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Morning Poll: Housing Grants

by ARLnow.com April 11, 2011 at 8:27 am 2,361 78 Comments

Under County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s proposed FY 2012 budget, funding for ‘Safety Net’ rental assistance programs will increase by $1.2 million, or 17 percent, from $7.3 million to about $8.6 million.

That increase includes an extra $630,000 for the county’s housing grant program, which serves just over 1,000 households per year; an extra $467,000 for permanent supportive housing programs, which will serve just over 100 households per year; and an extra $162,000 for ‘general relief’ emergency housing assistance, which will serve 250 households per month.

Arlington County officials place great emphasis on safety net programs, which are serving those in need during tough economic times. But some are questioning whether the increases are sustainable or even appropriate given the county’s tight finances.

“Our libraries aren’t fully funded, and our roads are in terrible condition. But the cost of this program seems to keep rising,” a member of the county’s own Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission told the Arlington Connection. The Connection’s Michael Lee Pope notes that funding for housing grants has increased from $3.6 million in 2007 to $6.6 million in the current proposed budget.

What do you think?


  • brendan

    Favola or Donnellan?

  • Burger

    So, if you are doing the math at home. That works out to almost $17,000 a family for the budget increase.

    But, hey, lets shorten library hours which impacts thousands of Arlingtonians.

    Also, if you are doing math in 5 years, the allocation for Safety Net has grown by 238% – thats smidge higher than inflation which has been essentially zero over the same timeframe (well, if you go by the government’s view of inflation).
    regardless, inflation hasn’t risen by 238% anyway you slice it.

    • Burger, I just removed my estimate of the number of additional families covered because it was based on flawed assumptions. Your calculation may be affected as well. My apologies for the confusion.

      • Burger

        Fair enough on the families “helped” but the growth in the budget for the program is the same.

    • Arrrrrlington

      All I see is another reason to expect rent and housing prices to go up in the area.

      • Bender

        Of course rent is going to go up, especially when landlords know that the County is going to help kick in to pay for the increases. This is corporate welfare as much as it is family welfare.

        Leave the market alone and those landlords might just have to keep rent at current levels or even lower it to keep people from moving out.

        • Josh S

          Hardly. There are plenty of people ready to move in and pay the higher rents. To suggest that these paltry sums somehow impact the Arlington housing market is just delusional.

  • Bob

    It is worth it to click through the link to look at the County’s description of why the cost of those programs are going up. Housing Grants are going up because more people are eligible, Permanent Supportive Housing is going up because the County Board made additional commitments, and General Relief is going up because the state cut funding for the program. It is also worth looking at what the programs do before voting. Housing Grants are for the elderly, disabled, or working families with children who need help with rent, Permanent Supportive Housing is for the formerly homeless or people at risk of homelessness, very low incomes, and who oftentimes have mental health issues, and General Relief is for emergency assistance with medical bills, dental bills, burial costs, or “unattached children” (effectively children who are unrelated and thus do not qualify for Federal aid programs).

    The practical effect of cutting funding to these programs would be to reduce the number of families who are eligible for funding under the programs. There are likely arguments to be made about whether the County’s eligibility criteria were too generous, but the increases are due to the aforementioned factors, not the County deciding to be more generous.

    Also, to weigh these against library hours seems kind of cruel. How many families should be put in danger of being homeless so the library is open an extra hour or two per day?

    • Crabhands

      Thanks for the information.

      Needs to be highlighted: “Housing Grants are for the elderly, disabled, or working families with children who need help with rent, Permanent Supportive Housing is for the formerly homeless or people at risk of homelessness, very low incomes, and who oftentimes have mental health issues, and General Relief is for emergency assistance with medical bills, dental bills, burial costs, or “unattached children” (effectively children who are unrelated and thus do not qualify for Federal aid programs).”

    • AllenB

      +1 to your whole post but +1000 to your last point: “Also, to weigh these against library hours seems kind of cruel. How many families should be put in danger of being homeless so the library is open an extra hour or two per day?”

      • How many families should be put in danger of being homeless so dogs can have a water park?

        How many families should be put in danger of being homeless so Jay Fisette’s wine and cheese crowd can have a place to hang out?

        And the ACDC members claim to portray Democratic values. I thought Democrats were supposed to care about PEOPLE? What we have running Arlington is a bunch of profligate hypocrites.

        • Josh S

          Your point is as clear as mud.

