “very, very stringent requirements,” said Richard “Rick” Leeds, the CEO of AHC Management, which runs the complex. “We have to recertify them every year….their incomes must fall into the guidelines so that the maximum income will not exceed the federal guidelines, and that is critical to the process. We will be evaluated by both our lenders and our tax credit partners every year. They will come in and audit our files. So we’ve got lots of individuals looking over our shoulders.”

Failure to comply would mean that AHC Inc., the owner of the property, would not receive the tax credits it and its financing partners, such as Wachovia Bank, require, Mr. Leeds said. The $100 million renovation of The Gates has largely been financed with these tax credits. Non-compliance could put AHC out of business, Mr. Leeds said.

This process has not been without its problems, however. Ms. Cubbage said the rules regarding certification are complex, and the federal regulations fill “four-inch binders.”

Last year, as The Gates was refilling with people, one family was told by AHC that they qualified both for a low-income apartment and for relocation assistance from the Tenant Assistance Fund, Ms. Cubbage said. However, the family’s income had not been checked with the employer; as it turned out, the family qualified neither for the affordable apartment nor the TAF money. It was money the family was required to return, she said. “The people were upset.”

“It’s a complicated process,” Ms. Cubbage said “It was an honest mistake.” She said she believed the person who made the mistake is still working at AHC. She refused to give the person’s name.

As well, AHC has had to make sure the number of people in the apartment, especially those 18 or over, must be verified; people old enough to earn a living count differently than those underage.

Ms. Athey has said that as many as 11 families that might have been qualified for the assistance were not told that they qualified. Also, she has said the process of verifying income, especially for the first families to move back in last year, was onerous.

But even now, the process which might be simple for some people can be a burden on working class families in Buckingham.

“With the tax credits, they have to certify income,” Ms. Athey said during an interview in February. “And they wanted everyone in the apartment on the lease, I’m OK with that.”

Income has to be “third-party verified” which means getting official statements from employers.

According to Concesa Malave, the assistant manager of The Gates, the residents bring in the names and addresses of employers. Ms. Malave then sends a form to the employer asking for income information.

“Most of the time, the employer cooperates,” she said, adding that “maybe 2 out of 10” employers do not get back to her. And then she must call and double check on what’s going on. “Everything must be complete,” she said. All the blanks in the form must be filled. She said she makes phone calls to employers, and sometimes asks employees to remind their employers to fill forms.

This verification process can be tough for some residents, Ms. Athey said, given that a gardening company paying employees off-the-books might not want to admit to how much they pay. Also, the employee cannot transmit the information, and Ms. Athey admitted that some of the tenants will lie to try and stay under the income cap.
She said she has heard of times when the resident has reported income that was seasonal, but it was taken as a year-round salary, something Ms. Malave said she tries to iron out. And getting tax records for people who might not be filing taxes is difficult if not impossible.

“When you start asking for all this paperwork, they [residents] leave,” Ms. Athey said.

It is easy to rise above the cap if you have more than one or two employees in the house, Ms. Athey said.

Offering affordable housing at the 60 percent of AMI level “helps people who have two young kids and one parent not working.”


Sports Commission to See Mini-Golf Plans
A miniature golf course planned for the park at the corner of N. Glebe Road and N. Randolph Street, adjacent to the Ballston Commons Mall parking garage, will be shown at this month’s Arlington County Sports Commission meeting Thursday, June 28, 7:00 p.m. at the Langston-Brown Community Center located at 2121 N. Culpepper Street. At right, workers remove construction equipment from the park. [I’ll have more on this next week—ST]


Police Notes for Buckingham
May 23: Armed Robbery, the intersection of N. Glebe Road and N. Randolph Street. At approximately 4:56 a.m., officers responded to a report of an injured man. They found the victim who stated that an acquaintance had beaten him with a stick and taken his wallet. The victim was transported to a local hospital with lacerations to the head and arm. Charges are pending.

May 21: Burglary, 400 block of N. Park Drive. Between 9 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. someone entered an apartment through an unsecured window and took clothing.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Pedestrian Meeting, Concerts and Music

Pedestrians: Meeting About Glebe/Carlin Springs Intersection

Another meeting addressing the quality of life in Buckingham will take place this week on Friday. Addressing pedestrian safety at the corner of N. Carlin Springs Road and N. Glebe Road, the meeting will bring together the public with Assistant County Manager Shannon Flanagan-Watson. Ms. Flanagan-Watson has as yet to prepare for the meeting, she said in an interview today, but is planning to meet with staff before Friday.

The intersection boasts 15 lanes of traffic including turn lanes and exit lanes from the Ballston Commons Mall, and it is a high-use pedestrian and vehicle commuter area. Residents, especially the elderly and disabled, have long complained about the intersection. And the county has reported and fretted over the corner. Some improvements have been made.

Pedestrians walk across seven lanes of traffic while cars pass through the crosswalk at N. Glebe Road and N. Carlin Springs Road.

Pat Hope, the president of the Buckingham Community Civic Association, wrote in an email to the BCCA that he wants to put together a small workgroup “following this meeting to make sure all areas of concern are being appropriately addressed.”
The public is invited Friday, June 29, at 3 p.m. at the Carlin (4300 N. Carlin Springs Rd.). Mr. Hope has asked for people to email him if they wish to help.

The first meeting scheduled for this week is by invitation only (or primarily) scheduled for Wednesday at 3p.m. It concerns loitering and public drunkenness in the neighborhood. Scroll down to the June 20 post for more on this meeting.


This weekend at Lubber Run Amphitheatre:

Friday, June 29:
8:15 p.m. The Art of Belly Dancing: Demo & Lesson
8:30 p.m. Film: Casablanca (1942)

Saturday, June 30
Mary Ann Redmond Band: Kick Butt Blues (From the “What’s Up Arlington” Newsletter: “Mary Ann Redmond presents an evening of her "Kick Butt Blues" at Arlington's outdoor amphitheatre. A Washington, DC native, she has won a staggering 14 WAMMIE Awards for best female jazz singer, best rock-pop vocalist, best roots rock/tradional R & B, and best female blues vocalist.”)

Sunday, July 1
Slavic Male Chorus: Hi-Energy Folk Music (From the The Slavic Male Chorus Web Site: “The Slavic Male Chorus of Washington DC has thrilled audiences with heartfelt interpretations of the folk songs and sacred hymns of Russia and many Slavic lands.”)

To keep up with the Amphitheatre’s summer schedule, look to the right hand column, and click the Arts al Fresco link under “County Gov’t Sites.”

A Little More About Music

Ever since the Steve Songs Concert a couple weekends ago (see the June 7 post), friends and I have been talking about great kids music (hey, it’s what we do).

