The Right Note is a weekly opinion column published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
If you are like me, your attention has been focused on the ongoing drama surrounding the government slowdown and not as much on local news over the past two weeks. In addition to the statewide, General Assembly and local races on the ballot in November is the referendum to create an Arlington public housing authority. The issue had not received a good deal of coverage before the slowdown drama, and I am not sure the yard signs its supporters have now deployed will do much to break through the noise.
The proponents of the referendum say Arlington’s current approach to affordable housing has proven ineffective in keeping up with the market forces that are driving up housing prices. They argue we should try the approach used by Fairfax County and the City of Alexandria and bring Arlington’s efforts directly under the county’s umbrella rather than using existing public-private partnerships. They say that it would leverage local dollars to obtain additional federal assistance and reduce duplication of efforts.
The opponents of a public housing authority say Arlington already spends a higher percentage of its budget than neighboring jurisdictions without adding to government bureaucracy. This argument actually united the local Democrat and Republican Parties in opposition in 2008.
It has done so again this year. At their September meeting, Republicans debated the merits of getting more bang for our taxpayer dollars, but ultimately decided they could not be assured Arlingtonians would get more value by creating a new local government agency.
There is a lot of valid criticism to be had for how the Arlington County Board “negotiates” with developers. The negotiations often come down to a set of demands a developer must meet. Developers are usually willing to quietly go along with the Board’s demands in exchange for more density than they would otherwise be entitled to. The Green Party, which is backing the referendum, opposes the additional density as well.
Outside of affordable housing, such negotiations have led to empty ground floor retail, an empty art gallery space, and proposed construction of a taxpayer-subsidized black box theater. One could argue strongly that the Board’s planning record leaves a lot to be desired, and that maybe a change to its approach on housing is in order.
While I must admit that part of me would like to strike a blow against the County Board’s business as usual approach, I have to agree with my fellow Republicans on this one. There is no guarantee a public housing authority get additional results on affordable housing, but we would guarantee the expansion of local government. And as regular readers here know, I think we pay too much in taxes for a government that is already big enough.
Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.