Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Across our county, the nation, the globe, the shortage of affordable housing plagues millions.

The clash between rising demand, pricey land and choosey capital is being tackled by many activists. But few are as effective as local force majeure Nina Janopaul, CEO of the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing.

Since 1989, that nonprofit has gone beyond rhetoric to create facts on the ground.

The key, she told me in their renovating offices in Ballston, is collaboration: with developers, nonprofits, donors and government at all levels.

APAH is fresh off the opening on Columbia Pike of the 173-unit apartments at the former Arlington Presbyterian Church. And work will begin in April on the win-win conversion of the fading Post 139 American Legion Hall near Virginia Square to 160 new apartments primarily for veterans. Current total: 3,000 Arlingtonians housed due to APAH’s negotiated arrangements.

Absent a budget from a central housing authority, APAH “can’t afford not to” maintain solid relationships with developers — who donate, serve on its board and train future APAH staffers. “We’re blessed by their generosity,” Janopaul says, citing Arlington builders Tim Naughton of AvalonBay Communities Inc., John Shooshan of the Shooshan Co. and Andy VanHorn at JBG Smith.

I asked Janopaul about the movement for “upzoning,” to ease residential restrictions to allow more duplexes, for example, to create roofs for “the missing middle” of average-means Arlingtonians priced out by teardowns. “We fully support more housing in urban centers, because people want to live closer in,” she said, noting that millennials and empty-nesters need help addressing differing needs. “Arlington is zoned 86 percent for single family, an underutilized resource.” But there is potential for “poaching” from low-income people, Janopaul cautioned. “More duplexes won’t address” the housing needs of “store clerks, housekeepers, school aides and bus drivers. A full society needs all those people.”

When APAH places affordable units within larger complexes, Janopaul confirmed, it brands the property without signs indicating that some units are subsidized, “so residents don’t feel stigma.” Her own offices, acquired in 2016, combine with 104 apartments. The ongoing renovation, with conference rooms named for Arlington neighborhoods, will create an “open space” office for a staff that has doubled to 27 and may soon reach 34-40, she said. “Our employees stay a long time, 6-9 years once they learn the ropes.” The work for lawyers and financial analysts is “so specialized.”

APAH teams with groups like the Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers and the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance to conduct forums and lobby Richmond.

Amidst today’s crisis, the Trump Administration “has proposed draconian cuts,” to the Housing and Urban Development Department. She considers that “woefully inappropriate,” though Congress so far as assured a “steady state budget.” She is optimistic Democratic candidates understand the need to both maintain supply in the housing market and to continue Section 8 vouchers for renters.

What drives Nina Janopaul? The daughter of a Greek immigrant engineer calls her pricey-housing hometown of San Francisco “an example I want to avoid. I came from a comfortable life, realizing that others don’t have the same opportunities.”

The notion that “we ought to give back” is reinforced by her faith as a parishioner at St. George’s Episcopal Church. Growing up, she said, “I admired those of modest backgrounds with energy, and now admire the hard work of many APAH residents.”


Halls Hill long-timers are mulling plans to refurbish the colorful 1992 murals on the cinderblock wall behind the Lee Highway McDonald’s.

Roderick Turner’s paintings of Fire Station No. 8, African American boy hoopsters and female singers next to the Langston-Brown Community Center have a “rich history” as a teaching tool, says Langston Citizens Association activist Saundra Green. But parts of the wall were damaged by a McDonald’s snow plow a couple of years back, she said, and the fast food outlet is itself being renovated.

The murals will also get a facelift — if funding can be found.