Anyway, I thought I’d add a few names and titles for those people interested. Feel free to email me with more, or simply add ideas to “comments” below…

Eddie Spaghetti—He’s an aging rocker, from the looks of his photos, and his “Greatest Hits” album is really good. My fave: “Rainy, Rainy Day Blues.” With lines like “Don’t let the clouds down in my shoes/Don’t want no rainy, rainy day blues…” it’s like something out of a 70s sitcom (I’m thinking “Love, American Style,” or maybe “The Monkeys”). Click the link and you can download the songs—he also has a link to order CDs.

Jessica Harper—She’s got a good band behind her, especially her pianist. Her voice is nice, her songs are fun. (Her web site is interesting because it’s very focused on her kids books—I didn’t even know she had any.) I like “Inside/Out” though, for albums. “Little Brown Dog Named Joe” is my fave, a bluesy tune about a dog that has eaten all her shoes (“…then you ate my cowboy boots/and now you ride the range/hey, you little brown dog-named-joe…”).

They Might Be Giants—I remember from a Washington Post story when their album “NO!” came out that they would get on stage and yell, “We’re Number 1 on the children’s music charts!” during their adult concerts. (I couldn’t find a link to the Washington Post story, sorry.) Frankly, their kid’s music isn’t a whole lot different than their adult stuff. My favorite tune on “No!” is “The Edison Museum”: “The OLDest, LARgest AND most FAmous MAUsoleum in New JERsey.”

Finally, Brent Holmes—He sings about cows, bears, whales, walruses, and moose. Many of these animals help him out on the songs (Marty the Moose and Bernie the Bear take time out of their concert schedules to accompany Mr. Holmes.) A lot of them are simple addition or multiplication songs. He does a great job with the voices, especially on the song “Peanut Butter” where sticky-mouthed bears are eating their beloved food.

But the one I have pretty much committed to memory is “The Backpack Tree.” If you don’t know what that is, it’s the tree backpackers use to keep their food from bears. You find a tree, throw a rope over a whimpy branch that couldn’t hold a bear, and hoist your pack off the ground to a height taller than a bear and a distance as far from the trunk as you can get. This is all for naught, the song suggests (sing it with a goofy, bear-like sound, and you get the idea): “The backpack tree, the backpack tree, I love it when I run into a backpack tree/When I’m bouncin’ down the trail/my favorite thing to see/is backpacks hanging in a backpack tree/backpacks are my favorite food/they put me in a wonderful mood/it’s never very hard to get them down/I climb up the tree and I knock them to the ground.” After he eats the food, he buries the backpacks in order to grow more backpack trees. Classic.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Letter, McDonalds

Letter: AHC Is Not a Partner with Paradigm
To the editor:

John Reeder raises some interesting points about affordable housing in his email to the Arlington New Directions, which was reprinted in the Buckingham Herald Tribblog yesterday. [Scroll down to the June 20 post: "Sham Deal: Bham Unaffordable"--Steve] I would like to make one correction: AHC, a developer and owner of affordable housing in Arlington for more than 30 years, is not a partner with Paradigm in the Buckingham project. We own the Gates of Ballston, a 464-unit rental property, which is next door to the Buckingham development. The Gates is currently undergoing a major renovation which will be completed later this fall. When the renovation is finished, 348 of the apartments will be affordable to families earning 60% or less of the area median income ($56,700 for a family of four).

AHC is doing what it can to increase the supply of affordable housing (see our website for new projects at www.ahcinc.org) and we are open to new ideas that will preserve affordable housing in Arlington.

Walter D. Webdale
President and CEO
AHC Inc.

McDonald’s Drops Request to Supersize Their Signage

The McDonald’s at the corner of N. Glebe Road and Arlington Boulevard has dropped a request to supersize the total square-footage of its signs, the county said. The restaurant, under current county regulations can have about 270 square feet of signs, and they were asking for more than 300 square feet as part of an image and marketing change, county records show. The decision should have been made at the June county board meeting, but had been withdrawn. They will make changes within current standards, county staff said.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Bham Deal is Sham; Loitering & Drinking Meeting

Thanks for checking out the Herald Trib today. Two pieces:

From earlier in the week:

One last note: I'll be out of town at a conference for much of next week. I won't be posting then. However, I will try to have a bunch up before I go.

Letter to Editor: Sham Deal—Bham Unaffordable.
[Editor’s note: This letter originally came to me as an email on the Arlington New Directions List Serve. I’m reposting it with the permission of the writer. Also, he originally wrote that Buckingham Villages had 560 units, which was wrong. Others on the listserv pointed it out, and he asked me to make the change before posting the letter here. –Steve]

I am going to enter my dissent on the demolition and gentrification of Buckingham: I think it was a disgrace, a cop out, and a sorry statement—I don’t see how keeping perhaps 100 of the original 460 apartments as “affordable” is a good deal for anybody.

As to the question of purchasing condos, I fail to understand how a one bedroom, renovated apartment costing $300,000 minimum is a good deal for anybody. Condo prices are dropping like a stone; interest rates now exceed 6.7%. Getting someone making a $40,000 income into making monthly principal, interest, condo fee and tax payments of $2,300 for a one-bedroom condo is not "affordable housing" in my opinion.

The best outcome for Buckingham would have been the County Board to have designated it as an historic property, then condemned and taken the entire three villages and then sell them to a nonprofit housing group to continue to operate as basic rental housing for the many people who make less than $30,000 a year—including the elderly, and disabled. It also would have historically preserved a unique apartment complex, now largely destroyed.

One of the 20 fresh ideas for affordable housing in Arlington was the creation of a new Arlington housing authority which would both own says the 460 units now destroyed at Buckingham and have the financial resources to directly finance the purchase of such apartments. This authority would directly own and preserve these apartments as RENTAL housing!

Arlington existing non-profit housing groups, particularly AHC is a partner with Paradigm Development Company the Buckingham owner and developer, have become housing developers rather than housing preservers. I do not trust AHC to preserve and maintain Arlington's historic garden apartments.
The Arlington Green Party has decided to endorse the creation of an Arlington Housing Authority through a voter referendum on the November ballot. We hope that those of you interested in affordable housing in Arlington will support the creation of the housing authority.

If Arlington had a housing authority at the time of Paradigm proposed to demolish historic Buckingham Villages 1 through 3, the housing authority could have both financed and owned the units which would have been kept for the roughly 1,600 tenants evicted.

We of course would have needed a County Board with both a backbone and a genuine commitment to affordable housing that the current one has never demonstrated.

