Some stakeholders along Columbia Pike are asking the Arlington County Board to name the area a “revitalization district” — a designation normally reserved for blighted and impoverished communities — in order to spur affordable housing development.
County Manager Barbara Donnellan has yet to issue a recommendation on the item, which the Board is set to discuss at its meeting this Saturday.
According to Virginia Code, an area can be deemed a revitalization district if:
- “the area is blighted, deteriorated, deteriorating…”
- “the industrial, commercial or other economic development of such area will benefit the city or county but such area lacks the housing needed to induce manufacturing, industrial, commercial, governmental … enterprises or undertakings to locate or remain in such area,” or
- “private enterprise and investment are not reasonably expected, without assistance, to produce the construction or rehabilitation of decent, safe and sanitary housing and supporting facilities that will meet the needs of low and moderate income persons and families.”
Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization Executive Director Takis Karantonis said the Pike isn’t blighted, but he believes it may qualify for revitalization district standards because “when a community lacks the diversity of housing that would support certain types of economic development, then it still can qualify for Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) points.”
Those points are crucial for affordable housing on the Pike, as LIHTC money funds “9 out of every 10 of America’s apartments for low-income families,” according to the Housing Advisory Group. In Virginia, those funds are distributed by the Virginia Housing Development Authority, which gives projects 30 points toward its total qualification score simply for being located in a revitalization district.
“In the past, these points weren’t really critical to obtain tax credits,” Karantonis told ARLnow.com. “Now they are critical. If you don’t have a project in a revitalization district, you can really forget about LIHTC support.”
Karantonis said the decision to apply for the district had “nothing to do with” the recent cancellation of the streetcar project.
It’s unclear if the County Board will have the same interpretation of Virginia Code as CPRO and the Pike’s affordable housing developers, but at least one project in the pipeline is relying on the designation.
The Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing has submitted initial plans to build two eight-story residential buildings, containing a total of 229 apartments on S. Frederick Street, a block from Columbia Pike in the Columbia Forest neighborhood. The building, whose rendering is pictured above, would be built on what is currently the parking lot of the Columbia Grove apartments.
That application is in the early stages — it’s scheduled to be discussed by the Form-Based Code Advisory Working Group today — but Karantonis said it an projects like it on Columbia Pike need the revitalization district designation to continue receiving federal support for affordable housing.
“This is exactly the kind of density related to the future transportation system’s capacity,” Karantonis said. “In order to get this kind of density, you need the financial support to do that, and you have to weave it together. One of the important parts in the LIHTC subsidy, and for this we want to qualify.”
Rendering via APAH
Civ Fed: Start Over on ‘Public Land’ Process — The Arlington Civic Federation voted last night for a resolution calling on Arlington County to restart its “Public Land for Public Good” affordable housing initiative. The compromise measure called for a more robust community process to discuss the idea of using publicly-owned land to build affordable housing facilities. The county’s Long Range Planning Committee has made a similar recommendation, as we reported yesterday. [InsideNova]
Stagnant Assessments Poses Challenge — Stagnant real estate assessments are causing problems for local governments around the D.C. region. In Fairfax County, it’s contributing to a $173 million budget gap. Arlington has fared better, thanks to its location adjacent to the District and the higher proportion of commercial real estate in the county (commercial property owners pay about half of all county taxes). Still, the poor state of the regional office market means that localities can’t rely on a rise in commercial property taxes to bail out homeowners. The choice for local governments, says a George Mason University study, is now to raise taxes on homeowners, cut spending or both. [Washington Post]
GW Parkway Reopens After Sinkhole Repairs — The southbound lanes of the GW Parkway reopened early this morning after repairs were made to a large sinkhole that formed between Spout Run and Route 123.
The initiative, launched this year by County Manager Barbara Donnellan, is intended to identify county-owned land where affordable housing could be built. That could include parks, community centers and public safety facilities, such as fire stations.
The county received public comments this fall on the guidelines for evaluating sites. After reviewing those comments, the LRPC determined that the guidelines should be “set aside” while the entire initiative — and how the county engages the community in its decision-making process — is re-evaluated.
Among the committee’s strongest indictments of the current process is its recommendation that the criteria Donnellan used in her preliminary report to the Board in May — the catalyst for the public opposition to the initiative since — should be “withdrawn and reassessed.”
