Arlington officials have been working to spur investment along Columbia Pike for over a decade, but now experts are concerned that new development is driving up the cost of living along the corridor and driving out the low-income residents who have lived there for years. Officials are now wondering how to have both new development while maintaining one of the county's most significant concentrations of low-income housing.
"I don't think there's any given answers out there at this time," said Ken Aughenbaugh, Arlington's director of housing.
In response, he said, Arlington is in the midst of a lengthy land use and housing study to determine ways to preserve the Columbia Pike community. Officials will be meeting throughout the weekend in workshops and design meetings that will culminate in an affordable-housing forum at George Mason University on Monday.
Developers have traditionally been attracted to high-density, transit-oriented development near the county's many Metro stations, where they can charge higher rents, Aughenbaugh said. With no urban transportation beyond bus service, developers long ignored the Pike, leaving affordable housing intact and within financial reach of residents whose median income is $60,765, or about $24,000 less than that of the average Arlington resident.
Yet, rents along Columbia Pike and in Shirlington rose 4.9 percent annually from 2005 to 2009, outpacing the 3.1 percent annual rise in rents across Northern Virginia during the same time, according to county data.
"It's geographically the closest point to downtown D.C. At some point, the city will catch up with us, and the value of the land will rise," said Takis Karantonis, executive director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization.
For some, the rents are already threatening their ability to stay in Arlington. Officials at Buyers and Renters Arlington Voice, or BRAVO, said they've been contacted by renters along the Pike preparing to move.
"It's disturbing to us that with the success of the community, those who have been party to that could be edged out," said BRAVO Program Director Alicia Taylor.
BRAVO officials say the weekend meetings show Arlington has learned from its past mistakes and may find ways to protect Columbia Pike's current residents. There's little room elsewhere in the county for some Pike residents.
"The Pike is pretty much the last repository of some affordable housing right now," Karantonis said.