--John Reeder

Loitering and Public Drinking to Be Topic of Meeting Next Week

Long-time Buckingham resident James Vandeputte has spoken to--it seems like--just about anyone who would listen regarding the courtyard behind his apartment at Arlington Oaks and the loitering he sees around the CVS at the corner of N. Pershing Drive and N. Glebe Road.

The courtyard at night turns into a bit of a “beer party.” There’s public drinking, urination, defecation and littering, he said. He said he sees similar activity around the CVS and Glebe Market.

He has spoken to management at Arlington Oaks. He’s spoken to local and regional managers at the CVS, and the sales office of Buckingham Commons (the new townhouse development going in to Buckingham Village 2 at the corner of N. Henderson Road and N. George Mason Drive). He’s spoken with Arlington County Police Officer Lutz.

“This neighborhood is changing into a slum, ghetto, Skid Row,” he said in a recent interview. Mr. Vandeputte has lived on the 4300 block of N. Pershing Dr for about 12 years. He has lived in the neighborhood since 1974, he said.

This courtyard becomes a "beer party" Mr. Vandeputte said.

He has spoken with Marlene Oronao, the code enforcement officer for the Historic District of Buckingham, which includes the Gates of Ballston and the Historic Ballston Park apartments and the commercial strips at the corner of Pershing Drive and Glebe Road.

She’s been working with management of the CVS to clean up the litter on their property and has been happy with the results in that area, but she knows that more must be done to stop public drinking and other problems that come with that, she said.

For that reason, she has convened a meeting of about 10 or more local leaders and mangers for next Wednesday to discuss what can be done, to get people to the same table to talk, she said.

Some of the problems are code enforcement, and she said she wants the owners and managers to know what their responsibilities are. She said the police will be there to discuss the legal matters, such as trespassing and public drinking and urination.

This meeting is not intended to be an open, public meeting. Ms. Oronao said she would normally just do all this by telephone, but getting everyone together at one time was important to her.

Mr. Vandeputte has said that he plans on putting together notes that he wants to share with neighbors and other civic organizations.

[One note: I cannot be there--I'll be out of town--but I will have coverage the following week, after I get back. --Steve]

Police Notes for Buckingham

June 18: Burglary, 300 block of N. George Mason Dr. Between 1:30 and 10a.m., someone entered an apartment through an unlocked door and took a wallet and clothing.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Just a note to say "more to come"

I can see on my “Google Analytics” that many of you have taken up my charge to check up on the Herald Trib throughout the week. Sorry this week hasn’t offered much for you. People haven’t been in for interviews, and my family and a bunch of friends went camping over the weekend, a trip a long time in the making.

Took the kids to see the Nats game last night (thanks again, Pat, for the tix), but had to leave after the top of the sixth! AAaaaargh! On the way to the car, we heard the crazy cheering as the Nats sliced their deficit in half. The Washington Post story on the game talked about how the little things made all the difference in the world in that game. If you were watching/listening during the first five innings, you’d have thought the Nats were the last in NL East for a reason. Easy misses, bad throws. All of it looked mediocre.

By the way, the Connection has already published my column for the week (Too Much Choice Leaves Head Spinning and Stomach Churning). Enjoy!
So far this week, by the way, no police notes. Keep your fingers crossed.
I’m working on a few stories, so this week and next should be a little better, but then I’m off to a conference next weekend. (To the Black Hills!)

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Post Office Changes, Police Notes

Thank you for checking out Today’s Herald Tribblog. Just one new story for today, but quite a few from throughout the week. I hope you enjoy them. If you do, email me to become part of the list (heraldtrib@gmail.com). If you’re already on the list, encourage your friends to join.

Today’s Headlines…

Headlines from the Week (Scroll down to see them)…

Missing Copier a Harbinger of Post Office Changes
The black smudge on the wall of the Buckingham Station Post Office where the photocopier used to stand had me on the phone to Jacquelyn Greco, the Buckingham Station manager, asking if improvements to our post office were in the offing.

Yes, they are.

The postage vending machine remains, but the copier is gone.

She said she saw preliminary drawings of the renovated lobby space about three weeks ago. The space will be much, much larger, when the wall directly across from the front doors gets pushed back another 30 feet. A fourth person will work behind the front desk, and more post boxes will be added, Ms. Greco said. She said a newer retail space will be built with a wall of self-service items such as boxes and other items within reach of customers.

“We don’t know exactly when [the renovation] will start,” she said. The drawings of the space will not be made public until they are submitted to the county for approval, she said.

The letter carriers and the trucks they drive, along with people who help distribute the mail, have moved permanently to the main post office on Washington Boulevard, opening space in the back rooms of the Buckingham Station that will be converted into lobby space. (For more on this, see the Feb. 22 post—click the link then scroll down to that date and to the Feb. 28 post which has a letter to the editor concerning this story. I’m going to fix the scrolling problem soon).

There will be a new copy machine to replace the one that Ms. Greco removed.

“I was issuing too many refunds,” she said, adding, “We’re getting all new stuff.”

Except, apparently, an “Automated Postal Center,” which would allow customers to place a package on the scales, buy the postage and mail it without speaking to another living human. The station does not have enough domestic postage traffic to support the machine. The largely Hispanic population of Buckingham buys money orders or international postage, Ms. Greco said.


Police Notes for Buckingham

Nothing to report this week—first time since late April!

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Bham Villages to Begin Relocation

County to Spend $49 Million, Saves 300 Affordable Units in Bham.

Eighty-four households in Buckingham Village Apartments are facing relocation before the year’s end as Paradigm Development Company works to implement the redevelopment plan OKed by the Arlington County Board in a five-to-nothing vote on Saturday.

Paradigm plans to open their relocation office next Monday to begin helping families and individuals, said Micheline Castan-Smith, Paradigm’s project manager.

“Phase One” of the redevelopment includes razing the buildings along N. Pershing Drive west of N. George Mason Drive. Obviously, that cannot happen until the apartments are emptied, Ms. Castan-Smith said in an interview. Relocating the families will take until late November or early December, she estimated.

Paradigm is enlisting the help of AHC Inc., an affordable housing company based in Arlington. AHC owns and manages the Gates of Ballston in the Buckingham neighborhood and 18 other properties in Arlington. [For more on AHC, see the June 2 post, below.] Ms. Castan-Smith said other companies will be involved with the relocation.

As I wrote in the Feb. 28 post, eight buildings, between Culpepper Garden Apartments and N. George Mason Drive will be destroyed to make room for construction of “Building A,” a four-storey, 234-unit apartment building with pitched roof, a cupola atop, and a parking garage underground. The building will be a mix of market rate and affordable housing.