“The term Public Land for Public Good does not capture the importance and benefits of other public facilities and uses and should be reconsidered,” the report, approved at the LRPC’s meeting last week, states.
All of the LRPC’s recommendations include reaching out to the community before continuing the process further. The committee recommended that the county’s deliberations over which sites are evaluated and why need to be made more transparent. “This process should result in an understanding of how site selection is conducted and how the public participates in the decision,” the report states.
The LRPC’s report comes on the heels of County Board Chair Jay Fisette’s statement during last month’s Board meeting that the “Public Land for Public Good” rollout “didn’t work.”
While recommending the county slow down on evaluating land it currently owns, the LRPC also recommends Arlington adopt an “aggressive land acquisition policy.”
The Planning Commission will likely discuss the LRPC’s recommendations at a meeting this week. The County Board could discuss the issue at its Saturday, Dec. 13 meeting.
LWV to Address Pike Changes — Scheduled well before yesterday’s news that the county’s streetcar project is being canceled, the League of Women Voters tonight will hold a forum entitled “Columbia Pike in Transition.” The forum will explore the future of the Columbia Pike corridor. [InsideNova]
Board Approves Affordable Housing Loan — The Arlington County Board has approved a $8.5 million loan for developer AHC Inc. to purchase the Spectrum Apartments at 5055 S. Chesterfield Road and convert 80 market-rate apartments to committed affordable units. [Arlington County]
Va. Liquor Price Hike — The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has approved a price hike for liquor that’s expected to raise an extra $5.4 million for the state coffers. [Washington Business Journal]
McLean Stabbing Victims Recovering — Arlington law firm Bean, Kinney & Korman says its managing shareholder, Leo Fisher, and his wife are recovering from a brutal stabbing in their McLean home. “There has been universal concern for the welfare of Leo and Sue, and we are thankful to be able to assure everyone that they are recovering steadily,” the firm said in a statement yesterday. Meanwhile, new details have been revealed about the hours-long “torture session” former Bean Kinney attorney Alecia Schmuhl and her husband Andrew allegedly put Fischer and his wife through on Nov. 9. [Washington Post]
Rip Sullivan Joins Bean Kinney — Recently-elected House of Delegates member Rip Sullivan has joined the Courthouse-based law firm of Bean, Kinney & Korman, the firm announced yesterday. [Bean, Kinney & Korman]
Flickr pool photo by Eric
The “Public Land for Public Good” initiative the Arlington County Board launched last December has led to miscommunication and confusion, and County Board Chair Jay Fisette admitted as much this weekend.
The Board asked County Manager Barbara Donnellan to identify at least three public land sites that could be identified for public housing. One was with the redevelopment of the Lubber Run Community Center, a proposal that initially was the brainchild of an Arlington interfaith group and was floated as a potential solution by Donnellan.
The proposal set off broad opposition in the county to the idea of building affordable housing on parkland. Fisette said on Saturday that it was never the intention to do that — at most, the community center would be redeveloped and affordable housing would be built on top of it.
“It was never the intent… to have a standalone affordable housing building on an officially designated park, nor is it the interest of the Board to do that,” Fisette said. “I think there’s a real understanding that the way the concept was put forward in the direction for the manager didn’t work the way it was anticipated… We all felt this was a way to start a conversation. It was the very beginning of a discussion that would have taken quite a bit more time to solve. Some people were anxious that it was the end of a conversation, and it was the beginning.”
Several speakers during the County Board’s public comment session spoke about the issue, including one, Max Lyons, who presented a statistical breakdown of the 577 responses the county received to its public land site evaluation survey. Lyons said that 61 percent of respondents commented on using park land for affordable housing. Of those comments, 94 percent opposed the idea.
“Chairman Fisette, I was concerned by your recent characterization of those comments,” Lyons said. “You wrote, ‘As we have reviewed the summary of comments received to date on the draft Public Land Site Evaluation Guidelines, we recognize that many commenters agree with these goals and practices, which will surely inform the final guidelines.’ My review of the comments led me to a very different conclusion. ”
Lyons said that more than 100 respondents gave unsolicited endorsements of other county affordable housing policies, but 75 percent of those responses still opposed affordable housing on park land. Another speaker, Rick Epstein, said he understands where the miscommunication came from, but still thinks the Board is taking the wrong approach.