          • Burger

            I think he is right and you are missing his point.

            You can make the “what about the children/elderly/poor” type arguments for any spending. But what is the most efficient use of precious resources.

            You could easily make the argument that the money that will be necessary for the county to kick to save the artisphere should be used here.

            It goes back to the old age problem of guns or butter and that you can’t do everything. In this case, the county can’t fund artisphere, this housing program or library hours. What the county can do is figure out what is the best use for the most taxpayers in this county, not growing and or create new programs that pull at the heartstrings of County Board members to the detriment of other existing programs that are more widely used.

            I’ll note that piece of the program is to insulate some people from rent increases which arbitrary protects a subset of people from everyday life. It would be more economically efficient and tax efficient to let those who can’t pay Arlington rents to move to areas of Virginia that are more cost affordable. That isn’t a crime. People move all the time for cost reasons. I see no reason why I should support someone’s rent because they can’t afford to live here.

          • CW

            Hmm. Depends on who that “someone” is, though. I know that this is an old argument, but I think it’s still a valid one – what happens when firefighters, or teachers, or parking enforcement officers can’t afford to live in the County? Well, the last one wouldn’t be so bad. But if there is a talent drain (whether that be fire-fighting talent, or plumbing talent, or carpentry talent) from the area, then indirect effects which are much more sizeable could be incurred from that loss.

        • AllenB

          Wow, the angry spittle is really flying out of your mouth now.

          1) Dog park is funded with a bond. This is operational dollars we’re talking about for this program.
          2) Did the county fund the wine and cheese places?
          3) Helping the elderly, disabled, homeless are Democratic values, which is what these programs do. How are the board members being hypocritical for funding this?

    • OddNumber

      I found the slides that the county provided to be rather interesting. The two major cost drivers appear to be the number of people needing assistance and the cost increase in housing. From 2009 to 2011 (based on slide 12 data), the cost per household served increased 13% ($5510 to $6223) and the number of households receiving benefits increased by 24% (833 to 1030). The demographics receiving this assistance break down to 33% Older Adults, 37% People with Disabilities, and 30% Working Families with Children.

      A 24% increase over two years in the number of households is unsustainable over time if the county can’t find a way to reduce costs per household. Unfortunately, the county has proven it can’t control costs given that costs have increased 113% since 2001 ($2916 to $6223)! I don’t know enough about the program to know where the county can save money. However, I certainly hope that we don’t push to keep out libraries open a few hours later at the expense of people that have a serious need.

    • dk

      +1

  • ArlGal

    Buy em a bus ticket to Loudon county instead and spend OUR money on making things better for current residents.

    • AllenB

      It sounds like Arlington would be a friendlier place to live if you were the one given the bus ticket.

      • jan

        I agree

      • Jason S.

        Perhaps it would be less friendly, but it would be more economically viable. As has already been stated, housing subsidies basically help businesses by increasing the rent for property owners and by subsidizing labor for other business owners.

        • Josh S

          More economically viable??!!?!?!
          Ladies and Gentlemen, your Clueless Comment of the Year.

      • Bender

        Maybe we could start with making these comboxes a friendlier place without all the obnoxious insults?

        • AllenB

          Actually, I think my comment was rather friendly compared to what ArlGal deserved to be called.

    • 22201

      +100

  • Bob

    Ummmmm…..Favrola is not the County Manager. Think you mean Donellen?

    • You guessed correctly, I did mean Donnellan. Thanks for pointing this out.

      • brendan

        that’s kind of what the first comment was about…

  • 22201

    Last year they had to cut Arlington’s 3 water park hours significantly since they couldn’t find $20,000 to pay the water bills. Their priorities should be to the families who chose to stay and pay taxes despite the County Board’s wasteful priorities.

  • I’d much rather our tax dollars go towards programs like these then useless crap like the Artishphere.

    • Josh S

      Or fluff like waterparks.

      • Kent

        And that’s compared to the $ 1 million plus dog park? Spoken like someone bitter without kids.

        • Josh S

          Hi, nice to meet you. I have a kid, have used the water parks. They’re great. Used to have a dog, used the dog parks.
          Of the two, I’d say the dog parks are marginally higher up on the important services to spend government money on.
          Both, however, are pretty low. And certainly compared to housing assistance for poor people.

          • Josh S

            By the way, until you brought up dog parks, I don’t think they were part of the conversation.