This is the facade of "Building A" on the side facing the "Common Green." (All images here were developed by Paradigm and are taken from plans shown at various Site Plan Review Committee meetings over the last 10 months.)

The plan for the property, “Scenario 8,” was the product of months of discussions between county staff, Paradigm, and residents throughout Arlington.

Village 1 in Scenario 8 includes two large apartment buildings, a "Common Green" between them, and rows of townhouses along N. George Mason Drive.

The affordable housing, open space and streets will cost the county about $49 million. What does this buy the county?

As reported in the Dec. 3 post (click the link then scroll down to “Village 3 Co-op-eration” under the Dec. 3 post), Village 3, on N. Pershing Drive just east of N. George Mason Drive, will be sold to the county and turned into a condominium or Co-operative. The details there are still to be worked out. The county cannot buy the property itself, but must work with another company to do so. They have two years to find the company to help them buy, said JoAnn Cubbage, the chief of the county’s Housing Services Sector. Purchasing Village 3, reported March 21, will be about $32 million, plus interest of up to $4 million.

The county will pay $14.8 million for the land on Village 1 to make street extensions of N. 3rd Street and N. 4th Road as well as a community open space just smaller than a football field on the extended N. 4th Street, David Cristeal in the county’s Housing Division said in an interview. Another $1.5 to $2 million will cover the cost of developing that space into a park.

The "Common Green" will be a public park in Village 1, including, (from left to right), a tot lot, gazebo, sculpture (or something similar), and flags.

Finally on the capital side, the county is loaning $7 million from the Affordable Housing Investment Fund and the Housing Reserve Fund to help Paradigm build 100 affordable apartments in the new buildings. That money will be paid back with interest, 3.5 percent, once the project is “stabilized,” Mr. Cristeal said, meaning that the building has been built and the units have been rented. That might take as much as five years, he said.

A couple hundred thousand more will be spent helping with tenant relocation and other assistance, Mr. Cristeal said.
In all, 300 units of affordable housing will be saved. All 140 units of Village 3 will remain and will be sold at below-market rates. (Some plans even call for adding units in basements and in other spaces.) One hundred units in the two new buildings will be affordable at the 60 percent of the Area Median Income, which will qualify Paradigm to receive tax credits on those units.

The final 60 units will be found somewhere in Buckingham. These units will be affordable at the 80 percent of AMI. Many households make more than the 60 percent AMI to qualify for the lowest-rent units, but they do not make enough to rent apartments at the market rate. This attempts to fill the gap, people involved in the negotiations have said.

“It’s an effort to assist those people. If they wanted to stay in the neighborhood, they could,” Ms. Cubbage said.

Where these units will come from has not been planned completely. Most likely they will either be found in the new buildings or taken from the market-rate units in Historic Ballston Park, Ms. Cubbage said.

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Plan for Bham is Official

Board Approves Buckingham

The county board committed itself to preserving about 300 units of affordable housing in the Buckingham Neighborhood, at their Saturday board meeting. For now, read the press release, and I’ll have more on this on Monday, late.

Sorry, I could neither go to the board meeting, nor could I watch the video live on-line. My only hope is that the county will put the segments of the video on-line quickly. That’s been a very handy gadget for people like me.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Late Posting for this Announcement...

Spirituality at Lubber Run, Tonight

Just thought I would draw attention to Buckinghamsters (and others who might swing by the site today) about a religious service being held at Lubber Run's Amphitheatre tonight. I caught the story in the Sun Gazette and thought I would pass it along to you.

Although the service is performed by the Jewish Congregation Etz Hayim, it’s opened to everyone, and the Sun Gazette quotes the rabbi as saying it should be encouraging for all people of the spirit. Lubber Run Amphitheatre, tonight June 8, 6:15 p.m. Free.

Click here for Lubber Run's full schedule.


Thursday, June 07, 2007

O'Leary, Concerts, Burglar Video

ENDORSEMENT: O’Leary Tuesday June 12
Bob James is running for the wrong political office. He is running for Treasurer of Arlington, a constitutional office in the county, against long-time incumbent Frank O’Leary. The primary is this Tuesday (June 12) for the Democrats, and though James and O’Leary are on the same ballot (both Democrats, both running for Treasurer) I get the feeling that Mr. James should not be there.

His answers during a Democrat-sponsored debate last night, statements on his web site and quotes in various local papers all point to a man who wants to change the Treasurer’s office into something it is not. I do not see the need for the change.

The treasurer’s main function, Mr. James admitted last night in the debate, has three parts: collect the taxes and fees; invest the county’s money with a priority on safety, liquidity and yield; and spend the money in accordance with county board.

Raising the visibility of the office is not one of the priorities, but it is one of Mr. James’ priorities. Last night he mentioned that he wanted people to know that there was a Treasurer of the county, that he wanted to hold forums on personal finance, and that he wanted to raise financial literacy in the county. Those are laudable goals, but I’m not sure it’s really the job of the Treasurer.

The county board, the school board and other social agencies in the county should take on the job of raising financial literacy if Arlington residents think it’s a priority.

[I teach at Montgomery College in Rockville, and I can tell you I have seen first hand the troubles financial illiteracy has caused my students. Education in that area would be good for all of us.]

Mr. James’s ideas regarding an elimination of the vehicle decals on the windows sound OK, but again, it’s not really the Treasurer’s job to decide that (though hefty lobbying by the Treasurer, as Mr. James promised wouldn’t hurt).

Mr. James—and I primarily know him only from last night’s debate—strikes me as a passionate man, maybe a little too polished or ambitious for my tastes. Still, I could see him doing a great job on the county board or, potentially, the school board.

Frank O’Leary has had a strong record as Treasurer for 20-odd years. I don’t see any reason to get rid of him, and Mr. James has not given me a reason to feel differently.


Steve Songs ROCKED THE HOUSE at Lubber Run Amphitheater last Saturday. The singer/songwriter played some of his greatest hits including “Gravity,” “On a Flying Guitar,” and his version of “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain.” The mosh pit was a swirling dervish of sweating bodies under the trees that evening as Steve played “Spinning.”

The crowd rushed the stage at numerous points during the evening prompting Steve to hold off playing. Parental Security often stepped in to remove the worst abusers from the stage.

Ticket sales benefited the Arlington Unitarian Cooperative Preschool, with many of the school’s members and alumni (including my children) in attendance. Some of the families spent dinner on the grassy hill above the amphitheatre before filling the bleachers.

For Lubber Run’s summer performance schedule,

click here, and then scroll down to the listing.

“Swamp Romp” Lived Up to Its Name Sunday
Beautiful thing about concerts like the “Lousiana Swamp Romp” at Wolf Trap last Sunday is the way people, often fueled by not a little alcohol, become instant friends, sharing food and beers.