“I genuinely believe that much of this miscommunication could have been avoided if the Board had followed the Arlington Way prior to passing the December resolution,” Epstein said. “The Board and county manager should preferably have engaged the entire community in open and thorough discussion, not simply about public land for public good, but for the future use of public lands. The site review process by the county manager is not a substitute for a broad community discussion” on public land.
County Board Vice Chair Mary Hynes plans to take on a larger role on the issue in the coming year, she said, and responded to many of the comments by promising to engage the community more, although she didn’t say how.
“We need to take a look collectively at how this community moves forward to meet any number of needs,” she said. “We need to understand that there are short-term, medium-term and long-term needs in our community, and we need to focus on all of them. In the end, it is about our collective future and where as a county we go, and the time really has come to dive deeply into that question.”
Glencarlyn Park, Sewer Main Upgrades Approved — The Arlington County Board over the weekend unanimously approved a sewer main construction project for Old Dominion Drive. The Board also approved upgrades to Glencarlyn Park, including a rain garden, plaza and bicycle facilities. [Arlington County]
Arlington’s Per-Pupil Spending Tops Region — Arlington Public Schools spends $19,040 per student, the highest such figure of any Washington suburb. On a per-pupil basis, Arlington spends 24 percent more than Montgomery County schools, 41 percent more than Fairfax County schools and 84 percent more than Prince William County schools. [InsideNova]
Loan Approved for Senior Housing — On Saturday, the Arlington County Board unanimously approved a $1.35 million loan to help keep the Culpepper Gardens I apartment complex affordable. The complex include 204 committed affordable units for seniors. [Arlington County]
No New Westover Middle School? — The Arlington School Board has informally voted to remove the Reed School site in Westover from consideration as a potential location for a new middle school. Many residents have said they would rather see the building used for a neighborhood elementary school. [InsideNova]
Board Updates Green Building Incentives — The Arlington County Board voted 4-1 to require higher sustainability standards for its Green Building Incentive Program, which rewards developers for environmentally-sound building practices. [Arlington County]
Local Reporter Travels to Germany for Streetcar Story — WAMU reporter Michael Lee Pope traveled to Germany to report on the use of streetcars in Berlin, tying his findings back to Arlington’s proposed streetcar project. Streetcars run in formerly Communist-controlled East Berlin, but no longer in West Berlin. One interviewee said people ride East Berlin’s streetcars partially out of a sense of nostalgia and the “special feeling” one gets from riding them. [WAMU]
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
Construction on 193 new apartments — including 78 affordable units — in the Fort Myer Heights neighborhood has begun, and county officials and developers celebrated today with a groundbreaking.
The project, called Union on Queen, will raze three buildings to erect a 12-story tower, which will contain 181 apartments. The two buildings that make up the Pierce Queen Apartments, built in 1942 on the 1600 block of 16th Street N., will be gutted, but preserved and renovated. They will be converted into 12 affordable units.
The project is a public-private partnership among The Bozzuto Group, nonprofit developer Wesley Housing and Arlington County, which is providing debt financing. Construction began a few weeks ago, according to Bozzuto President Toby Bozzuto, and is expected to last two years, putting the project on track for an October 2016 opening.
The process to get the apartments from proposal to site plan approval to construction was not an easy one. The project was deferred by the Arlington County Board before its March 2013 approval for design and parking concerns. It also faced issues securing affordable housing grants from both the county and the state.
The developers and public officials in attendance at this morning’s groundbreaking all noted how tough of a slog the approval process was. Wesley Properties President and CEO Shelley Murphy said the company’s founder called Pierce Queen Apartments “the project from hell” when the company acquired it in 1991.
“This is as good an example of why Arlington succeeds as anything,” County Board Chair Jay Fisette said. “We actually follow through. Follow-through is hard. We all create plans, we all create visions, we write beautiful words, we put it on a shelf. In Arlington, we work really hard to bring the vision to life, to make the investments and the hard calls to make things work.”