          • Kent

            $20,000 for waterparks to make kids happy versus $1 million + to make dogs happy – really is apples to oranges – just fund the waterparks and I’ll be fine with subsidizing housing.

          • Josh S

            Dollar figures do not make for an “apples to oranges” complaint. Could be two dollars versus two hundred million dollars, both programs are recreational amenities for citizens. (Dogs aren’t citizens, by the way. No one builds dog parks for stray dogs. They’re built for citizens who happen to own dogs.)

          • CW

            Dog parks are the default strawman around here, in case one has told so you explicitly.

          • CW

            *no one

  • charlie

    The anti-growth component of Arlington Way is creating a huge housing crisis.
    Most of them live in luxury and have federal jobs or retirement and have NO IDEA how hard it is to live in Arlington if you came here in the last 20 year.
    The three year delay on Views at Clarendon is a perfect example.

    • Josh S

      Um, in what way, shape or form could anyone claim that there has been a lack of growth in Arlington in recent years? Yes, I agree that the market is telling us that there should be even MORE, but Arlington is hardly a sleepy burg.

      • charlie

        People specifically decided that Clarendon was to have NO MORE high rise residential, yet the retail craves it (ask that bread place that is gone).
        Several buildings, I don’t know which, lost units because citizens thought they were too tall.
        No, there has been plenty of growth, you are right. There needs to be more. To support METRO, cupcake places, bikeshare, Art buses, Artisphere.
        We need more housing units — more units keeps the prices down. Supply does not meet demand.

        • CW

          That’s the problem – demand meets supply just fine. Why would they want to build a ton of units to lower prices when they can just charge higher prices for a smaller number of units? They would be doing more work and their revenue would not be any different. Exclusivity sells, and it commands high sums too.

      • Burger

        I think you need to take some economic lessons.

        • brendan

          hah. good luck, i’ve tried to reason w/ “charlie” a few too many times. doesn’t work. he’ll mention that he’s well off, b/c apparently that gives his statements validity, while completely missing the point on very basic arguments.

        • charlie

          well are we in this for the evil developers or are we in this for the county having an affordable supply of housing.
          i’m opting for affordable supply of housing.
          is that the economics lesson? if not, tell me what I’m missing.
          brendan, you aren’t alone in not making sense to me.

    • Southside

      Its not that hard. If you cant afford it move somewhere else. I moved here 3 years ago and have neither the fed job or retirement. I was able to make it happen so suck it up or move.

      • charlie

        Southside, your attitude isn’t very helpful. I’ve lived here for a looooong time and I can assure you I have no economic worries.
        But I do worry about the other people. The service jobs. my painter, cleaning lady, paper delivery person, clerk at the hardware store, the waiter at the cupcake place… etc etc etc.
        It isn’t at all about me, for a change, but about OTHERS.

        • Jason S.

          Pay them more and they won’t need subsidies, but maybe you can afford a cleaning lady because others subsidize her living expenses.

      • ArlGal

        EXACTLY. We’re talking about one of the most expensive areas in NOVA that people can CHOOSE to live in. If you can’t afford it, move somewhere else. There are other options.

        I bought 5 years ago with no fed job or inherited family wealth or handouts. I saved my hard earned money by starting out in FFX county and moving up when I was able to. That’s how it works.

        • mehoo

          You didn’t get a tax break for your mortgage?

      • mehoo

        It makes sense for the county to try to help people keep their homes instead of having to sell during temporary economic distress. It keeps property values from dropping and homes from going vacant.

  • ArlGuy

    The housing grant benefit is around $525/yr per household. The FY12 increase is roughly $200,000, not $630,000 over FY11. The Board amended the FY11 budget $400,000+ due to the program’s increased demand in this poor economic climate, not for an increase in individual benefits.

    The Board has clearly made a decision; our affluent county can direct less than 1% of its budget to those less fortunate. I support this direction.

    • Wayne Kubicki

      Just to square the corners on the budget facet of this…

      For years now, there effectively has been no budgetary limit for this program. The Manager and the Board have not “closed” the program (and started a waiting list) when the budget for any given fiscal year projected out being exhausted. More money simply gets added to the program to continue to approve all qualified applicants.

      It’s my understanding that the funding being added for FY 12 (per the budget book) will simply fund all current recipients in the program.

      If past practice is followed, more money will have to be added again mid-year to this.