I have a rather long history of participation in the Newport Jazz Fest at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in New York (that jazz fest is sponsored by the cigarettes, not the place). I’ve gone at least a dozen times to that fest as part of the Sullivan’s Lakeside Villa crew, two of those trips were weekenders from Wichita, Kan. to Saratoga (27 hours at 75 mph, one way). For about 40 bucks that my friend Damian collected from everyone, you got tickets to both days of the fest, all the beer and good food you wanted. Damian is a good cook.

Pete's in the Red shirt, I'm waving with my beer in green.

So it was with that background that I and my family were the guests of Pete and Jean Eisen at the a concert Sunday that was as much swamp as romp with the rain at times pouring down on us. Pete, a chef and pre-school teacher, did not disappoint. His smoked brisket and sausages, along with a choice of craft brews and wines, ‘bout made me swoon. He concocted a horseradish dip, sweet and tempting.

We were already soaked on the lawn when Dave, on the next tarp over, traded some of his jambalaya for some of Pete’s brisket. Probably not the best jambalaya, but very nice.

The music was good, but not enough of it. I could go for about six or eight hours, instead of the four. Still, Geno Delaphose and French Rockin’ Boogie opened the show and set the tone. Excellent music. Two of the players were nice enough to pose for a photo, though I cannot find their names anywhere. They told me, but the combination of beer and loud music confounded the problem. (I can barely hear myself on my voice mail where I left their names so that I could report them here. I can’t find them on the web site. If you know who they are, please tell me.).

And New Orleans Social Club closed the show—they’re a powerhouse and worth the price of admission. One of the two bands between was a not-worth-the-bother-of-mentioning, southern rock-hybrid thing that really had no business on the stage reserved for cajun, blues and zydeco (though the press on both is good).

Police Release Video of Pawn Shop Bandits
Arlington County Police released a video surveillance tape of two men who broke through the roof of First Cash Pawn Shop at 89 N. Glebe Rd. on Sunday.

They are asking anyone with information to contact Lisa Roosa at (703) 228-4169 of the police department or Crime Solvers at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

Scroll down to yesterday’s post for the full story.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

BV Vote; Art and More Art; Police Notes

Thanks for checking out the Herald Trib Today.
Headlines for today:
· County Board Set to Make BV Official, Finally.
· No Public Discussion on Art Removal: “A Slap in the Face.”
· “Give and Take” Gave and Took
· Police Notes for Bham: Do You Know These Men?
· Get Connectioned

Headlines from throughout the week:
· Police Seeking Two Burglars
· Two Weeks, No Food, Get Lucky (and off we go…)
· Bloggers Up to My Ears
· K-9 Unit Searches for Gun in B-ham
· Herald Trib Makes the Sunday Source, June 3
· INVESTIGATION: Gates of Ballston, After Major Renovation Some Tenants Feel Harassed
· Quick Financial Picture of The Gates and Arlington County

Sorry I can’t just hot link each headline, you must scroll down. Be sure to check everything out, and remember that I’m posting regularly throughout the week, now, so check back before next Wednesday to see what’s going on.
Planned stories:
· Concerts in the Parks
· Treasurer Endorsement.

Board to Make BV Official, Finally—Votes Set for Saturday
The County Board is set to take up Buckingham Village and finally vote on the purchase of Village 3, and approve the site plan “Scenario 8” in Village 1, this Saturday at their regular meeting. They will also vote on expanding the county’s historic district to cover Village 3, extending N. 3rd and N. 4th streets, and rezoning one small section of Village 1 to match the surrounding property. Buckingham is item number 44 during the regular hearing.

The decisions that were made between last summer and the first signs of spring this year feel almost like ancient history as the board was scheduled to approve all the decisions in April; the votes were officially set for June, but staff thought they might get the information completed by the May board meeting. Both times, the votes were delayed as county staff worked out details with the owner of the property Paradigm Development Companies, and their partners.

Barring any sudden changes, “It’s a happening thing,” said Mary Curtius, a spokeswoman for the county.

Micheline Castan-Smith of Paradigm, who has been working on the project for months was cautiously optimistic. Although the vote is nice, “the hard part is still ahead of us,” she said. She is looking to the coming months as Paradigm gets ready to relocate families who live in the buildings scheduled to be razed. Paradigm hopes to have a schedule for relocation and a company chosen to help with that by Saturday, she said.
The first buildings to be torn down are those along N. Pershing Drive between Culpepper Garden Apartments and N. George Mason Drive.

But are they happy for the vote?

“Well,” Ms. Castan-Smith said, laughing, “see us on Saturday.”

The county board meeting begins with public comment at 8:30a.m. with the regular meeting beginning no earlier than 9. The meeting is also streamed live via the Internet.

Here’s the Skinny on the Decisions
Buckingham Village 2 is the large dirtsward at the corner of N. Henderson Road and N. George Mason Drive. It is being developed “by right” meaning that it doesn’t play significantly into the negotiations of the past year. That tract will consist of dozens of market-rate townhouses (sorry, that’s townhomes—when they hit a bazillion bucks, they become “homes”).

With BV2 out of the way, consider Village 1: it sits between N. Henderson Road (across the street from the K.W. Barrett Elementary School), N. George Mason Drive, N. Pershing Drive and the Culpepper Gardens Apartments. All of the buildings in BV1 will be razed and replaced. Along N. George Mason Drive will run a line of townhomes. Behind them will sit two large apartment buildings, four storeys each with hundreds of apartments, most at market rates, but some will be affordable.

Village 3 will look much like it does right now, as it will be protected by the county’s Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board. BV3 sits on N. Pershing Drive between N. George Mason Drive and N. Thomas Street. All of the units there will remain affordable. Those buildings will be gutted and renovated with central air conditioning. Some might receive additions similar to the changes being completed at The Gates of Ballston. A pool might be put in.

An interesting turn of events hit the news earlier this year when it was announced that the county (or a company acting on their behalf) will purchase the entire village and resell them at affordable prices.

I’ve written on this topic way too many times to list/link them all here, but here’s a few dates you might check out: Dec. 10, 2006; Jan. 24; Feb. 14 and 28; April 18. These posts have links to others. Enjoy!

No Public Discussion on Art Removal: “A Slap in the Face.”
I reported here that the art long-planned to adorn the corner of N. Glebe Road and N. Pershing Drive had been nixed by the county staff as they design and implement a plan to renovate that corner. See the May 23 post.

