Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organization or ARLnow.com.
Around the country, communities with good jobs, great schools, and low crime rates almost always face an affordable housing crisis. Arlington is no exception. Despite our county’s award-winning efforts to preserve market-rate affordable housing, our supply has sharply declined. According to a recently released study, affordable housing units have dropped from 23,500 units in 2000 to 10,000 units in 2013, due primarily to increasing rents.
Virtually everyone is affected when a community is no longer affordable to a diverse array of residents. Housing affordability allows seniors to age in place, young professionals to start their careers, and working-class employees to live near their jobs. Single family homes in Arlington are already too expensive for many middle-class families. I
f present trends continue, increasing numbers of people will no longer be able to live in Arlington. This is a loss not only for those directly impacted, but also the larger community.
Businesses depend on having an economically diverse workforce. Localities that are not limited to the wealthy and upper incomes have a competitive advantage in attracting top businesses. A Center for Housing Policy study finds “In a national survey of more than 300 companies conducted by Harris Interactive, more than half (55 percent) of the largest companies with more than 100 employees acknowledge an insufficient level of affordable housing in their proximity.”
Companies have often acted on this understanding by relocating to localities offering broader housing options. With an office vacancy rate around 25 in Arlington, we will need housing that is more affordable to help attract new businesses.
Let’s break this down. Arlington’s tax revenues are split almost equally between the commercial and homeowner sectors. A rising commercial vacancy rate will require either higher homeowner taxes or substantial cuts in county services, including our schools. With our schools projected to add more than 6,000 students over the next 10 years, we need a strong economic development plan — including housing affordability — to accommodate such growth in school population.
Our modern, post-World War II economy was the envy of the world and had at its economic and moral foundations plans to ensure that people had an affordable place to live. In his 1944 State of the Union Address, President Roosevelt articulated the “right of every family to a decent home.” The American Dream has been built on the premise that hard work will lead to success. That success depends, however, on ladders to success being available to workers.
As Emily Badger at the Washington Post asked, “Why do some communities have more ladders for opportunity than other communities?” Affordable housing, especially housing that is close to good public transit, is one of those ladders. How can Arlington ensure a supply of affordable housing when market demand is rapidly eliminating it?
First we must protect the supply of committed affordable housing units, which is currently at 7,000. We can’t lose any more. Second, we should use the power of zoning to foster incentives for more dedicated affordable housing units. Third, we should use this power creatively and thoughtfully.
Finally, we need to bring to bear the power of the private sector to help create affordable housing. We already get $3 of private investment for every $1 of public investment in affordable housing. Perhaps we could do even more. New York City is pursuing a partnership with developers to create 40,000 new units of affordable housing. Through preservation, zoning policy, and partnerships we can toward making sure that Arlington remains a diverse, sustainable and affordable place to live.
Kip Malinosky is Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee. A version of this column originally appeared in the ACDC Voice.