Rep. Jim Moran didn’t step up to the podium — “One of the nice things about retiring is that I don’t have to stand up at any more podiums and microphones,” he joked — but said “Arlington County works, and it works because they understand that communities and their economies are a reflection of a collective decision-making on the part of thousands of families.”
Arlington approved $6.8 million in Affordable Housing Investment Fund money toward the project, which also received assistance from the Virginia Housing Development Authority. The state money wasn’t easy to secure, several of the speakers said, partly because the development’s total cost was close to being ineligible for state money. Eventually, the sides struck an arrangement and Fisette said the apartments will be up to the high standards the county has set.
“There are a lot of places that would say, ‘Dumb it down, cheaper, less efficient. It’s affordable housing in there’,” Fisette said. “But that’s not the way this community works. We want every building to be indistinguishable from the next.”
Election Day in Arlington – Voting started at 6:00 a.m. this morning and will continue through 7:00 p.m. There are 52 voting precincts in Arlington. Virginia voters must provide a photo ID when they go to the polls. [Arlington County]
State Honors for Pike Affordable Housing — Arlington County has won two state awards for its plan to preserve affordable housing along Columbia Pike. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe lauded the county’s affordable housing and transit plan for the Pike. “Arlington’s Columbia Pike Planning Initiative provides a vision for transforming the Pike by improving transit, preserving affordable housing and creating great public spaces,” McAuliffe said in a press release. “At the heart of this plan is a modern streetcar that will spur high-quality development along this vital corridor and generate new tax revenues for Arlington, Fairfax and the Commonwealth.” [Arlington County]
Local Singer Wins ‘Arlington’s Got Talent’ — Teague del la Plaine, a local singer, won the annual Arlington’s Got Talent competition last week. Travis Tucker, a pop-funk and R&B singer, placed second and Euphonism, an a cappella group, placed third. [Leadership Arlington, InsideNova]
Growing Season Is Over — There will be no more frost advisories and freeze warnings this year. The National Weather Service has officially declared the growing season over for the D.C. area. [National Weather Service]
Photo courtesy @dcaman
The achievement will be celebrated tonight at the annual Community Meeting on Homelessness. The public is welcome to attend the event, which will be held at the National Rural Electrical Cooperative Association (NRECA) Conference Center (4301 Wilson Blvd) from 7:00-8:30 p.m. John Harvey, Virginia Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs, will be the keynote speaker. He will talk about Virginia’s efforts to end veteran homelessness by the end of next year. Other speakers include County Board members and State Senator Barbara Favola.
County staff worked with nonprofit organizations to find housing for the people selected for 100 Homes. The following programs allowed for the housing:
- Arlington County Permanent Supportive Housing — 63 housed
- Housing Grant or Housing choice voucher — 12 housed
- Veterans (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Voucher) — 11 housed
- Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing — 13 housed
- Mary Marshall Assisted Living Residence — 1 housed
“This is an important milestone in our efforts to prevent and end homelessness,” said County Board Chairman Jay Fisette. “It’s wonderful to see residents, nonprofit groups, faith-based organizations, the business community and County government coming together to make a difference in the lives of some of our most vulnerable neighbors.”
Of the 100 residents housed since the program launched in 2011, 93 continue to live in the housing. Many of them had been on the streets for years and had difficulty accessing and maintaining housing.
“The retention rate has been remarkable,” said Kathy Sibert, president and chief executive officer of Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN). “The key to this success is the supportive services that come with the housing. Case managers have done an outstanding job working with the clients to address issues like managing finances, maximizing employment and benefits, and connecting with mental health and substance abuse services.”
Just because the 100 Homes Campaign reached its goal does not mean the push to end homelessness in Arlington is finished. There will be a new initiative announced at tonight’s public meeting, called “Zero: 2016.” Arlington is joining the nationwide effort to end veteran and chronic homelessness.
“The [100 Homes] legacy will live on,” said Arlington Department of Human Services spokesman Kurt Larrick. “We learned a lot during the campaign, and partnered with a lot of great nonprofits, and we are carrying forward a lot of the concepts we learned.”
