Editor: The Sun Gazette recently reported that construction had started on two new high-rise residential buildings that will have 160 rental apartments at the former American Legion site on Washington Boulevard in Arlington.  

While it is laudable that veterans will receive preference to get into one of these subsidized units, unfortunately much of the public funding for these units will be wasted and not mainly help the lowest-income vets and non-vets in Arlington.  

The county government provided $6 million in funding, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development $21 million and the Virginia Housing Development Authority $9 million, or about 95 percent of the $38 million total cost of the first 80-unit building.

Only eight units (10 percent) of the 80 units will be rented to people earning 30 percent or less of area median income (AMI).  So this building will not help the lowest income or previously homeless vets, who for the most part will not be able to rent a unit.  In addition, thanks to Veterans Administration (VA) housing grants and efforts at the local level, Arlington (unlike areas like Los Angeles) has few if any homeless veterans.

These new apartments will cost nearly $500,000 each, an outrageous cost for so-called “subsidized housing” and even an outrageous amount for new non-subsidized housing, as well.  

One reason for the high cost is that the American Legion Post is not giving away its land, but rather will receive nearly $5 million. The developer’s profit for the first building will exceed $3 million. Soft and hard construction costs are higher than usual for commercial apartment buildings.

This is the usual Arlington way of dealing with affordable housing – lavish profits for landowners, developer and insiders, and very little real benefit to lower-income tenants.

What could have been done instead with $36 million of public funds?  How about giving 80 low-income renters who earn less than 30-percent AMI a $1,000-a-month housing voucher, over the next 36 years, and let them rent their own market-rate unit in Arlington? The voucher would cover half of the market rent.  

John Reeder, Arlington

Reeder chairs the Arlington Green Party.

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