Arlington, VA

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Over the past week, ARLnow featured Arlington County Board Vice Chairman Christian Dorsey talking about two issues — affordable housing and unfair business practices.

In his Progressive Voice column on business practices, Dorsey laid out an idea to consolidate efforts that take place across agencies and law enforcement and create a consumer protection bureau here in Arlington. Something he says can be done without “substantial increases in funding” by the taxpayers.

The idea is certainly worthy of consideration, particularly if it put all resources available to Arlingtonians in a one-stop shop and did so with little increased costs. At the same time, Dorsey admitted there is no data available to suggest there is a widespread problem or failure of the current system beyond anecdote. It seems like we may want to know the scope of the problem before making a decision on whether it is necessary to dedicate staff time and any increased funding toward creating the new entity.

Dorsey’s speech on housing policy did a number of things. First, it provided a brief overview of discriminatory practices in our country’s past. Dorsey noted that for the most part, these are a relic of the past. He did suggest that using words like “protecting neighborhoods” should not be code for resisting diversity in the name of resisting density.

He went on to argue that government can overcome market forces when it comes to housing. While it is certainly true that you can make public policy strong enough, or destructive enough depending on your perspective, to disrupt market forces, this is always a dangerous road to go down.

Moreover, not a single policy decision made by Arlington County thus far is pointed to as stemming the tide when it comes to rising housing prices. If Amazon came to town there may be no public policy Arlington could pass that could stop a massive price spike. And of course, one can argue that the arduous zoning and permitting processes only serve to make housing more expensive.

Speaking of zoning, Dorsey also intimated that he may favor restrictions on building larger homes on lots because the practice raises the price of the housing stock. Arlington’s zoning ordinance is already a complicated and expensive maze to navigate through, but Dorsey is suggesting he may pursue further restrictions on your property rights in the future.

It sounds a lot like he is previewing a turn as chairman next year or his campaign themes as he presumably runs for re-election in 2019. No data to back a call for additional spending and more property restrictions may not be the best place to start.

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