Multifamily Reinvestment Study: FAQs

Answers to Key Questions

Why can’t we find ways to prevent the erosion of the existing market-rate affordable housing stock through strategies to support preservation rather than demolition and replacement?

Unfortunately, rent control and stabilization programs found in other U.S. states are prohibited in Virginia. They are not enabled by the Code of Virginia for use by local governments like Arlington County.

In spring 2020, the County discontinued the Multifamily Rehabilitation Partial Property Tax Exemption program. This program allowed eligible multifamily properties to receive an exemption on the increase in assessed value due to rehabilitation or renovation for a 15-year period that included a 20% step-down applied for each of the last five years. The program was discontinued due to a lack of clear public benefit in exchange for the exemption and a lack of evidence to demonstrate that the exemption created an incentive for investing in property improvements. The program’s discontinuance enables the County to recoup an estimated $46M in cumulative forgone tax revenue beginning in CY 2022 through 2036.

The County has a long track record of preserving market-rate affordable housing units (MARKs) through acquisition. As part of Housing Arlington’s Financial Tools initiative, the County will continue to financially support the acquisition of multifamily properties with MARKs to preserve long-term housing affordability for Arlingtonians who make 80% or less of the Area Median Income (AMI). Such acquisitions will result in the MARKs being added to the County’s supply of Committed Affordable Units (CAFs), with the potential for redevelopment in some instances to increase the number of CAFs beyond the existing number of MARKs on site.

Not all MARKs properties, however, will be available for acquisition. Furthermore, the County’s resources for financing acquisitions are limited. Therefore, existing property owners need options to continue providing market-rate affordable housing. The 2017 MARKs report recommended that in addition to pursuing acquisitions when opportunities arise, new GLUP and zoning tools should be developed to provide a streamlined development review process and offer more density than currently possible in order to maintain some affordability. The Multifamily Reinvestment Study is executing that recommendation and exploring new zoning tools.

What is the relationship of the Housing Conservation District (HCD) to the Multifamily Reinvestment Study?

To address the housing challenges facing multifamily areas in Arlington County outside of planning corridors, the County Board created the Housing Conservation District (HCD) and adopted the HCD Policy Framework in 2017. The HCD formed a special planning district over 12 areas. It contained 382 properties and over 5,600 apartments, with a significant concentration of MARKs. The County Board directed staff to develop new zoning tools to achieve the HCD goals of maintaining and enhancing the character of multifamily neighborhoods, encouraging the preservation of existing MARKs, and creating opportunities for new affordable and moderate-income units when redevelopment occurs.

Given the growing importance of supporting increased housing affordability Countywide, the HCD has expanded into the Multifamily Reinvestment Study. The County is currently developing new tools that would apply not only in the 12 HCD areas but all unplanned multifamily areas (RA districts) Countywide.

12 Areas of the HCD

Areas of the HCD

RA Districts

A map showing the geographic scope of RA districts in Arlington County

Click to enlarge

See interactive map

The map above shows all multifamily areas (RA districts—in shades of tan and brown) in Arlington County. These multifamily areas include, but are not limited to, the 12 HCD areas. Zoning tools developed by the Multifamily Reinvestment Study will apply in all multifamily areas outside of the four major planning areas.

What potential zoning tools are being considered?

In exchange for dedicating some dwelling units for low- to moderate-income households, the County is considering allowing property owners to:

  • Add additional dwelling units within an existing apartment building.
  • Expand an existing apartment building or build new housing somewhere else on the property.
  • Access more flexible zoning standards (i.e., building height and setbacks) to partially or fully replace an existing apartment building with a new apartment building.

Will existing market-rate affordable housing be preserved with development or redevelopment in a RA district with these zoning standards in place?

Yes, one of the study goals is to develop zoning tools that enable preservation of existing market-rate affordable housing, by creating tools that incentivize partial infill, bump-outs or additions, and rehabilitation.

What will be the required housing affordability commitment for a development applicant?

