While many areas of the country are struggling with high unemployment rates and declining home values, a few select markets are thriving economically. In Fairfax, Va., located in the country’s second most affluent county, home values are rising and rents have outpaced household incomes.
This growth is good for the county’s homeowners and businesses, but many working-class employees of local schools, government offices, and health care facilities struggle to find affordable housing or face a long commute to less-expensive outer suburbs.
To help ease the affordable housing crunch, a recent high-performance renovation of the 54-unit West Wood Oaks apartment complex will help ensure that families of varying income levels can live in the area, says Chris LoPiano, senior vice president of real estate for Washington, D.C.-based Community Preservation and Development Corp. (CPDC).
The garden-style development originally built in 1970 is close to shopping, restaurants, a large city park, Inova Fairfax Hospital, and George Mason University. It includes 39 apartments reserved for households earning 50 percent or less of the area median income (AMI), renting for an average of 25 percent below market rate. The other 15 apartments are reserved for households earning 51 percent to 95 percent of the AMI. Monthly rents range from $889 to $1,287—“half the market rate for apartments in this area,” LoPiano points out.
Designed to meet Enterprise Green Communities and EarthCraft Virginia standards for green building, the project features rooftop solar panels that assist its new hot water heaters, reducing dependence on natural gas by an estimated 40 percent. Upgrades also include Energy Star appliances and light fixtures and 1.1-gpf toilets. Outdated 8-SEER HVAC equipment has been replaced by high-efficiency, 15-SEER systems. In addition to the sustainable retrofits, six units also meet universal design standards for residents with disabilities.
The renovation by Harkins Builders of Marriottsville, Md., also encompasses a new clubhouse with a spacious great room, a kitchen, and seating for watching sporting events and movies on the large drop-down screen. Additional community gathering space is available on the clubhouse patio, which features grills, tables, and chairs.
The $6.6 million project was financed with 9 percent low-income housing tax credits issued by the Virginia Housing Development Authority and purchased by Enterprise Community Investment, which also provided the permanent loan. Virginia Community Capital provided the construction loan. The complex, which officially opened Sept. 20, is fully occupied, LoPiano says.
Powered by federal government jobs and a flourishing high-tech sector, the Washington, D.C., area’s economy has boomed even during the recent recession, with household incomes rising in most counties around the city last year. This makes the need for affordable workforce housing more pressing than ever, LoPiano says.
“It’s a great challenge across the region to be able to provide housing to the folks that really make the economy here run,” he says. “To be able to have them live here and walk to work is a huge green driver.”