Arlington, VA

A new county initiative aims to help find ways to solve Arlington’s affordable housing shortage.

County Manager Mark Schwartz introduced “Housing Arlington” during Thursday night’s Arlington County Board meeting. Billed as an “umbrella initiative” for the county’s existing affordable housing programs, Schwartz said it will help officials and the public brainstorm solutions together.

During presentations Thursday night, county staff said Arlington has lost 17,000 market-rate housing units since 2005. With 58,000 more residents expected by 2045 and current rent for a 2 bedroom apartment averaging $3,000 per month, they said the squeeze for affordable housing is likely to worsen.

“If we are successful in this event, we will create and preserve more housing for Arlington residents,” said the Housing Division Chief David Cristeal.

The county currently creates affordable housing in a couple ways, including by subsidizing its construction with the Affordable Housing Innovation Fund (AHIF) and by subsidizing rent for low-income residents.

In 2015, the county officials pledged to create 15,800 affordable housing units before 2040, but have since fallen short of the yearly creation benchmarks.

“Housing Arlington is different first because it’s a County Board priority to bring solutions sooner… and the expectations are higher,” said Cristeal, adding that the initiative means the Arlington will be “even more focused on this challenge” and will be “more proactive” in collaborating between public and private sectors.

The initiative will focus on addressing the shortage of affordable homes for low-income and middle-income residents, per its website, and plans to leverage the county’s existing housing programs along with zoning tools and private-public partnerships to accomplish that goal.

Schwartz noted during last night’s meeting that Arlington’s “dilemmas of costly housing can’t, and should not, be solved with AHIF funding.”

He added that the money he and the County Board increased for AHIF’s budget this year “is a really good step” but that “it will never meet the full scope of the need.”

“We know residents across generations are facing pressures from multiple angles, and this interconnected solution allows our community to be responsive and efficient,” said County Board Chair Christian Dorsey in a press release.  The challenges don’t exist in silos and their solutions don’t either.”

Schwartz says the public has submitted ideas to the county before which are now research-able due to the Housing Arlington initiative. The ideas include:

  • Can publicly-funded housing be created specifically for teachers?
  • Should individuals let public safety staff live in accessory dwellings on their property?

Schwartz mentioned the initiative was also a response to the  “strong headwinds” the county faces in addressing affordable housing with Amazon coming to town.

The hearing to approve Amazon’s incentive package was dogged by activists who fear the company’s “HQ2” will hasten gentrification. Several residents shared how their rent has already increased since the company scouted its new headquarters in Pentagon City and Crystal City.

“What I’m sensing is a real concern about loss and vulnerability,” Dorsey during the March hearing in between protests.. At the time, Dorsey added that the “the history” of Arlington neighborhoods was that of gentrification and increasing property values.

“We never really had a way to stop it,” Dorsey said.

The Housing Arlington initiative will be housed in the Housing Division of the county’s Community Planning, Housing and Development Department (CPHD), per its website. Funding details for the new initiative were not shared.

The Housing Arlington initiative is scheduled to hold its first public engagement forum at Kenmore Middle School on Wednesday, May 29 from 6-9 p.m.

Flickr photo via woodleywonderworks

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