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Housing Corp. Set to Convert 32 Apartment Units into Affordable Housing

The $9 million project that involves three apartment buildings is set to be complete by mid-2013.

The Housing Corporation of Arlington is set to begin renovating three apartment buildings—totaling 32 units—early next year in what would be the largest affordable housing project built in the town in about 30 years, housing officials said.

The Capitol Square Apartments renovation is a $9 million project funded through a mix of private and public financing with about 10 percent of funding coming from federal Community Development Block Grants. The renovation of the three-story, gray stucco buildings on Massachusetts Avenue is set to be complete by mid-2013, officials said.

Some may have the perception that affordable housing isn’t an issue for a town like Arlington, said David Levy, executive director of HCA. Though the needs are less severe than gateway cities where there’s a larger lower-income population, such as in Cambridge, Somerville or Lawrence, Levy said there is still a serious need.

“There are plenty of people in the suburbs who are struggling, and would like to stay in their housing,” he added.

There are currently 650 applicants on the HCA waiting list, 150 of which are Arlington residents. The state's goal for affordable housing is 10 percent of homes and Arlington is currently at 5.9 percent, including the 32 planned units.

The opening of such a large property in Arlington is rare, so when HCA employees heard that SVT Realty was selling the apartments, they took the opportunity and bought the properties last October, according to housing officials.

There are several benefits to the location at 252, 258-260 Mass. Avenue near East Arlington Center, such as its proximity to public transportation, parks, schools, restaurants and .

“I think that Capitol Square makes a significant contribution to affordable housing because of the desperate need for affordable rentals,” Levy said.

The prices of the 32 apartments, which are all currently one-bedroom, range from about $900 to $1,250 a month including heat and hot water. After renovations, six of the apartments will be studios, 17 one-bedroom and nine two-bedroom. Rent has not yet been finalized, but the studios will likely be in the $800s, one-bedrooms in the low $900s and two-bedrooms around $1,100 including heat and hot water, according to Levy.

Twelve of the current tenants qualify to remain in the building. Arlington residents qualify if they earn between 30 and 60 percent of the area median income per year, which means a limit of $40,500 for one person, $46,260 for two people, according to U.S. government statistics.

Those who don’t qualify are receiving relocation assistance, which includes a relocation payment of about $5,000, a payment for moving costs and realtor help with a new place, Levy said.

Housing officials said they have not encountered any opposition to the project from residents and that the community at-large has been very supportive. Residents were first notified in July 2010 that HCA planned to purchase the building.

There is currently no set deadline for when residents must vacate the apartments, but once the project is fully funded, residents will receive 120 days notice to vacate, according to housing officials. Residents who qualify to remain will be temporarily relocated to a vacant apartment in another building while their apartment is being renovated. 

Reeta Rana, 32, who has been living in an apartment at 260 Massachusetts Ave. for two years, said she received notification with adequate time about the conversion, and she and her mother are searching for a new place. The only challenge is finding an apartment that is deleaded because she has a young child.

Otherwise, she said, she did not have much of an opinion about the conversion, but that while she lived there it was a great location

Meagan Beasley, 24, who lives in an apartment at the 258 building, said she moved in May 15 and will be moving out early next year.

“We were looking for a short-term lease,” she said, and was able to get one because of the upcoming renovations to the building.

The restoration of the visibly run-down buildings is set to include updates to the outside and inside of the buildings, along with energy upgrades to improve the buildings' sustainability. The town and the Massachusetts Historical Commission have identified the buildings as historic, so the renovation would preserve the historic characteristics, officials said.

Often those most in need of affordable housing have lived in town the longest, and with rising rents, can no longer afford to stay, officials said.

Jack Hurd, a former member of the  who was largely involved in affordable housing, said the lower income population is varied and can include government employees, like teachers.

“It’s an important element of the program to allow people who grew up here to stay,” said Hurd, who finished his 14-year term on the Board of Selectmen this year and now works at  in Arlington.

Arlington housing prices started rising dramatically in about 1998 and in 2000 prices went up 17 percent from the previous year, but recently the rise has not been as severe, according to Laura Wiener, director of housing for Arlington Planning and Community Development.

The project also received money from supporters such as the North Suburban HOME Consortium and Wainwright Bank and Trust. The property would be the largest owned by HCA to date, but the operates several larger affordable housing properties, which provide from 67 to 144 units each.

In past years, HCA’s approach to affordable housing was purchasing two-family homes because of the high prevalence and availability in Arlington. But as they accumulated those properties and leveraged more private financing, the HCA has been able to focus more on larger apartment buildings. The HCA owns 30 units in two-family homes, and 60 apartment units.

“I’d say that it has been a very effective strategy because Arlington does not have a lot of land to build on,” Wiener said.

Sherley St. Juste, who resided at 252 Massachusetts Ave., relocated in March and said while she initially wasn’t looking forward to moving, she soon saw it as a way to help people who couldn’t afford as much as her. She received a realtor through HCA who helped her find her new apartment in Allston.

“I felt like I was doing something nice for the world,” St. Juste, who works with formally and currently homeless people at Compass for Kids, said about relocating.

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