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County Board Candidates Push for More Affordable Housing

by Ethan Rothstein April 7, 2015 at 10:30 am 2,256 0

Katie CristolThe six Democratic candidates for Arlington County Board are all pushing plans to increase affordable housing and encourage more mixed-income neighborhoods in the county.

The Alliance for Housing Solutions asked each candidate — Katie Cristol, Christian Dorsey, Peter Fallon, James Lander, Andrew Schneider and Bruce Wiljanen — about their priorities and solutions for the county’s rising cost of living and rapidly shrinking stock of residences affordable to middle class families.

Each candidate, in their responses, declared affordable housing a strong priority, and vowed solutions to make it easier for lower-income individuals to find a home in the county. Many of the responses touched on the same themes — public-private partnerships as a solution, the county’s lack of land as an obstacle — as the candidates try to distinguish themselves for the two open seats on the Board.

Cristol, the youngest of the candidates, said she would advocate for creative solutions, like the planned WeLive space in Crystal City and making it easier to build additions in single-family homes. The Columbia Pike resident also vowed to protect the affordable housing policies already on the books, like the Affordable Housing Ordinance, which requires developers to contribute affordable units or money to the Affordable Housing Investment Fund if they want to build more density than otherwise allowed by zoning.

Christian Dorsey“Over the past decade, the Affordable Housing Ordinance … has been critical in linking affordable housing to economic redevelopment across the County,” Cristol wrote. “I believe the approach of the Affordable Housing Ordinance is a key mechanism to mitigate the loss of our market-rate affordable stock in the decades to come, and I will champion its protection.”

Dorsey said his affordable housing priorities would be to expand the stock of committed affordable units alongside market-rate affordable units and he, along with the other candidates, argued that a mix of housing prices was key for the county’s long-term economic prosperity.

“Employers consider a community’s ability to house its workforce a critical factor in determining where to locate their business,” Dorsey wrote. “Moreover, since housing is the biggest line item in the budgets for most families, reducing housing costs yields increased income that can be spent on goods and services–increasing demand and thus business sustainability.”

Peter FallonPeter Fallon, who is trying to capture the Democratic nomination for County Board for the second time after losing to Alan Howze in the special election primary last year, said part of the problem with implementing affordable housing problem is the messaging — many people don’t understand why it’s a key issue.

“We need to be honest about the perception of affordable housing in Arlington,” he wrote. “Some residents view affordable housing residents as ‘takers’ who don’t add to the economic vibrancy of the community. As a County Board member, I intend to be a voice for all Arlingtonians, and that means correcting misperceptions about residents of affordable housing — many of whom are long time residents and the same young, middle-class families who make Arlington a top destination for new residents.”

James LanderSchool Board Chair James Lander said he wants to “implement key components” of the Columbia Pike Neighborhood Plan — which calls for the preservation of 6,200 affordable units along the corridor — as a way to spur the development of mixed-income neighborhoods throughout the county.

“Neighborhoods with residents of mixed income levels directly impact the goals of diversity, inclusion, and economic sustainability,” he wrote. “Neighborhoods with residents of mixed income levels directly impact the goals of diversity, inclusion, and economic sustainability. Prioritizing these shared values ensures that our teachers, construction workers, seniors, hospitality and service employees all have increased opportunities to make Arlington their home.”

Andrew SchneiderAndrew Schneider said the county’s current strategies are not enough to maintain the desired mix of housing in the county. He said that despite the county’s best efforts, there are still more affordable housing units being taken off the market every year than there are being added.

“We need to be innovative and creative in finding new solutions to stubborn problems,” Schneider wrote. “This innovation can range from zoning changes, to utilizing/converting existing space for housing, to grants and credits, to creative partnerships …  Every level of the County has to encompass and practice a vision of possibility and flexibility. If not, we will either drive potential projects away or inadvertently work at cross purposes.”

Bruce Wiljanen, the last candidate to declare his intention to run in the primary, said maintaining a diverse housing stock “should be our highest priority,” citing the economic viability factors as the other five candidates.

“A healthy county economic life relies upon having a complete spectrum of residential and workforce participants,” he wrote. “Our largest employers, whether it be the public school system, the hospitality and healthcare industries, or the federal government and military, all should be able to source housing for their employees within Arlington.”

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