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Progressive Voice: Adopt the Affordable Housing Master Plan

by Harrison Godfrey September 17, 2015 at 1:30 pm 0

Harrison GodfreyProgressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

This Saturday, the Arlington County Board will consider whether to adopt the proposed Affordable Housing Master Plan (AHMP) and accept an Implementation Framework (IF).

Together, these documents represent the best of Arlington’s values and an important first step towards addressing housing affordability. Board members should adopt them.

The AHMP represents years of studying the changing Arlington housing landscape. Its goals — to preserve and grow the supply of affordable housing, make our community more accessible, and promote sustainability — were developed through inclusive community dialogue. The IF lays out public policy tools to achieve these goals and, by 2040, return the affordable housing stock to the levels present in Arlington in 2000.

A key goal of the AHMP is preserving and restoring the rental housing stock affordable to low-income families. This is a critical challenge. Since 2000, Arlington has lost roughly 13,000 affordable units to rent increases and redevelopment.

Addressing this challenge is morally just and economically wise. The loss of affordable rental housing has forced low-income Arlingtonians to relocate, imposing additional costs on those who can bear them least. The resulting labor scarcity makes it harder for business – especially small businesses like restaurants, dry cleaners and hardware stores – to operate. That is one reason why the Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Commission have endorsed the AHMP.

Moreover the AHMP also looks beyond this immediate crisis to broader housing challenges. Over the next 25 years, Arlington needs to add 2,700 new homes affordable to families below 120 percent of the area median income so they can stay in Arlington. Yet, the County’s own analysis shows that without public policies to stimulate the production of these homes, there won’t be enough.

This is an acute issue for Arlington’s young professionals. We love the County’s robust job market, great transit options, restaurants and culture. Perhaps that’s why the County’s Millennial population has skyrocketed. Today, 25- to 34- year olds make up roughly 27 percent of Arlington’s population.

However, as the population of young professionals has grown over the past 15 years, home prices have almost doubled — far exceeding wage growth. The median sale price of an Arlington home, including townhomes and condos, is now above $550,000. Many of us are renting and just making ends meet. While the most fortunate amongst us may be able to buy, most young public servants, artists and entrepreneurs are left to wonder: “Can I afford to stay?”

Growing Arlington’s stock of affordable ownership units is key to preserving Arlington’s cultural and socioeconomic diversity. Keeping Millenials in Arlington will relieve congestion by reducing commutes into and through Arlington from outer jurisdictions. And it is essential to the county’s economic future. As Patricia Sullivan, long-time reporter for the Washington Post recently wrote:

“Keeping as many of these highly educated and tech-savvy residents as possible is a critical factor, experts say, if the County wants to attract employers and build its’ tax base” Given the commercial vacancy rates in Rosslyn and Crystal City resulting from federal cutbacks and facing a burgeoning school-age population, attracting employers and building the tax base are “must do’s” for the County.

Fifteen years ago, when the last affordable housing plan was developed, these demographic and economic issues did not exist. Addressing changing realities is a key reason why the Board should adopt a new AHMP.

Nor are Millennials alone. Changing realities facing older Arlingtonians impact affordable housing too.

I was prompted to write about housing affordability because of my mother’s journey. Almost 40 years ago, she moved to central Arlington and bought a home. Over ensuing decades, the rise in home prices in Arlington – while posing an obstacle to new residents – has served my parents well.

However, like many Boomers looking towards retirement, my parents are faced with the same quandary as many young professionals: “Can we afford to stay?” The AHMP acknowledges this demographic shift. Alongside affordable rentals and home ownership, it makes “Aging in Place” a priority, with new policies aimed at affordability and accessibility for older residents.

The bottom-line is this: our community faces a unique and unprecedented set of economic and demographic realities. By and large, they’re good news. Arlington is younger, more diverse, and more prosperous than most of America. But those same realities leave us facing distinct challenges, like housing affordability. If we’re to remain the vibrant and appealing community we’ve become, we need to face and respond to those challenges.

The AHMP is an important step in doing just that.

Harrison Godfrey is a life-long Arlington resident and Democratic precinct captain for the Ashton Heights neighborhood. A graduate of William & Mary and former White House legislative aide, Harry works on clean energy policy at the state and Federal levels.

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