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Judge Throws Out Housing Authority Lawsuit

Gavel (Flickr photo by Joe Gratz)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.

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