APAH's Retiring Peterson Sees Improvements, Challenges in Housing


(Thursday, June 21, 2007 5:22 AM EDT)

Douglas Peterson may have recently stepped down as executive director of the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, but his contribution to the cause will live on in the homes he's helped provide in the Arlington community.

In Peterson's seven years as executive director, the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, grew from owning seven properties to 10, totaling 753 apartments and providing affordable housing in Arlington for about 2,100 people.

“I'm most proud of the physical changes. There are actually more than 500 units of affordable housing that I have brought on the landscape of Arlington,” Peterson said in a recent interview. “And I've done it with a lot of input from the communities . . . It was critical to blend with the community because they were there before I was.”

Peterson, who has lived in Arlington for 48 years, became concerned with the issue of affordable housing during his 10 years working as a development specialist with the Arlington County government.

“Almost everything I know about affordable housing, I learned while working for the office of housing in Arlington County,” he said.

And even though, he said, he believes that Arlington is a leader in the Northern Virginia area in development of affordable housing, he thinks that making the project-approval process easier would help the cause.

“In Arlington, the process takes 10 to 12 months to get a project approved,” Peterson said. “The County has to make the process easier for non-profits.”

Peterson also said he thinks people should get away from the term “affordable housing” and use “housing options” instead.

He said he believes that Arlington should be looking to provide housing for people who make 15 percent of the area median income (AMI), as well as to those who make 50 percent AMI and even to those who make 125 to 150 percent AMI.

“I think all municipalities need to take a serious look at creating a stratification of housing options and choices,” he said.

Peterson laments that more and more affordable housing is lost each year, but he has possible solutions to improve the situation.

“Affordable housing is easy. You just need lots of money, density or a combination of the two, in an urban area like Arlington,” Peterson said. “We should be looking at 15- to 20-story buildings, with half the units as affordable housing in metro corridors.”

Peterson will remain at the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing as a project-completion consultant, probably until the fall. When he leaves, he said he knows that the organization “is in very capable hands” with new executive director Nina Janopaul.

Janopaul, who took the reins on June 1, previously worked in affordable housing as president of a small consulting firm (APAH was one of her clients).

One of Janopaul's goals is to expand on Peterson's work by exploring affordable housing models employed by other municipalities around the nation, and by working cooperatively with the local government.

“I very much want to be a partner with the Arlington County Board,” she said. “I want to take their resources on affordable housing and use them effectively.”

A 24-year resident of Arlington, Janopaul is glad to be working in her community, and said she is looking forward to helping others do the same.

Douglas Peterson, executive director of the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (second from left) was honored by Anton Gardner, Ron Carlee and Tom Parker at an event in honor of his retirement.
(Photo by Robert Allen Strawn)

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