      Going back about 11 years ago, the original Affordable Housing Task Force (co-chaired by Al Eisenberg and Jim Almond, with Charles Monroe and Walter Tejada among its other members) recommended liberalizing the benefits of the Housing Grants program (which the County Board later enacted), but also recommended that the program be “budget limited”, with a waiting list being created if the budget for any given year was exhausted (recommendations the County Board ignored). The Task Force stated its concern about the program becoming a “budget buster” – primarily due to the fact that Arlington is the only local VA jurisdiction that has such a program. The Task Force expressed concern that Arlington could become a “magnet” for people looking for this type of housing aid.

    • OddNumber

      I did a similar set of calculations in a response to Bob above, but found the cost of the program to be 10x higher and that the benefit paid per household was increasing. Did I miss something important in one of the links?

  • Southside

    Screw em let them move to Fairfax Co the District or to PG. Why should the poor be our problem. I dont think my taxes should go for this. Its bad enough I have to provide those people support on the federal level. I would much rather have the parks open or the library open. Those things add something to the county and my quality of life. The poor only serve as a drain on the residents. Give them the boot.

    • Josh S

      You know all those dystopian novels / movies where the hungry mobs descend on the rich and basically eat them? You’d be perfectly cast as dinner.

      • AllenB

        Maybe, but I think the foul aftertaste from consuming Southside would not be worth it.

        • borf

          Southside gives me gas.

          • AllenB

            That’s nothing compared to what he gave me last time.

    • mehoo

      I know – let them eat cake!

      • CW

        Actually, that’s a good idea. Gather up all those leftover cupcakes every night, and…

    • C

      Hope you don’t have kids who need teachers or come to be in need of emergency services. Allowing these employees to live and work in the county will certainly keep the quality of employee high.

      I actually think the county should think about how to create home-ownership opportunities for those “poor” folks you are talking about. I am one of those folks. I was renting and was not able to afford to purchase a home. I had the opportunity to buy a condo because of a county program. It has no frills, but has provided me with a stable home for the past 7 years. Without the county’s assistance, I would have had to move out to Fairfax or further and would have then taken a position out there. I now continue to live, work and shop in Arlington. I am committed to Arlington because of the opportunity they provided for me years ago. The county has benefited through real estate taxes, sales tax, and my continued work as a county employee. I do believe there is a payoff to getting people of all income levels into the county.

  • CHouse

    I suppose that the bigger question is whether it should be the County’s job to keep people living here when the market is pushing them out. While I understand the need to help out those that are less fortunate the County should consider what other jurisdictions are doing, as well as whether a cap on the growth of these programs should be instituted. Arlington cannot create more land, which makes the prospect of pricing people out of the County a near-reality. The area is expensive, but there is nothing that requires a person to stay here.

  • Not a math major, but…

    My property taxes have doubled in the last 10 years. Landlords’ property taxes have likewise doubled and the cost is pasted on to renters through higher rents. County Board then uses tax money to pay for rental assistance caused in part by higher taxes. Maybe if the County was not taxing property owners so much and increasing the taxes every single year, rents would not have to also be pushed so high. (And, yes, every single year for the past ten years property taxes have gone up — the County keeps taking more and more property taxes when it should be cutting the “rate” each year to keep any growth to a minimum. North Korea, Cuba, and Arlington may be the few jurisdictions were taxes get raised yet the government spends taxpayer money to congratulate itself on lowering the “rate” — I would prefer that what I pay in taxes to goes down and the self-congratulations about lowering a “rate” is honestly reported as yet another tax increase.)

    • borf

      Here we go again…

      Have your taxes doubled because you’re property values doubled? And therefore your wealth and the amount you’ll realize when you sell?

      • ……….assuming the property value doesn’t get cut in half just before you sell at the peak of a recession. They you paid higher taxes on a capital gain you never realized.

        • mehoo

          You can’t win ’em all.

      • Math 102

        Borf: The question is how much TAX Arlington collects. If property values increase (collectively for the County as a whole), then the tax rate should decrease to keep TAX collections stable. The “rate” and “valuation” are side shows that should not distract people from the total amount of TAX collected by the County. Without doubt, the County has simply collected more and more TAXES each and every year. Those taxes come from home owners.

        Example: 2001 Year: Value $100 and tax rate 10% = $10 in TAXES
        2010 Year: Value $200 and tax rate 5% = $10 in TAXES.