The news had come from William “Bill” Roberts, who is heading the project for the county. In an email to Buckingham Community Civic Association President Patrick Hope, Mr. Roberts had written, “When we took the streetscape plans to the Historic Affairs Board, we couldn't get them to approve the proposed sculptures (they didn't think it was compatible with the surroundings) and VDOT was also giving us problems about the sculptures being a hazard and the property owner wanted nothing to do with it. In the meantime, the artist had become ill and the county's art curator left for another job. It was becoming so problematic and holding up the rest of the project that we decided to concentrate on getting the streetscape built.”

That got a couple people in Buckingham wondering exactly why they were not included in that process and what happened to the money appropriated for the art.

“The civic association was never brought in,” the BCCA’s Mr. Hope said, adding later, “This is really sort of a slap in the face.”

“We would have proposed [something] amenable to the them,” Mr. Hope said, “I would have liked that opportunity.”

He wondered if another proposal would work and said he hoped that the art is something that can be resurrected.

“[The art] was part of the funding package. Funding was approved. It was not a money issue,” Mr. Hope said.
I am waiting to hear back from other county staff for more details on this. I’ll let you know what they say.

“Give and Take” Gave and Took
Surprisingly, Cory Wagner’s sculpture “Give and Take” is not full of trash, even though it was designed to be taken apart by visitors. I first reported on his piece on April 11 [you may need to scroll down after clicking the link—stupid blogspot], during Mr. Wagner’s installation as part of Arlington Arts Center’s “Sculpture on the Grounds” exhibition. The theme for this installation is “disintegration.”

At the time, he told me that the balls sitting in cups at the top of thin steel poles were supposed to be taken, with the taker leaving behind something as well. He said that he hoped people would not leave trash.

Mr. Wagner filled each cup with a glow-in-the-dark sports ball. The glowing starry nature and the game balls represented childhood dreams, he said. He thought we might be watching as childhood dreams disintegrated into the hard reality of adulthood.

But maybe what we do when we see a fantasy like this is to hang onto a piece of the dream. Sure, some people have left what might be trash: a stick in one cup, a rock in another, a seed pod in another, a water bottle (or perhaps they were saying something about nature?).

At the same time, visitors had a Mardi Gras party theme going with beads and small plastic dolls; or a game theme with tennis balls and Wiffle Balls; or a basic creativity theme with lots of crayons. One has the umbrella from an exotic drink in it. One Wiffle Ball was inscribed with a sharpie marker, “I will always remember this moment” and signed by Katherine, Steven and Anita P. Silver.
Children have been leaving behind drawings that the staff of the Arlington Arts Center has been collecting to keep it out of the weather, Mr. Wagner said in a recent interview. He said that they’ll ask, “Are you sure this is what should be happening?” He said he loves it.

“It’s kind of grown beyond me. I find that rather exciting,” he said.
For someone, the cup runneth over.

The person anchored the cup to a wicker basket, like a basket to a hot-air balloon. The cup now holds a small basketball, and the basket holds the baseball card of White Sox Outfielder Gary Redus, a butterfly keychain and a figurine of a girl with a butterfly net.

“The aesthetics of the piece are beyond my control,” he said about the overall look of the exhibition.
The exhibit runs through Sept. 22.

Police Notes for Buckingham
Do You Know These Men? Arlington Police Seek Identity of “Athletic” Burglary Suspects
June 3: Two men broke through the roof and ceiling of the First Cash Pawn shop at 89 North Glebe Rd., tearing out numerous ceiling tiles on their way into the building, said Det. Steve Gomez with the Arlington Police Department. They exited back through the roof with cash and small items easily carried, but it’s unclear exactly how they got back up, Det. Gomez said, adding that it was “athletic.” Apparently, they broke through some venting to access the building. Cox.net has reported that it might be tied to similar crimes in Alexandria.

The police have released video photos of the men and hope to release more from a video camera that caught them at the Mr. Wash carwash before they hit the pawn shop, Det. Gomez said. Police are looking for help in catching the thieves:

Crimes Unit is seeking the public's help to identify two men who broke into and stole merchandise from a business in the Ashton Heights neighborhood of Arlington.

Anyone who recognizes either of the suspects or has information about this burglary is asked to call Detective Lisa Roosa at (703) 228-4169.

If callers wish to remain anonymous, they can call Crime Solvers at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477). Crime Solvers offers a reward of up to $1,000 for information that leads to an arrest. Callers to Crime Solvers do not have to give their names and do not need to testify in court.

May 31: Robbery by Force, 400 block of N. Thomas St. At approximately 9:25p.m. a man on a bicycle was approached by two unknown men. One of the men began hitting the victim in the face while the other took his bag which contained cash and a large amount of phone cards, a police report said. The two suspects then fled on foot. The victim was transported to a local hospital with injuries to the face, head, and hand. Suspect #1 is described as a black male, 5 feet, 9 inches tall, 150 pounds, wearing a white t-shirt. Suspect #2 is described only as a black male.

Get Connectioned…

Read my latest column (“Steve Thurston: T-Ball Coach”) in the Arlington Connection.
Remember: if you live in the 22203 zip code, call the Arlington Connection and get a FREE subscription to the paper: 703-917-6465. Right now we don’t have enough Buckinghamsters subscribing so the bulk mail takes forever—Sign Up Now!

If you just don’t want another piece of mail, grab a copy at Murky Coffee in Clarendon, Bob & Edith’s Diner on Columbia Pike (the original joint near S. Courthouse Road), or the Barcroft Sports Center on Four-Mile-Run Drive (near S. George Mason Drive).

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Butterflys, Blogs and Guns

Two Weeks, No Food, Get Lucky (and off you go…)
The photo is blurry (too close for the cell phone’s focus, sorry), but my son and I found this Cecropia Moth in the parking lot of the Unitarian Universalist Church, on N. George Mason Drive just over Arlington Boulevard from Buckingham.

They’re nocturnal and the largest moth in North America and only live as moths about two weeks—the link above says the adults can’t eat (which I’m guessing makes it tough to live more than two weeks). They live as moths just to mate.

This one was easily five inches across and bright orange-red on its striped body. We got the bug onto a stick and over to the base of a nearby tree. We had no idea what else to do with a moth that looked stumble-drunk, and we didn’t want it to get squished by a car.

The Butterfly Website” said the moths are “widely distributed in forests, arable land, and gardens, from southern Canada through the USA to Mexico.”

Bloggers Up to My Ears!
And ain’t it grand? The post story has put me in touch with some great blogs and bloggers from around the country (and I’m happy to report that Google tells me a few people in Europe have even touched down at the Herald Trib a time or two).

