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.

What, is the mini-golf park about a mile and a half up Wilson Blvd. too busy these days? :)

(When I first moved here, there was a mini-golf park at the corner of Washington Blvd. and 10th Street, where Sala Thai and CVS now stand . . . )

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