Tallula, EatBar Closing — Tallula and EatBar, which first opened in 2004 in Lyon Park, will be closing on Sunday, Oct. 26. The restaurants’ owner says they were “unable to reach an agreement with the landlord on renewing Tallula’s lease.” [Eater, Facebook]
Civ Fed Skeptical of Housing Effort — The Arlington County Civic Federation’s revenues-and-expenditures committee released a scathing critique of the county government’s “Public Lands for Public Good” affordable housing effort. The committee’s report said Arlington “couldn’t, and shouldn’t, try to solve all the region’s problems on its own.” It also said that “the county appears to be placing greater weight on the desires of non-residents who wish to move to Arlington ahead of the needs and wishes of its own citizens.” [InsideNova, PDF]
E-CARE This Weekend — Arlington County will hold its biannual Environmental Collection and Recycling Event (E-CARE) on Saturday, from 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The event allows residents to “safely dispose of household hazardous materials, bikes, small metal items, shoes, clothing and other recyclable items.” [Arlington County]
Pop-Up Dinners in D.C. for Ballston Restaurant — Before it officially opens in Ballston early next year, Pepita — a new “Mexican cantina” from former Top Chef contestant Mike Isabella — will be holding a series of “pop-up dinners” to test its menu. The dinners will held starting Oct. 30 be at Isabella’s G Sandwich restaurant at 2201 14th Street NW in D.C. [Washington Post]
Former County Controversy, Now Hardly a Blip — In 2008, Arlington was roiled by a long political fight over accessory-dwelling units, or “granny flats.” The County Board was considering whether to allow homeowners to build ADUs, which often house elderly family members. The Arlington Civic Federation opposed it, with critics warning that ADUs could turn quiet neighborhoods into overcrowded slums. The County Board ended up voting to allow ADUs by permit, but set a limit of 28 approvals per year. Since then, “less than a dozen” have been built. [InsideNova]
Roosevelt Bridge Inspections — The District Department of Transportation is conducting inspection work on the Roosevelt Bridge today and tomorrow. Route 50 drivers can expect some short-term lane closures during non-rush hour periods while the inspections are performed. Work vehicles associated with the inspections will be parked along the GW Parkway.
Flickr pool photo by Joseph Gruber
Arlington County is receiving some pushback over its “Public Land for Public Good” affordable housing and school capacity initiative.
Specifically, the identification of the Lubber Run Community Center (300 N. Park Drive) as a site for potential affordable housing has drawn the ire of the 76-unit townhouse community Cathcart Springs, across N. George Mason Drive from Lubber Run.
Arlington is expected to begin studying Lubber Run, the “salt dome” along Old Dominion Drive and land adjacent to Jennie Dean Park in Shirlington as county-owned land that could be developed or redeveloped into affordable housing. The community planning portions for those sites, if approved by the Arlington County Board, would begin next spring.
The county is already accepting online comments on the proposed sites, and recently extended its deadline to receive those comments by a month, until Oct. 31. The association is passing out flyers to its residents, encouraging them to send this comment to the county:
“Using park and recreation facilities should be preserved for future generations and should NOT be considered for conversion to alternative uses. Once beautiful parkland is gone, it is gone forever. Preserve LRCC as a recreation/community center only.”
So far, the county has received about 70 comments, according to the county’s Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development.
“Many of the comments suggest revisions to improve the proposed site evaluation guidelines,” CPHD spokeswoman Jessica Margarit told ARLnow.com today. “Other comments range from concerns about preserving parkland to ensuring that affordable housing locations are balanced across the entire county.”
Cathcart Springs Homeowners Association President Sandy First told ARLnow.com that she’s not opposed to affordable housing — far from it — but that site should not be considered. She also said Cathcart Springs has teamed up with the Arlington Forest Civic Association to rally against the proposal.
“I’m not against affordable housing at all, it’s just that most of it is [in the 22203 ZIP code],” she said. “Across the street at Lubber Run you’ve got an opportunity over there. With the community center, playground and amphitheater, it could play into an incredible array of programs.”
The opposition to Lubber Run’s redevelopment joins opposition from the Old Dominion Civic Association to plans to redevelop the “salt dome” site, for which adjacent green space had originally been slated for a new fire station and emergency management headquarters. That plan has been scaled back since as the county mulls its options, but the County Board approved $28 million to redevelop Lubber Run.
