One of the biggest advantages of smart growth – housing built in walkable neighborhoods located near mass transit, grocery stores, and shops – is that it creates desirable communities and draws homebuyers. A National Association of Realtors survey found that more than half of respondents preferred a smart growth neighborhood to a suburban subdivision.
But smart growth demand also can have a downside – limited housing stock and high development costs — which makes building transit-oriented affordable housing particularly challenging.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
In Arlington, Va., AHC Inc. has a track record of using creative ideas to build affordable housing in dense urban areas, where land can be expensive and scarce. Some of its approaches – from land swaps to creating land – could be replicated elsewhere as well. AHC’s experience provides examples of how affordable housing can be a key part of a smart growth strategy, helping to reach the goal of creating communities that are diverse, as well as desirable.
Here’s a look at some of AHC’s projects and strategies – and some of the challenges overcome.
Community concerns about density and building heights are a common challenge in smart growth areas. To move forward such a stalled project, AHC engineered a land swap with a prominent developer to reconfigure a multi-pronged project that included affordable housing along with high-end townhouses and 450,000 square feet of office and retail space. The land swap moved the townhouses next to existing single-family homes and nestled AHC’s 90-unit, four-story building closer to the retail and commercial spaces. AHC’s building, The Jordan, which encloses a welcoming courtyard, is separated from the larger buildings by an urban greenway.
Using Nontraditional Spaces
With space at a premium in Arlington’s dense Metro Corridor, AHC transformed a parking lot next to an existing affordable garden-style apartment complex (Woodbury Park) into twin nine-story buildings – one affordable and one market rate. The condo (The Park at Courthouse) helped subsidize the affordable housing apartments. A passerby couldn’t tell the difference in the buildings, which are connected by a brick-lined courtyard. The end result: On a site just 1/4 mile from the Courthouse Metro Station, AHC created The Frederick with 108 affordable apartments, a 4,300-square-foot community center with onsite Resident Services programs, underground parking, and play areas for children.
Photo: Twin buildings – one affordable (The Frederick on the right) and one market-rate (The Park at Courthouse on the left).