A debate about the treatment of displaced residents who lived in Arbor Heights and the Pierce Queen apartments—two low-income apartment complexes that are undergoing redevelopment this year--brought the Arlington County Tenant-Landlord Commission and the Citizen Advisory Commission on Housing together in a joint meeting Wednesday night.
The two groups reviewed a spreadsheet provided by county staff that showed the numbers of people who returned to various housing projects since 2005. It included the number of tenants at each property pre-renovation and the number of original tenants that returned after the project was completed.
Total retention rate of county assisted projects is 57 percent, according to Renee Willis of the Housing Services Section in the Arlington County Housing Division. Her department produced the spreadsheet.
“I’m pleasantly surprised that the return rate is so high; that’s really good,” Housing Commission Chair Holly Bray said in the meeting.
Housing commissioner Alice Hogan was happy to see historical data. She also added, “I think it’s important for developers to know a lot of people are watching--healthy peer pressure kind of thing.”
The county uses Arlington County’s Tenant Relocation Guidelines to outline how companies should help the people being displaced.
“We encourage landlords and developers to adhere to the guidelines, but it is a guideline only,” Willis said.
The guidelines are not law, but cover how much a company pays to help relocate a family, the sorts of meetings a company should hold with the community to help them plan, and other actions. If the building is being demolished instead of renovated, the rules change to help people relocate permanently.
Tenant activists worry that the guidelines are insufficient when dealing with such a “jarring” situation for those who have to relocate, according to Dennis Jaffe, executive director of Buyers and Renters Arlington Voice (BRAVO), a tenant advocacy association.
“When there’s a redevelopment project that is in the works you have automatic displacement that will occur,” he said in an earlier interview. “And it’s an external factor; something a tenant has no control over.”
The guidelines make three recommendations to make the relocation process easier for tenants: that the landlord provides assistance services to residents who are being displaced, that the landlord provides a relocation payment to the tenant and that the landlord gives the tenant 120-day notice to vacate the property.
The Housing Division also asks landlords to do a profile of the property in order to determine if special considerations are needed for relocating tenants with disabilities, for example.