Photo via Arlington County
Petition to Protect Thomas Jefferson Park — Some Arlington residents have started a petition to protect Thomas Jefferson Park from redevelopment. Last month, the county announced it had commissioned a working group to study the land around Thomas Jefferson Middle School, including TJ Park, for the site of a new elementary school. [WTOP]
Arlington Mill Residences Nominated for Award — Affordable Housing Finance Magazine has selected The Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing’s (APAH) Arlington Mill Residences as one of 34 finalists in the annual Reader’s Choice Awards competition. It’s the only nominated property in the D.C. metro area. Readers can see the other finalists online and vote for the Arlington Mill Residences in the Best Overall Development category. [Affordable Housing Finance Magazine]
Rosebud Film Festival Accepting Entries — The Rosebud Film and Video Festival is accepting entries for the 2014 competition. The festival is open exclusively to Virginia, D.C. and Maryland film artists. A panel will select 20 nominees to have their work screened at Artisphere in January. Five winners will be chosen from that pool and will be announced at a gala at Clarendon Ballroom. [Arlington Independent Media]
Chili Cookoff Competitors Wanted — The Arlington County Democratic Committee is looking for people to compete in its annual chili cookoff. The event will take place on Labor Day (Sept. 1). [InsideNova]
A majority of Arlington residents between the ages of 25 and 34 say they are likely to leave the county within five years because of the cost of housing, according to a county-sponsored survey.
According to the survey, which polled 1,744 Arlington residents, 60 percent of 25-34 year olds responded “somewhat likely” or “very likely” to the question: “In the next five years or so, how likely is it you will have to move out of Arlington because you would not have the kind of housing you want at the price you can afford?”
Thirty-four percent of respondents said it was “very likely” they would move away.
The survey is a component of the county’s ongoing affordable housing study, which launched in July 2012 and is being run by Arlington’s Affordable Housing Working Group. Michael Spotts, the vice chair of the working group, said the high cost of housing in Arlington is an impediment to those hoping to start families here.
“It was a little surprising to me,” Spotts, 30, said about the survey results, “but I think whether [current 25-34 year olds moving out of Arlington] will actually happen depends a lot on how consumer preferences change moving forward.
“I’m a millennial myself and my wife and I live in Arlington, and we bought a house in Arlington and are very happy here,” Spotts continued. “I think it was a little surprising, but given how expensive it is, especially as people get older and start a family, it’s not particularly surprising.”
According to the study, 39 percent of the 25-34 age range said they want to buy a home at some point in the future, and Arlington is out of their price range. The study also included the figures on which ARLnow.com reported earlier this week that suggested residents generally approve of the Arlington County Board’s affordable housing policies and priorities.
County Board Vice Chair Mary Hynes is the Board’s liaison to the working group, and she presented the survey to the Board last week. While Hynes said everyone is aware of the housing struggle in Arlington, even she was surprised that so many younger residents were planning to leave.
“The numbers do jump out at you,” Hynes told ARLnow.com on the phone from Los Angeles yesterday. “It is one of the reasons we’re being so proactive around housing, because we know it’s a challenge for people. It’s not just a challenge for Arlington, it’s a challenge for the whole region.”
The same question about moving within five years, when asked to minority groups, received a lower but still high “likely” response.
Forty percent of Hispanic respondents and 50 percent of African Americans said they were somewhat or very likely to leave Arlington within five years due to housing costs. The lowest “likely” response came from current property owners, at 28 percent.
The region’s economic prosperity is generally viewed as the main factor that housing prices have escalated to the point where such a study is even worthwhile, but Spotts said Arlington may have inadvertently contributed to its own predicament.
“One of the things that a lot of people, generally speaking, would find surprising is that all of the things that go into the county that make it great are also things that can add cost to housing,” Spotts, who studies affordable housing policy as his career, said. “You want to protect your parkland and streams, and there’s a direct cost of those elements in terms of maintaining green space, but there’s also sort of an indirect cost. If you’re restricting some of the housing you can build because of other goals, then that drives up the cost of housing.”
According to a survey, cited during last week’s County Board meeting, 65 percent of 1,744 respondents believe it’s “very important” to help senior citizens age in place. Meanwhile, 60 percent believe affordable housing options for the county’s workforce are “very important,” and 58 percent believe it’s important for “moderate and low-income families with children in public schools” to have affordable housing options.
