A group of activists sued Arlington County on Friday over its fact sheet about the housing authority referendum on the ballot tomorrow, but a judge quickly dismissed the lawsuit.
As it has in previous years, the county distributed a “frequently asked questions” fact sheet with the stated goal of informing residents before voting on the measure. Members of the Arlington Committee to Save Affordable Housing, which supports the creation of a housing authority in Arlington, filed the lawsuit on Friday to protest the page, with treasurer John Reeder — who filed the suit on behalf of the committee — calling it “a biased fact sheet with bogus data slanted against the housing authority, and misleading voters.”
Judge William Newman dismissed the suit without opinion the same day, prompting Reeder to send out a press release denouncing his decision. Newman is a former member of the Arlington County Board, whose members oppose the formation of a housing authority.
“Virginia Code section 24.2-687 requires that any statement on the referendum issued by Arlington County be no longer than 500 words, be neutral, and not use arguments either for or against the referendum,” the press release said. “The county FAQ statement of over 1,100 words made factual errors about the availability of Federal housing funds and other revenues… [and] included arguments and bogus claims cited by opponents including the Arlington Democratic Party.”
“Judge Newman dismissed the legal petition with no legal opinion issued late on November 1, and refused to grant even a public hearing on whether the state law on elections and referenda had been violated,” the press release continued.
The last time the referendum was on the ballot in 2008, the county distributed a similar flyer which also drew criticism, notably from the Arlington Green Party, of which Reeder is a member. The county has stood by that flyer and stands by this year’s version.
“Judge Newman’s action speaks for itself regarding the merits of the lawsuit on the housing referendum,” County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac said in an email. “It is within Judge Newman’s discretion to take the action that he took … The County put out a factual set of questions and answers, with neutral information about the referendum.”
The referendum, if passed, would create an independent housing authority, appointed by the County Board, focused on eliminating and redeveloping “blighted areas,” and promoting the availability of affordable housing.
Currently, the county handles affordable housing through its Housing Commission and through cooperation with local affordable housing nonprofits. The county draws funds from local taxes, developer contributions, federal and state grants and other affordable housing programs. The county says in its fact sheet that a new housing authority would have access to the same or similar funding sources.
Affordable Housing Crisis in Arlington? – “Arlington County is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis,” writes reporter Michael Lee Pope. The county has lost more than half of its affordable housing units in the last decade, a time when the average rent increased by 47 percent while the average salary increased only 37 percent. The “crisis” has led the Arlington Green Party to propose a referendum on the creation of a new housing authority, a move that many existing affordable housing organizations in Arlington oppose. [Arlington Connection]
Gravelly Point Still Busy Despite Shutdown – Gravelly Point has remained a popular destination for picnickers, fisherman and airplane watchers, despite the fact that it’s officially closed and its parking lot barricaded. Despite being a potential safety hazard, a number of park-goers have been parking on the grass adjacent to the GW Parkway. [WJLA]
Columbia Forest Tops for Female Divorcees — Arlington’s Columbia Forest neighborhood has the highest concentration of female divorcees among census tracts in the county, with 355. According to census data, Shirlington and Pentagon City are No. 2 and 3, with 339 and 298 respectively. As previously reported, Crystal City has the highest concentration of divorced men, 297. [Patch]
Stink Bug Season in Washington — It’s stink bug season once again. While a few of the insects have been reported around Arlington, the stink bug population seems to increase as you go west, beyond the Beltway. [Washington Post]
Flickr pool photo by Runneralan2004.
The AHS, an Arlington-based nonprofit “working to increase the supply of affordable housing in Arlington County and Northern Virginia through research, public education, and advocacy,” doesn’t believe that the housing authority the referendum would form would benefit the community.
AHS issued the following statement about the referendum:
The Alliance for Housing Solutions is urging Arlington voters to reject the proposed Redevelopment and Housing Authority referendum that is on the ballot this November. Arlington faces significant challenges to housing affordability. However, AHS believes that an Authority would not solve this problem and would, in fact, have a negative impact.
“Arlington has long used an innovative public, private, & non-profit partnership approach to the creation and management of affordable housing in our community,” said AHS President Mary Margaret Whipple. “This successful approach has allowed Arlington to access financial tools and state and federal funding in order to create mixed-income communities, while avoiding the costs of running a housing authority.”
Using this highly successful strategy, Arlington has created more affordable housing units per 1,000 people than any other county in Northern Virginia, including those with housing authorities. It also is the only jurisdiction in Virginia to offer County-funded rental assistance through the Housing Grants program.
“As they have twice before, Arlington voters should reject the Redevelopment and Housing Authority referendum,” Whipple added. “A new authority would not increase the availability of affordable housing units, and would actually stall progress by pitting a housing authority against our highly successful non-profits for the same funding.”
AHS urged a broader community dialogue about the critical need for affordable housing. By working together, especially through the Affordable Housing Study process, supporters of affordable housing can work together to find solutions and raise awareness.
“There are no easy solutions,“ said AHS Executive Director Mary Rouleau. “As a community we must be willing to consider, for example, putting affordable units on public land and increased density along transit routes.”
AHS released a Question-and-Answer document, responding to the key positions of the housing authority backers. It can be found on its website: AllianceforHousingSolutions.
By statute, the Board must approve the referendum if 2 percent of the county’s qualified voters sign a petition. After a six-month campaign championed by the Arlington Green Party, the petition to create the authority got the necessary 2,845 signatures in June.
