(Updated at 5:40 p.m.) A new group made up of South Arlington residents and teachers are asking the County Board to approve the Affordable Housing Master Plan at its meeting this Saturday, Sept. 19.
The plan calls for an additional 15,800 affordable housing units to be built by 2040, to bring the county’s percentage of affordable housing to 17.7 percent. The plan has caused a divide in South Arlington, with the new group, Mi Voz Cuenta asking for the County Board to approve the plan, while the group Coalition to Arlingtonians for Responsible Development (CARD) is continuing to ask the Board to ensure that affordable units will be spread throughout the county instead of clustering them around Columbia Pike.
Mi Voz Cuenta, which translates to My Voice Counts, is composed of South Arlington residents, many of whom are parents of children attending Arlington Public Schools, including Randolph, Barcroft, Campbell and Claremont Elementary Schools.
“For many of us, English is not our first language, and many of us were not born here. Nevertheless, we have made Arlington our home, and it has been a community which we have contributed to and enriched economically, culturally, and socially,” the group said in a letter to the County Board, which had more than 440 signatures.
Mi Voz Cuenta says it organized in response to another South Arlington group that has asked for affordable housing to be spread throughout the county and has connected low-income housing to poor school performances, an apparent reference to CARD.
“We know of communications you have received from our neighborhoods and know that they do not speak for us,” members of Mi Voz Cuenta said. “Our voices and our perspectives have not been adequately or correctly represented in these communications. In fact, we feel discriminated against. Most of us were not invited or ever made aware of the forums from which official messages claiming to represent our neighborhoods were sent. We would have liked to be included in these conversations since we are also part of the neighborhood.”
Mi Voz Cuenta is advocating for affordable housing in the neighborhoods near Columbia Pike, adding that the mixed-income neighborhoods have attracted diversity, and with it vibrancy, to the area, the group said. The group is also open to affordable housing throughout the county, said group spokeswoman Jessica Sarriot.
“We want to make sure that you also know that many residents of Barcroft, Alcova Heights, and the rest of the Columbia Pike corridor remain dedicated to the idea of expanding affordable housing in our area,” the group said. “What our families really need is stable housing, housing where rents do not get raised exponentially year after year.”
The group also takes exception to the claims that schools with large amounts of students on free and reduced meals test poorly. CARD has repeatedly said that schools across Arlington should have more equal amounts of students on free and reduced meals, adding that by spreading affordable housing out, kids will get to experience more diversity.
According to Arlington Public Schools‘ data on test scores, 10 elementary schools — Abingdon, Barcroft, Barrett, Campbell, Carlin Springs, Claremont, Drew Model, Francis Scott Key, Hoffman-Boston and Randolph — had test scores with a 25 percent or more fail rate. A majority of these schools are in South Arlington.
“Low income housing allows families to have a roof over their heads without having to devote a precarious percentage of their income to their housing costs,” Sarriot said. “Children who are living in stable housing situations experience less stress and can focus better in school. In other words, committed affordable housing contributes to greater stability which in turn creates conditions for academic success.”
CARD continues to ask for affordable housing throughout the county but acknowledges County Board efforts to address the group’s concerns, members said in a letter to the Board, which had approximately 200 signatures.
In the last working session, county staff included a projection map for where the county anticipates having affordable housing units, with affordable units spread throughout the county, mainly below I-66, including the Route 1 corridor (Pentagon and Crystal Cities), Rosslyn-Ballston corridor and Columbia Pike.
In their letter, members of CARD asked that the county restrict developers from building affordable housing units in areas that have more students on free and reduced meals than the county rate, as well as restrict additional affordable units once an area has reached the 2040 target.
“Policies and tools incorporated into the documents over the past several weeks have strengthened the goals and vision for affordable housing in the County. Yet, some critical elements must be addressed in order for the plan to benefit all of Arlington’s citizens,” CARD members said.
CARD welcomes the new South Arlington group to the discussion on affordable housing, said Eric Berkey, the chair of CARD’s steering committee.
“From their statements, it appears that Mi Voz Cuenta and CARD have many similar goals to increase the availability of affordable housing options throughout Arlington. It’s my hope that we can work together to make this happen,” Berkey said.
The County Board will vote on the Affordable Housing Master Plan at its meeting on Saturday. The meeting starts at 9 a.m. Members of Mi Voz Cuenta will be speaking at the meeting, Sarriot said.