When “very important” answers were combined with “somewhat important,” those figures jump to 92 percent, 88 percent and 90 percent, respectively.
The survey, which was conducted in English and Spanish, is a component of the county’s ongoing affordable housing study, which was launched in July 2012. The study’s recent work includes a review of best practices, a preliminary report on housing needs and a “complete assessment of strategies/program approaches, with community review.”
County Board Vice Chair Mary Hynes said the survey revealed “strong support for what [the County Board] has been doing.” She also said that the survey wasn’t an attempt to “duplicate census information,” but rather measure the priorities of the community.
“We were instead trying to find out what people thought about how housing is at the moment in Arlington,” she said. “As well as their attitudes about housing objectives and policies that this board has been pursuing… It’s good validation for us, and really helpful information for our group as they continue to work on refining what will become, we hope, a comprehensive plan.”
The study weighed residents’ opinions on the county’s affordable housing policies. Forty-six percent of respondents “strongly favor” Arlington’s affordable housing ordinance — which allows developers bonus density if they dedicate affordable housing units or donate to the county’s affordable housing fund — while 44 percent strongly favor the county’s affordable housing grant program. Twenty-four percent of survey takers either somewhat oppose or strongly oppose the affordable housing ordinance.
The County Board is expected reveal more survey results at its September meeting. Another phase of the affordable housing study is expected to conclude in June 2015.
Arlington County dedicates about 5 percent of its non-school budget to affordable housing investment.
Morgan Fecto contributed to this report
The following letter to the editor was submitted by Henry Weiss, a rising junior at Washington-Lee High School who “chose to research Arlington’s affordable/subsidized housing crisis” as a class project this past school year.
Arlington’s subsidized housing stock is rapidly disappearing, and with it, its diversity.
This is an indisputable fact. Whether that is cause for concern is debatable, but I am of the opinion, as is the County Board, that it is. While I cannot speak for the members of the board, I believe this because I think that it is the responsibility of all prosperous jurisdictions to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to benefit from and contribute to that prosperity, no matter their background.
The County Board has already taken a few steps in the direction of preserving and recreating that subsidized housing stock, and I applaud them for that. But the county could still be doing much more.
First, Arlington and the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing should stop negotiating with developers to include subsidized housing in individual projects, and simply institute inclusionary zoning ordinances, requiring new developers to set aside a certain percent of their units for low income individuals.
Because the location of most of the larger residential development in the county overlaps with the locations of Arlington’s newest subsidized housing projects (in Rosslyn, Courthouse, Ballston and on Columbia Pike), creating inclusionary zoning laws will simply codify and institute on a larger scale what has already been the policy of the county while eliminating the costs of that policy for taxpayers. Inclusionary zoning laws in Arlington would also be a relatively quick way to recreate subsidized housing in the areas of the county that have lost the most of it in recent years.
The second step Arlington should take is to encourage the integration of its residential neighborhoods, probably through the encouragement of the construction of low rise apartments. Many of Arlington’s middle class neighborhoods, such as Penrose, Waverly Hills, Columbia Forest and Westover among others have managed to preserve their beauty and safe environments while maintaining subsidized and affordable housing, and these communities should be a model for others in the county.
Most of the adverse effects of subsidized and affordable housing occur when that housing is concentrated in one area and its residents are cut off from economic and educational opportunities. But in a county like Arlington, where the economy and schools are thriving, proper placement of subsidized housing in middle class neighborhoods will prevent these effects from being felt.
To help residents of less integrated neighborhoods feel more comfortable with this plan, Arlington should allow the civic associations of those less diverse neighborhoods to submit plans to bring more subsidized units to their communities in the relatively near future. The county should give civic associations plenty of chances to submit satisfactory plans before taking charge of planning for the diversification of that neighborhood.
In my opinion, this would be the best way to preserve and grow the fast disappearing pool of subsidized housing and diversity in Arlington. I am sure that many people will find faults in this plan, and others may draw up alternative plans. But one thing is certain: the County Board needs to come up with a comprehensive plan to preserve and recreate the subsidized housing they claim to support, and they need to do it quickly.
To submit a letter to the editor, please email it to email@example.com. Letters to the editor may be edited for content and brevity.