Some new-to-me-blogs you might want to see:

K-9 Unit Searches for Gun in B-ham.
A missing gun brought a K-9 unit out to the corner of N. Henderson Road and N. Thomas Street in Buckingham early Sunday morning, June 3 [Alas, I left my cell phone home—ST].

In the wee-hours of the day, police say, Leon Lewis Nelson, Jr., of the 4200 block of N. Henderson Rd., brandished the firearm at a tow truck driver.

The tow truck driver was walking along N. Henderson Road looking for illegally parked vehicles at about 2:46 a.m., according to the police report.

He walks to look for the vehicles first in order not to draw attention to himself, said Det. Steve Gomez of the Arlington County Police Department. Mr. Nelson, according to the police report, came out of an apartment, drew the gun from his illegally parked car, which forced the truck driver to flee. Mr. Nelson drove off and was apprehended nearby, the report said.

The gun was not found on Mr. Nelson or in his car. Police received a search warrant for the apartment and did not find the gun there, either, Det. Gomez said. Mr. Nelson is being held on $3,000 bond.


Sunday, June 03, 2007

Sunday Source

Herald Trib Makes The Sunday Source--June 3.

I made it into the Washington Post’s Sunday Source today, my birthday, no less! I’ll admit that it’s pretty cool to have gotten the attention. The photo they used was not nearly as bad as I had imagined it would have been.

The whole process of having my photo taken was something else, at least 25 minutes, 80 photos at the corner of N. George Mason Drive and N. Henderson Road. I snuck this one of Dayna Smith with my camera phone.

That gave her the idea to start shooting me pretending to take photos with my cell phone. They could have used one of them, and I would look foolish (yeah, I know, it’s no big step from where I am to Foolsville).

The guys in hard hats and Timberland boots, you know, guys who work for a living and were laying sewage pipe, were laughing until they finally had to ask if we were going to finish anytime soon, since they had work to get done and we were in their way.

The writer, Christina Antoniades, seemed very nice. She caught me on my cell while I was administering a final, but it was about the only time we both could talk. I paced in a hallway answering questions from her and my students while trying not to disturb the finalists in other classrooms. Still, one or two of the questions seemed like she had not really read the blog, but maybe she was fishing for a decent quote or two (I know how that goes).

Gates of Ballston: Some Tenants Feel Harassed (See Below)

Anyway, I posted a large story yesterday, if you didn’t catch it, make sure you scroll down and give it a read. I’ll have another one in that series later this week, and, of course, my Wednesday round-up.


Saturday, June 02, 2007

Gates of Ballston

After a Major Renovation, Some Tenants Feel Harrassed

Elmer Umanzor, a dark-skinned man with long fingernails and hands that look like he works for a living, sat on one of his three dining room chairs around his small, new dining table, and opened a Reebok shoebox full of papers. He flattened them out and ran through them, 21/30 notices, court summons, letters.

They all deal with problems he has had with AHC Management, Inc., which operates Gates of Ballston Apartments where he lives with his adult daughter Ziomara Umanzor on N. 4th Street in the Buckingham neighborhood.

And AHC knows all the months-old correspondence has been rectified, he said. But in mid-March he still did not have a letter from AHC confirming this.

“I feel harassed,” Mr. Umanzor said in mid-March. He spoke in Spanish translated by Lois Athey, a civic activist with BU-GATA, the tenants association.

Elmer Umanzor in his living room.

The 21/30 notices are the third warnings given out to tenants, after AHC has inspected the unit, found problems, returned for a second inspection and found the problems unresolved, said Richard “Rick” Leeds, the CEO of AHC Management Inc. After those two inspections, a renter receives the 21/30 notice.

The tenant has 21 days to fix any problems; if the problems are not fixed, the tenant has another nine days to vacate the apartment or face an appearance in Arlington’s General District court. Usually, the process is not quite so draconian, people have said, as tenants might get a couple 21/30 notices before facing eviction.

In the case of Mr. Umanzor, management found overcrowding, dirtiness and “chinches,” bedbugs, which are becoming a serious problem at The Gates [and nationally].

Mr. Umanzor did not deny that he had the bedbugs, but there was confusion as to when the exterminator would come. He got in trouble with AHC when his apartment was not prepared for extermination. Or it was prepared on a day they should have come, but no note was left saying that they did come, he said.

Mr. Umanzor and Ms. Athey blamed the citation for overcrowding on the fact that Mr. Umanzor sleeps on the floor of the living room so that his daughter can have the bedroom. It appears as though more people than should, live in the apartment.

The cleanliness issue is tough to see given that the apartment is spartan. He has little on the white living room walls other than a United States flag crossed with a flag of El Salvador; another, small United States flag is tucked in between them. Below them sits his small, flat-panel television on a coffee table. An end table sits nearby. An old, rolling desk chair rests in front of the television. There is nothing else in the living room.

Ms. Athey, who works with many Gates residents, has accused AHC of using the bedbugs as a way of rousting unwanted tenants because it is easy for AHC to accuse tenants of having the bugs but difficult for the tenants to prove they are gone.

“In 14 years working in this complex, I’ve never seen this,” she said, calling the notices “overkill,” and “harassment.”

The county put money into this reconstruction to have families in the area, but the families in the rent-controlled housing are being forced out, she said, because they have to submit to semi-annual apartment inspections and provide documentation such as income statements or birth certificates.

[Look for a post next week which addresses some of these issues, all which fall under “overcrowding.”]

300 families live in the Gates, and about 30 of the units have turned over since the apartments reopened last year, Mr. Leeds said. This is well below the average turnover rate county-wide.

[See the Jan. 31 post for more on the redevelopment and the Feb. 7 post for more on the community center to be built on the property. Click and then scroll down to find Feb. 7—it’s a blogspot thing.]

Given that AHC, with financial help from Arlington County, has put $100 million into rehabilitating the units and holding onto the tenants from before the renovation, AHC’s Rick Leeds asked, “Why would we go to all this trouble to retain the residents and then turn around and want to throw them out?” It costs $1,000 to prepare a unit for a new tenant; it’s much cheaper to keep the tenants that they have, he said.

“I don’t need excuses to get rid of people. If people mess up, I’ve got many of the rules of law to use. I don’t need the subterfuge of bedbugs,” Mr. Leeds said.

[A story at the bottom of this one takes a quick financial picture of AHC and Arlington County.]


The problem may be one of a new management style that comes with the renovated buildings.

JoAnn Cubbage said AHC since the renovation is more strictly enforcing rules of the lease and occupancy.

“Their vision is that when you drive by their property you don’t know that it’s low income housing,” said Ms. Cubbage, the chief of the county’s Housing Services Sector, who said she thinks AHC is a fine management company. She said there are more rules regarding where to park bicycles and taking trash to the dumpsters, and they are being enforced more so than in the past. “[People] are going to chafe at that.”

