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Oct. 11, 2012

The Changing Landscape of Affordable Housing?

By Sathya Moorthy, RA, LEED-AP – Senior Project Architect, MTFA Architecture

According to US Census Bureau, America is trending towards population growth in cities, and that means a trend in multifamily housing. As a result, the construction of multifamily units is growing faster than single-family homes. The past decade has seen a flurry of high-rise apartments in Washington, D.C., and this trend is rapidly spreading across the suburbs such as Arlington and Tysons Corner, Va. While the supply of condominiums and high-end apartments are in line with the demand, it is not so the case with affordable housing. In fact, the supply of affordable housing in this region has dwindled by more than 50 percent in the past decade, and the existing stock of affordable housing is in such bad shape that many are undergoing major renovation efforts. Even after major renovation efforts, affordable housing clearly distinguishes itself from its wealthy cousins by location, architecture, amenities and access to public transit.

vPoint

Affordable housing programs mixed with market rate units in the same building and nestled in the midst of an affluent transit oriented development has been a dream for county officials in the region. That dream came true with the completion of “The Views at Clarendon” (currently called as the “vPoint”), in spring 2012.

The goal of the project was to preserve and rehabilitate the church’s sanctuary, steeple and education building for increasingly flexible use respecting the architectural heritage of the campus and buildings, while converting and expanding the remainder of the existing structure into a 10-story multifamily affordable housing development with underground parking.

vPoint is a multiuse project that has transformed the current site of the First Baptist Church of Clarendon into a true civic space. The new building supports 21,000 square feet of church space on the first two levels including a new sanctuary, narthex, administration and educational spaces. The 116 multifamily housing units, ranging from efficiencies to three bedroom units, are located on the upper floors. More than 60 percent of the units are dedicated for affordable housing to support the need in the area. The existing three-story education building continues to house a childcare center for 185 children along with a seminary for liturgical studies. The new and existing buildings are connected with an enclosed light filled walkway providing accessibility from the street to all levels.

The Architecture

Located on a triangular site wedged between the existing church steeple and the education building, the building form that rises from three-stories below grade is carefully chiseled to fit within its urban context. The architecture of the new building is contextually contemporary with finely detailed brick façade punched with glazed openings, cast stone and steel, and comfortably fits in with the existing church steeple, the education building and other nearby development. The building steps back on the upper floors to create a gradual transition between the single-family residential neighborhood on the north and the commercial development abutting other sides of the property. The interior of the building is filled with natural light, which is achieved by strategically sized and placed windows. The attractive elements of the building’s design and the streetscape improvements complement and enhance nearby revitalization and redevelopment initiatives.

Sustainable Design

It is extremely rare that sustainability and affordability go together. At vPoint, sustainability was an integral part of the project design process. Located at the heart of Arlington—a transit oriented development (TOD), yards away from the metro station, bus lines and various other amenities, the project is imbued with green amenities like hi-performance mechanical systems, high-performance windows, energy efficient/water saving appliances, energy efficient lighting, reflective roof, electric car charging stations and green power. These are just a few examples of how this development pushes the green envelope. The most sustainable quality is the diversity of use on site from church to day care, office to education, along with affordable and market rate units.

Amenities

In addition to the green features mentioned above, vPoint is abound with amenities like designer kitchens, stainless steel appliances, in-unit washing machines, high-end fixtures, wood flooring, a resident’s lounge and business center, an outdoor space that includes grill and lounge seating, and a conference room that can transform into a mini-event space. The existing onsite amenities like the church and day care center adds to the appeal.

Accolades

The project recently earned the LEED Gold Certification. It also won the Urban Land Institute Smart Growth Award, and the 2012 Washington Building Congress Craftsmanship award.

Conclusion

With minimal amenities and less than inspiring design of their buildings, affordable housing has never been fully integrated with their neighbors, and this has been the status quo for decades. vPoint is clearly a game changer for affordable housing that co-exists with market rate units and other civic uses, offering features, location and amenities that used to be the exclusive domain of high-end condos. vPoint certainly defies the existing status quo of affordable housing and sets a strong precedence for other communities to follow suit. Whether the luxuries that vPoint brings to the affordable housing is an anomaly or a changing trend, is yet to be seen.

Sathya Moorthy is a senior project architect at MTFA Architecture in Arlington, Virginia. He has more than 12 years of experience, with a strong inclination for mixed-use high-rise buildings and sustainable design. 

Photo credit: © Todd A. Smith, www.tasphoto.com

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