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.
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