Ms. Cubbage said it may be a matter of educating the renters.

Walter Tejada, the vice chairman of the Arlington County Board, said that too many people have similar stories of harassment for them to have been “concocted.” But he also said that emotion sometimes gets the better of people and may cloud some judgments. Although AHC does a fine job of managing their properties, some of the complaints at The Gates may have been better handled with more communication. When that has happened, he said he has seen some positive results.

On a similar vein, Ms. Athey has said that AHC needed to use fewer 21/30 notices and more outreach.

Mr. Leeds admitted to being surprised early last year at the number of 21/30 notices sent out in the first phase of relocation, as tenants began to move back in. He estimated that as many as 40 percent of the 112 newly-renovated apartments were sent the notices.

He said that fewer and fewer people get the 21/30 notices now that the first and second phases of relocation have had their second, semi-annual inspections.

AHC has started working with people who have been sent the notices in an attempt to retain the clients and keep from going to court, Mr. Leeds said. Maintenance staff has started going to apartments to train individuals on the new central heating and cooling systems and on the new kitchen appliances. Management also holds monthly meetings to help with tenant complaints.

Generally, AHC gets some response to the first notice of violation that is left in apartments after the property manager and maintenance personnel inspect the unit, notices that Ms. Athey said sometimes are not left or are misunderstood.

Management gets a little more response from the second notice, or “lease violation,” Mr. Leeds said.

“However, the issue that we find is that residents don’t believe that they need to comply with our request to correct deficiencies,” he said, adding later, “Some of this, as I see it, is denial….We’ve had a situation where we’ve had infestation in the unit. Our exterminator has been in the unit; they’ve identified the problem, and the resident says, ‘You’re wrong.’”

This goes back to the proof of whether the bedbugs are really there.

Ms. Athey said that “bedbugs” will appear on the 21/30 notice, but it is unclear where and how the bedbugs were found.

AHC sees the problems that they find as serious maintenance issues. Management must consider that an infestation in one apartment can quickly become a problem in the entire building, Mr. Leeds said.

People are very afraid of the semi-annual inspections, Ms. Athey said. They are afraid of eviction and so are hyper-vigilant, worried not just about infestation, but marks on the walls and dirt on the carpets.

“The message is, ‘I have to be so careful,’” Ms. Athey said.

Johny Gonzalez, the treasurer of BU-GATA, and his wife Daysi live on N. 4th Road with their school-aged children. Much of the beige carpeting in the living/dining room in the two-bedroom apartment is covered with plastic: under the dining room table, between the table and the kitchen door, in front of the couch. The plastic cost him $100 Mr. Gonzalez said.

They have had one inspection since moving in, and they were told one bedroom was cluttered, but overall the apartment was OK, Mr. Gonzalez said in Spanish through Ms. Athey.

“It’s hard to keep up an apartment with kids,” he said.

Mr. Leeds said AHC needs the newly renovated units to last decades.

“Well, again, we’re asking residents to maintain their units, and we expect some level of wear and tear. We expect that if the carpets get dirty they’re cleanable, and we expect when someone moves out that we can come in and shampoo them and turn it over to the next resident,” he said.


Cleanliness has not been the only problem. Mr. Gonzalez said that his September rent check had been applied to his old apartment, one that was under renovation at the time. Since the check was applied to the wrong apartment, he was told his rent was late, and he faced eviction. The problem was resolved in meetings with AHC and Arlington County in November; he got a letter from AHC saying it was resolved in March, he said.

Lauren Uranga who lives on N. Thomas Street had a similar problem in February. However, she wrote in an email that AHC quickly found the rent and applied it to her account. But she never received a confirmation letter, even though AHC said they would send one, she wrote last week.

Ms. Athey has blamed these sorts of problems on the high staff turnover rate (Mr. Tejada echoed that sentiment) and a general disorganization of the office. Mr. Leeds is quick to say that many of the people in the office have been with Gates or AHC for years.

The problems with Mr. Umanzor’s 21/30 notices ended with a “Summons for Unlawful Detainer” (a civil claim for eviction) to appear in Arlington’s General District court.

According to court records, his was one of 59 cases brought against people in the Gates by AHC Management, LLC between July 2006 and April 2007. In the vast majority of those cases, 49, AHC dropped the suit. Of the remaining cases, there was one dismissal and nine favored AHC.

Mr. Umanzor’s case was filed in early February and set to be heard on March 1. By the time of this interview in mid-March, the summons had the word “Cancelled 2/12” written across its front in ballpoint pen, but was unsigned. On another was written “Void” neither signed nor dated. He was still waiting for official word from AHC that the ordeal really was over. According to court records, the case was “nonsuit” meaning dropped by AHC.

[During a May interview with the Herald Trib, Mr. Leeds promised to double check that Mr. Umanzor’s letter had arrived.]

“I’m worried that my credit will be affected,” Mr. Umanzor said in broken English. A future management company or creditor might call AHC at some point asking whether Mr. Umanzor has had troubles with AHC.

Mr. Leeds admitted that they need a letter themselves in Mr. Umanzor’s file saying that the case was resolved so that they report correctly to the next creditor.

“I pay rent right on time,” Mr. Umanzor said. “I’m on time. I want them to do the same.”


Quick Financial Picture of The Gates and Arlington County

The Gates is entering a final phase of a $100 million renovation project which updated all of the complex’s 465 units in its 44 buildings; 350 of the units are reserved for people who earn low to moderate incomes, which is the core mission of AHC.

All of the units were gutted, recarpeted and painted. They each received new appliances and central heating and air conditioning. Additions were built onto some of the buildings creating two- and three-bedroom units from one- or two-bedrooms.

The final 70 units are expected to be completed this summer, ahead of schedule, AHC officials said.

(See the Jan. 31 post for more on the redevelopment and the Feb. 7 post for more on the community center to be built on the property. Click and then scroll down to find Feb. 7—it’s a blogspot thing.)

In 2004, Arlington County approved a long-term financing package for the project, consisting of an $8.5 million Affordable Housing Investment Fund loan, a $480,000 grant to fund a tenant assistance program and a credit enhancement for approximately $23 million in tax-exempt revenue bonds, said a press release at the time.

AHC's Walter Webdale at a December 2002 press conference, announcing the takeover of The Gates.

AHC owns and operates 19 properties in Arlington, according to their web site. With the county’s help, AHC bought the Gates for about $35 million in the last months of 2002 and took ownership on Thanksgiving Day that year. The complicated finances and historic status of the complex meant that renovations had to wait.


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