        When the Tax, BORROW, and Spend County Board fails to adjust the tax rate, they create TAX increases. If the value increases to $200 and tax rate remains 10%, then the County collects $20 in TAXES which is a TAX increase. Unless the rate is lowered to 5%, then the result is a TAX increase. Why (or how) do people fight that this is a TAX increase?

        Focus on the total TAX collection.

  • Hello mortgage tax break?

    For all of you home owners who say you made it on your own and Arlington’s low-income renters should do the same, I think people frequently forget one of the largest taxpayer-funded affordable housing programs that exists – the tax deduction you take on your mortgage every year. I personally don’t think the mortgage decuction is a bad policy, but I do think home owners who look down on housing rental assistance from the government as taking a hand out need a reality check. You are effectively doing the exact same thing through your mortgage.

    • So you saying the government should give “assistance” to the same property twice? You see, the property owner gets the mortgage tax break and now the renter should also get “assistance”. You just can’t equate the two.

      The mortgage deduction is in place to encourage home ownership. The free market dictates whether it is more or less costly to rent. It would seem rental rates should stabilize roughly near where a mortgage payment minus tax relief would be, don’t you think?

      • Hello mortgage tax break?

        I think the government ultimately gives assistance to people, not properties. So in some cases, I suppose government (at different levels) is giving assistance to two different sets of people who are involved with the same property. I don’t have a problem with that, personally.

        We don’t live in an economic model. I don’t think property owners pass on their tax break savings to renters. There is limited housing supply in this County and high demand so they don’t have to. The free market ultimately prices out many low-income renters. Does this create a sustainable, desirable community? The County Board doesn’t think so. Should we care? That’s the ultimate question. The Board obviously cares and thinks most residents care. If you don’t agree with the County Board, vote for someone else.

        The point I was originally making is I think some home owners conveniently ignore that their housing choices are also subsidized by the government. Renters are somehow taking government handouts while home owners just file their taxes and go on their merry way.

        • Well, I look at it a little differently I guess. Property owners must maintain the property. Renter just make a phone call when the dishwasher dies. Renters don’t have to shell out $20K for a new roof, or to fix a drainage issue. Renters just submit their rent check and go on their merry way. You see, the mortage tax break doesn’t just go into the property owner’s pocket. It assists in maintaining the property.

          • mehoo

            But property owners get to own their property, and when they move, they walk away with money in their pockets (they hope). Renters walk away with nothing.

          • Renters enter with no financial risk either. Just ask anybody who bought a house in 2004 or 2005 what that’s all about. It could be decades of being under water, poor credit, or even bankruptcy.

            Face it, there are advantages and disadvantages to either.

    • Arlmen

      In the same vein that those who look up their noses and believe in wealth redistribution and taxing the rich even more should reaize that 1/2 the households do not pay federal income tax. I’m fine with with progressive taxation, but $250K in Arlington does not mean you are rich and should be a target – Once you hit over $500K per year, you should be progressively taxed more – still have incentives to earn money, but the extreme rich earning more than a million a year can pay more – but I personally do not see a justification for taxing more than 1/2 a person’s earnings (unless you work on Wall Street).

  • Richard Wiliams

    Idealogically, I’ve never thought people had an inalienable right to live in zip codes they can’t afford. But pragmatically, I think allowing ghettos to spring up due to market forces, puts a lot of expensive stress on county police and social services. My opinion is that it’s best to keep Arlington’s low income residents integrated into as many neighborhoods as possible, and hope they can get on their feet. It will certainly be easier for them to raise well educated, productive children this way. Whatever expense this approach causes, will probably result in law enforcement savings. I’d like to see affordable housing addressed on a regional level, individual municipalities are too small to make effective decisions on this.

  • ladylaw

    The law doesn’t allow Arlington to have a pre-residency requirement for county Housing, so substantial numbers of people from DC, MD, and neighboring localities learn from friends and family about the housing grants, calculate their eligibility, get a lease and move to Arlington, simultanously appling for housing, sometimes all in the same week. What we see is the result.

  • jjbug

    Area groups that extend help to the homeless on Arlington streets have a different view not included in this discussion. They make the point that families who lose jobs eventually face eviction. Then they cannot find a place to sleep not eat. Children are unable to continue schooling. They have no money to buy transportation to County offices for counseling or medical care. Assistance on the rent is CHEAPER than, finding a family homeless, trying to restore that family back to a place in the working world as job holders! Preventing eviction yields quicker turn around to obtaining a new job.

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