Approval is scheduled for the Board’s Tuesday meeting, its last meeting until September. The Board must approve the measure before it goes on its summer recess in order to meet the state-mandated deadline of August 16.
The item is not on the Board’s public agenda, which prompted a concerned email to County Board Chairman Walter Tejada from Arlington Green Party treasurer Audrey Clement earlier this week. Though Tejada assured Clement that the resolution will be brought up, she’s now worried that the county will try to influence voters into voting down the referendum, which was on the ballot but failed to pass in 2008.
At that time, a county-disseminated Q&A flyer stated that a housing authority would not produce more affordable housing, and “would only have access to the same tools and finding that the County currently uses.”
“Not only is this language non-neutral, it is false,” Clement told ARLnow.com. “Unlike the subsidies currently awarded by Arlington County to private housing corporations, a housing authority would get most of its funds not from the taxpayers but from [Department of Housing and Urban Development] guaranteed bonds issued in private capital markets.”
“In light of county government’s longstanding opposition to establishment of a housing authority, I am concerned that it will once again lobby to stop the referendum dead in its tracks by disseminating biased information about the referendum in contravention of state law,” she said.
County spokeswoman Mary Curtius said the county stands by its statements in the Q&A from 2008. The County Attorney is not aware of any legal complaint over the message.
“We reject any allegation in any way we acted improperly or illegally, then and even now,” Curtius said. “We feel that everything we said then was factual and neutral, and if we say anything this time, it will be factual and neutral.”
According to HUD’s website, there are 17 buildings that offer subsidized housing in Arlington, compared to nine in Alexandria and 42 in Fairfax County. Both of those jurisdictions have their own housing authority.
Del. Bob Brink (D) has introduced two bills in the House of Delegates that attempt to “address the irregularities discovered during the signature gathering process” for last year’s failed effort to change Arlington’s form of government.
One bill, HB 1646, calls for the name and address of a petition signature gatherer to be present on both sides of the petition form. The bill is in response to “numerous reports where the description of the person who signed the forms as petition circulator didn’t match the description of the individual actually gathering the signatures.”
So far, HB 1646 is still awaiting a subcommittee vote.
Brink’s other bill, HB 1670, is broader piece of legislation. The bill addresses an alleged conflict of interest — that the campaign manager for the change-of-government effort was also the notary public that certified the now-disqualified petition sheets.
The bill, which passed a subcommittee on Monday, says that “a notary shall not perform any notarial act with respect to any document, writing, or electronic document that presents a conflict between his personal interest and his official duty.”
On Brink’s web site, at least one constituent worried that bill may be “over-inclusive” and could affect real estate transactions where an attorney is also acting as a notary.
Brink says the legislation is necessary to “improve the voter referendum petition process” and “prevent fraud.”
“Last year’s referendum effort in Arlington taught us valuable lessons about weaknesses in the petition signature gathering process,” Brink said in a statement. “Learning from that experience and passing this corrective legislation will help protect the integrity of voter referenda.”
Arlington’s entire delegation to the General Assembly in Richmond has come out against a proposal that would change the county’s form of government.
In a letter to Arlington County voters, lawmakers argue that changing from a county manager form of government, to a form that gives more executive powers to the county board, “could significantly impair our ability to advance Arlington’s interests in Richmond.”
The letter is signed by state senators Mary Margaret Whipple and Patsy Ticer, delegates Bob Brink, Adam Ebbin, David Englin and Patrick Hope, and a number of former state lawmakers — all Democrats.
A group, the Committee for a Better Arlington, is attempting to collect more than 14,000 signatures by July 15 in order to put the change-of-government proposal to voters in the form of a referendum.
The lawmakers’ letter, after the jump.
Change-of-Government Petition Issues – The Sun Gazette reports that the Arlington County registrar’s office may have a difficult time processing the thousands of signatures being gathered for the Committee for a Better Arlington’s change-of-government proposal. Officials are worried that the county may have to hire temporary workers and pay overtime in order to verify all the signatures. In a separate article, a Committee for a Better Arlington spokesperson says that the group will probably not honor any requests by petition signers who have reconsidered and now want their name removed from the list, saying it’s “not required by the law.”
Final Jeopardy for Arlington Contestant — Despite a valiant comeback and a down-to-the-wire finish, Arlington resident Liz Murphy placed second in last night’s semifinal round of the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions, which means she will not advance to the finals.
The Arlington County Board has given the go-ahead to include the proposed new Wakefield High School as part of its bond referendum this fall.
The $104.6 million project was fast-tracked by the school system and the county board in order to take advantage of more favorable bids from construction companies hurt by the recession. Originally, the county’s 2008 Capital Improvement Plan called for the school’s bond referendum to take place in 2012.
“By moving the project forward we will realize significant savings through reduced construction costs,” board Chairman Jay Fisette said in a statement.
“The new Wakefield High School will be a great civic building that will be both a first-class educational facility and an asset to the broader community,” said board vice-chairman Christopher Zimmerman.
In April, Acting County Manager Barbara Donnellan raised questions about whether the school’s financing could cause issues with the county’s debt limits and put Arlington’s excellent AAA bond rating in jeopardy. Apparently those fears were allayed.
Residents will vote in November on whether to approve the bonds necessary to build the school.