Progressive 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.
By Matt de Ferranti
In recent months, this column has highlighted a positive, progressive agenda advanced by the 8th Congressional District Democratic Committee. We now turn to county-level issues.
Schools, Metro and transportation, housing affordability, parks and open space and Arlington’s Energy Plan are all important issues worth discussing in detail.
I believe each is linked to economic opportunity, so that’s where I begin.
Economic Opportunity in Arlington is Strong: At our county’s core, just like our country’s, is the idea that the American Dream is achievable for those who work hard. By that standard — how achievable is the American Dream — Arlington is a great place to live.
Measures of economic opportunity confirm this. Our unemployment rate is 2.2 percent. Our population is amongst the most educated in the country. Our median household income is fifth highest in the country.
Arlington Faces Economic Challenges: Despite being a place where most can realize their versions of the American Dream, we do have challenges. Our commercial vacancy rate over the last five years has been between 18-20 percent, reflecting the reality that many federal tenants left Crystal City and Rosslyn in the aftermath of September 11 and that the economy is shifting from heavy reliance on office buildings to working from home and the technology-driven workplaces of the 21st century.
Arlington’s 8.8 percent poverty rate is another challenge we must face. In 2015, the poverty line for a family of four in the County was $24,250. In such a great county, we should take measures to help our neighbors in need — many of whom already work full time — above the poverty line.
Embrace The 21st Century Economy: As the workplace changes, we will need to be a great place to work and play to retain and attract businesses and talent. We must embrace the technology based economy and the green economy as they lead to new economic growth in the years to come. That means embracing Arlington’s Energy Plan and driving toward even more renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Acquire Land Necessary to Grow: The newly formed Joint Facilities Advisory Committee has recommended that we acquire the land necessary to provide public services important to all Arlingtonians. I believe the County Board should approve the purchase of the land on S. Carlin Springs Road and the Buck Property. We will need both properties to facilitate public safety and transportation services needed to serve our people and keep our economy growing.
Invest in Metro: Metro has enabled many of us to get to work and has brought many businesses to Arlington. While there have been significant problems over the past few years, it’s also true that Metro is an investment in the middle class that has paid off many times over and that Metro’s role in businesses success and accommodating population growth make it indispensable. We must be committed stakeholders, demanding accountability while investing wisely. We cannot let Metro fail.
Commit to Building a Fourth High School: Over the long-term, economic growth will be heavily influenced by the quality of our schools. To keep our schools world class, I believe we must work to reduce construction costs and find efficiencies, while also committing to providing funding necessary to build a fourth, full-service high school.
Protect and Preserve Housing Affordability: Arlington must be a place where the middle class and those who want to work their way into the middle class can afford to live. Teachers, police officers, nurses, restaurant workers and construction workers must be able to afford to buy a home or rent. Seniors seeking to age in place must be able to find a way to stay here. Millennials must be able to afford to rent and realize their dreams of owning. And, yes, we must fully commit to funding the Affordable Housing Investment Fund so that we maintain affordability and diversity as Arlington continues to grow.
Practice Fiscal Restraint: Over the last two years, the County Board has made good, hard decisions on the budget such as choosing to close Artisphere and focus our funding for the arts on Signature Theatre as well as deciding to sell the Reeves Farmhouse while keeping the surrounding land as parkland and for historic uses. We will need to make similar hard decisions in the years to come so that we can have the resources to serve those in need and invest wisely in our future.
Arlington truly is a great place to live. Progressive ideas can make our community even better.
Matt de Ferranti serves on Arlington County’s Housing Commission as Vice Chair, is a member of the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission and is Chair of the Budget Advisory Council to the Arlington School Board.