Nina Janopaul has been president and CEO of Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) since 2007.
Dedicated to developing and preserving affordable housing in Arlington County, Va., the organization's portfolio boasts nearly 1,000 units. APAH was named developer of the year by the Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers in 2011, an award that recognizes achievement in Maryland, Northern Virginia, and Washington, D.C.
Janopaul previously served as a principal at Capital Strategies Consulting, Inc., providing services to a variety of organization, including Enterprise. She was also national director of development for Hostelling International.
Q: What was your first exposure to affordable housing?
A: As head of development for Hostelling International, I cut my teeth on developing large properties in the heart of Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City. Following that, I evaluated potential affordable housing investments all over the country for Enterprise. I was impressed with the brilliance of the folks creating affordable housing in their communities and the importance of their work to the residents.
Q: Why do you work in affordable housing?
A: I have lived in Arlington for over 20 years and have a passion for the mission of providing my hard-working, low-wage neighbors with the opportunity to live near their work. We are a community with lots of resources”“good transportation, schools, parks, and services. I aspire to share these benefits and keep our community economically and culturally diverse. Our diversity defines us. It is part of the very fabric of Arlington.
Q: What will be the biggest challenge for APAH in 2012 and how will you meet that challenge?
A: Arlington is the smallest county in the United States”“only 26 square miles. Increasing land values and the resurgence of the multifamily real estate market are creating more land and price competition. Our challenge is to be creative and use innovative tools to address housing development costs. I also worry that the changing national political climate is weakening support for state and local affordable housing development programs.
Q: APAH is focusing much of its attention along Columbia Pike. Briefly tell us what you are working on there.
A: Columbia Pike, a 3.5-mile artery that stretches from the Pentagon to Fairfax County, is considered the last bastion of affordable housing in Arlington. Of the 7,317 apartments on Columbia Pike, only 1,004 are committed affordable. The remaining 6,313 are at market-rate rents and vulnerable to the same upward pressures that have reduced affordability in other parts of the county. APAH is participating in a multi-year, community-based effort, the Columbia Pike Land Use and Housing Study. The study includes ambitious affordable housing goals as part of the overall revitalization recommendations. My aim is to be a resource on best practices and financing tools and to advocate for implementation of those affordable housing goals. APAH currently owns two properties with 319 units on Columbia Pike, and we have a 122-unit, four-story new construction complex in development. We are poised to make additional investments to create or preserve more affordable units in the near future.
Q: As a developer, how is APAH changing?
A: APAH was founded in 1989 by four families committed to social justice. From these humble beginnings, APAH has experienced tremendous growth. APAH purchased its first 100-plus unit property in 2003 and since then has grown quickly. Today, we own 995 units in 12 properties with a portfolio valued at over $170 million. We have broadened our skill set from being specialists in moderate rehab to becoming experts in new construction, complicated site work, shared joint-venture, mixed-income, and green building design. We are also adept at negotiating complicated financial deals, known for being innovative and efficient developers and tireless advocates for affordable housing.
Q: What's a recent move that APAH made that other developers may learn from?
A: We worked collaboratively with Arlington County using the concept of “public land for public good” to pioneer affordable housing development on county-owned property. APAH is leasing the land at a very low cost and will build the 122-unit, committed affordable Arlington Mill Residences on a parking garage in a complex that will also house the county's new community center.
Q: Are you more optimistic or pessimistic about the state of affordable housing than you were a year ago, and why?
A: Locally, I am more optimistic. Community members are more engaged, working collaboratively to solve our most serious housing needs as part of Arlington's Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. I've seen a profound change in civic and business support for affordable housing and ending homelessness over the last decade. Nationally, I am more pessimistic as I witness significant cuts in federal funding that will seriously undercut the abilities of local and state jurisdictions to fund affordable housing development through HOME and the Community Development Block Grant programs.
Q: Please share with us a favorite statistic or fact about affordable housing.
A: Arlington County is a community of more renters than homeowners. In the last 10 years, we have lost 10,000 units of affordable housing to redevelopment or repositioning for higher incomes.
Q: What's the best advice you have received?
A: Don't skimp on technology. Nonprofits are infamous for making staff work with antiquated computers and donated equipment. Investing in our IT systems has significantly improved both productivity and morale.
Q: What do you like to do when you are not working?
A: I love to bicycle, either on the wonderful bike trails in Arlington or rural routes in western Maryland. I plan to train for another century ride in 2012.
Q: What's next for Nina Janopaul?
A: Arlington is undergoing a dramatic transformation from an aging suburb to a world-class city. I want to keep being part of preserving this community's diversity and allowing all of us, not just the affluent, to benefit from our great services and built environment.