Culpepper Garden ground-breaking ceremony

Dignitaries toss ceremonial shovels of dirt at a ground-breaking ceremony for the renovation of Culpepper Garden on April 11, 2018.

One day after all final hurdles were cleared and the complicated financing package went to closing, officials at Culpepper Garden on April 12 hosted a ceremonial kickoff for the $62 million redevelopment of the non-profit senior center’s original wing.

“We’ve been working toward this for a very, very long time,” said Susan Philp, who chairs the board of directors of the Arlington Retirement Housing Corp., which owns the Ballston-area senior center.

When the two-year project is complete, the 1970s-era main tower will have seen a top-to-bottom renovation and slight expansion from 206 to 210 units.

Designed for low-income seniors, its average tenant age is 77 and average income is $18,000. Funding for the project comes from a mix of federal, state and local dollars and tax credits.

“It’s all about partnerships,” said Susan Dewey, executive director of the Virginia Housing Development Authority, which is pumping millions of dollars into the renovation.

Dewey said the project will enable the Culpepper Garden property to remain available to seniors of limited means for generations to come.

“It’s incredibly rewarding and extremely important,” she said of the effort. “It’s one thing to put together affordable housing. It’s another to keep it that way.”

(The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development brought some good news to the festivities, announcing that the project will receive federal tenant-protection vouchers, which will help support development costs.)

The Arlington County government earlier this year earmarked nearly $11 million from its Affordable Housing Investment Fund to support the construction. County Board Chairman Katie Cristol said the ground-breaking effort was happening at the right time of year.

“Spring is when we see the blooming of carefully tended seeds,” she said, pointing to Culpepper Garden as “a model for the nation.”

Upon completion of the project, the original complex (dubbed “Culpepper I”) will include 129 efficiency apartments, 74 one-bedrooms and seven two-bedrooms. While residents will need to be shuttled around among apartments somewhat as various portions of the project are completed, none will be displaced.

Moving anyone is difficult, “but especially for our senior population,” Dewey acknowledged.

Arlington Retirement Housing Corp. has partnered with Wesley Housing Development Corp. for the project. Despite both anticipated and unexpected challenges that have cropped up, “we’ve really been able to work through them,” said Wesley president Shelley Murphy.

“We are so pleased to be on this journey,” Murphy said.

The Buckingham-area complex is named after Dr. Charles Culpepper, who in 1975 sold his five-acre tract at below-market rates for use as senior apartments. Originally designed exclusively for independent living, subsequent phases of the property have included assisted-living components.

The ground-breaking ceremony took place on the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, which redefined the federal government’s role in housing across the nation.

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