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Peter’s Take: Affordable Housing Plan Needs Much More Work

by Peter Rousselot — June 11, 2015 at 11:45 am 1,191 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

The County Board might adopt in July a new “Affordable Housing Master Plan.” There is justified concern in the County about “affordability.” But, rising property taxes also adversely affect affordability.

I support an appropriate level of taxpayer subsidies for affordable housing. However, it is poor public policy to commit the County to specific numerical affordable housing goals and other controversial policy changes without a thorough community conversation about:

  • direct costs to taxpayers of these subsidies,
  • opportunity costs (i.e., what tax dollars cannot be spent on core services (e.g., schools, parks, roads) in order to fund these subsidies), and
  • other neighborhood impacts (i.e., increased density).

The County has neither requested from its staff nor provided the community with these dollar costs and impacts. Therefore, final Board action on the plan should be deferred.

Based on a report prepared for the Arlington Civic Federation:

  • The plan would commit Arlington to adding up to 15,800 subsidized housing units over the next 25 years to meet a goal that 17.7% of Arlington’s housing should be affordable to low-income families.  There is no analysis of how to pay for this, or of the impact the additional population would have on:
    • Arlington’s already overburdened schools,
    • neighborhood density, and
    • other public services.
  • The plan would consider changing zoning to enable duplexes, triplexes and other multi-family housing in single-family neighborhoods contrary to the County’s long-standing “Smart Growth” promise to preserve Arlington’s single-family neighborhoods.
  • The plan eliminates the county’s long-standing specific goals for County-wide geographic distribution of affordable housing. This unduly would concentrate new affordable housing in Arlington’s poorest neighborhoods, adding to the burden on those Arlington schools whose students are most challenged.
  • The plan contemplates building housing on parks, if co-located with another facility such as a recreation center. This puts even greater pressure on our already inadequate amount of parkland.

The County needs to:

  • Provide a detailed analysis of the impact of this plan on other County services, our neighborhoods and our taxes.  The analysis must include estimates of the impact on our already overcrowded schools.  Up to 15,800 new housing units means a lot of new families and new students.  Where will we put the schools?  How will we pay for them?
  • Then facilitate a balanced community conversation about all of the plan’s potential impacts.

It will take time to perform and communicate the detailed analysis required. The community then needs an adequate amount of time to review the analysis and offer its views. For these reasons, final adoption of the plan should be postponed until after the November 2015 election.

The County Board that will implement the final plan should be the Board that debates and adopts that plan.

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