Progressive Voice: Millennials ISO Middle-Class Dream in Arlington

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

By Nick Dilenschneider

When I moved to Arlington in 2011 to study law at George Mason University, I had no idea what my future looked like. Through the years as I have settled into the community, the desire to make Arlington where I want to live and raise a family has grown stronger. It grew considerably after the 2016 election when I became intimately involved with the Arlington Young Democrats and in Democratic politics more generally. Over time and through this work I have established close friendships that will surely last a lifetime, come to appreciate how truly special and unique this community really is, and recognized how fortunate I am that fate brought me here.

I suspect that like me, many other young people have come here to receive an education, be on the front line of politics and international affairs, pursue a career in public service, or dedicate themselves to issue-based advocacy by working at a non-profit. Unfortunately, our future in Arlington is jeopardized by the lack of affordable housing. In many instances young residents will be forced to decide whether to continue living in Arlington and accept the risk that we may never own a home — or distance ourselves from friends and professional networks established at a critical juncture in our lives in order to buy a home elsewhere to better secure a stable financial future.

There is no singular experience in Arlington, a fact that should remind us to listen to all communities with a stake in achieving the dream of living for the long term in Arlington, and ensuring they are active participants in shaping public policies on housing affordability, transit options and other factors contributing to livability. Tapping into the experiences and ideas of our county’s millennials will help make the middle class dream a reality for more Arlingtonians.

Housing affordability is one of the most pressing issues for our county and particularly for young people. This problem is not unique to Arlington. For instance, this year a one-person household in San Francisco can earn as much as $82,200 per year and still qualify for affordable housing.

Is this Arlington’s future as well? It may very well be if steps are not taken to mitigate the risk. One possible solution is to adjust Arlington’s Moderate Income Purchase Assistance Program (MIPAP) so the maximum income thresholds for eligibility are not tied to the region, but rather to conditions in Arlington itself. Under the current framework, these thresholds are being artificially suppressed and will only serve to make people ineligible who might otherwise qualify for the program. In addition, other considerations such as student debt, hours spent volunteering in the county, and time spent living or working here should be factored in to provide additional assistance for those looking to buy. These changes alone will not resolve the housing situation in Arlington, but they are straightforward and pragmatic proposals that will at least help on the margin.

It is also essential that we continue expanding transit options within the county. Young people often forego having a car (or cannot afford one) and instead rely on other modes of transportation such as Metro, Uber/Lyft, and shared mobility devices like bicycles and scooters. The continued development of such options will improve the quality of life for young people in Arlington.

Ultimately, solving the problem of housing affordability — or at least addressing it in a meaningful way — will take substantial time and resources, not to mention the courage of citizens and elected officials to explore bold actions like re-zoning or single-dwelling areas to facilitate the development of multi-family and multi-use units. The debates surrounding such consequential decisions will be difficult, but they must take place. Otherwise, the already elusive dream of owning a home in Arlington will slip even further away for my generation and other young people.

Nick Dilenschneider (left, in the photo above, with Jimmy McBirney and Nicole Merlene) is an attorney who lives in south Arlington, commutes to D.C for work, and enjoys Arlington’s many neighborhoods and establishments. He hopes to one day own a home in Arlington.

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