Affordability commitments will be identified and recommended through the study process, balancing County goals for affordability levels with other County and Study goals, including compatibility of new development with the surrounding neighborhood context, transportation infrastructure, tree canopy and open space conservation, and historic preservation.

How will the expansion of the Housing Conservation District into the Multifamily Reinvestment Study affect the townhouse provision that currently applies to the Housing Conservation District?

Each property in the HCD is zoned so that apartment buildings can be built by-right, meaning that designs need only comply with established Zoning Ordinance and Building Code requirements to be approved for construction permits. A Zoning Ordinance amendment adopted in 2017 requires additional community review for the development of new townhouses within the HCD. In the course of the Multifamily Reinvestment Study, County staff will evaluate whether the townhouse policy should be continued, modified, or repealed.

How will this study address racial equity?

Equity means closing race-based outcome gaps so that race does not predict one’s success while improving outcomes for everyone. Racial equity requires moving beyond services to focus on policies, institutions, and structures.

Advancing racial equity will require looking at existing institutions—in this case, the County’s land use policy and regulatory framework for multifamily housing—and asking five key equity questions: “What did/do we do?” ” Who benefits?” “Who is burdened?” “Who is left out?” “How do we know?” The answers may point to recommendations that support work being done across all institutions to realize a community where all populations have access to live wherever community conditions and opportunities are personally needed to reach their full potential and to experience optimal well-being. Such changes will improve outcomes for everyone and make Arlington a better place for everyone to live. The Multifamily Reinvestment Study is an opportunity to look at our existing land use policy and regulations and ask if there is a better way to achieve our County vision.

Will adding new development in RA areas exacerbate issues with our Countywide stormwater management systems?

New development must meet uniform standards for managing stormwater runoff and treatment. Stormwater management measures are reviewed by Department of Environmental Services (DES) staff prior to development approval. DES inspectors monitor the installation of such measures to ensure that the development’s stormwater management corresponds with that which was reviewed and approved.

A development’s stormwater management infrastructure must comply with the standards set forth in the County’s Stormwater Management Ordinance, found in Chapter 60 of the Arlington County Code. These standards require controls for water quantity (controlling the volume of stormwater leaving a site to prevent downstream erosion and scouring of otherwise healthy streams) and water quality (minimizing the amount of sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus in the stormwater that leaves the site to prevent nutrient overload in downstream waterways that would disrupt naturally balanced ecosystems).

Given the age of many of Arlington’s multifamily buildings that date back to the 1930s through 1960s, prior to the adoption of modern stormwater management regulations, the implementation of new zoning tools that create redevelopment opportunities for increased housing supply would result in most instances in the integration of modern control systems to improve Arlington’s overall stormwater management infrastructure.

Will the study result in the displacement of residents who are currently living in market-rate affordable housing, and how is displacement addressed?

Whenever an apartment building with existing tenants redevelops, displacement occurs. Depending on how that redevelopment happens, different tenant protections are put in place. The Multifamily Reinvestment Study will provide options other than the existing by-right development option.

“By-right” development would be any development proposal that conforms with all of the existing regulations set forth in the County’s Zoning Ordinance for the zoning district where the property is located. When properties redevelop through by-right development, there are minimal tenant protections. Primarily, the property owner must send advance notice of at least 120 days to the tenants detailing when their leases will end and when they need to move out of the building.

Redevelopment options being considered under the Multifamily Reinvestment Study will require County Board approval for any proposed development. All projects requiring County Board approval must adhere to the County’s Tenant Relocation Guidelines. The goal of the guidelines is to enable displaced tenants to move directly to decent, structurally safe, and affordable replacement housing convenient to their place of employment and/or school. The guidelines further define the relocation payments and other benefits that a tenant may be entitled to receive and that the developer is required to provide. Provisions in the guidelines also establish priority for displaced residents to lease housing in the new development.

When properties are redeveloped with public funds to provide committed affordable housing, some tenants who return to the property may qualify for additional assistance through a Tenant Assistance Fund in certain circumstances.