By Carmen Romero
As a 20+ year resident of Arlington and an affordable housing developer, I am often asked by neighbors, “What does affordable housing mean?” often followed by, “How can we help?”
In stark terms, here’s an example of the “affordable”* housing situation. The average apartment rent in Arlington in 2018 was $1,918 per month.* Yet a minimum-wage working family would need to work 154 hours a week to rent a one-bedroom apartment in Arlington.
Many people in the private and public sectors are putting in the hard work to combat this situation. Unfortunately, we are falling short on own stated community goals of seeing 17% of our housing stock be affordable* by 2040. As of Fiscal Year 2018, we were closer to only 8.8% (or 10,200 units) of our 115,400 housing units being affordable.
So, to the question: how can “we” help? Arlington has the benefit of excellent planning, transportation, a supportive community, and economic prosperity that comes with being one of the nation’s top technology economies. If we harness innovation and hold ourselves accountable, we can pull the pieces together to make it happen.
What do bold steps and innovation look like?
- Approving a one-time bond issue. Bold financial commitments from the local and state level could help capitalize new solutions. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity with the Amazon HQ2 economic engine to create new tools to promote large-scale preservation and new construction. Arlington could choose to fully capitalize our affordable housing plan through a one-time bond issuance supported by some of the economic growth anticipated from the arrival of HQ2. Local government could also reduce the development and operating costs for building affordable homes, including expediting zoning and permitting approvals, reducing real estate property taxes, and streamlining of site plan conditions.
- Rethinking Arlington’s zoning and land use rules. This could help ensure we have the flexibility to create more housing at all levels, but especially for those for whom the rent burden is most acute. Because Arlington is land-scarce, this has often meant more density and height, especially near transit. Given our land scarcity, it is critical to promote non-profit partnerships, such as the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing’s (APAH) partnership with the American Legion Post 139 in Virginia Square to develop affordable housing with a preference for veterans.
- Connecting more low-income and diverse people to our region’s technology and entrepreneurship economy pipeline. This summer, APAH began brainstorming with several local universities and a large technology partner around a vision to create a “resident impact incubator” with onsite technology classes and instructors/mentorships for young children through senior learners. This envisioned the use of technology as a bridge for low-income residents, instead of a divide. APAH recently opened Gilliam Place, an affordable housing development with 173 homes collocated with a ground-floor home for Arlington Presbyterian Church and a café and business incubator with La Cocina, the Zero-Barriers training and entrepreneurship center.
- Engaging the corporate and philanthropic community. Our counterparts in San Francisco and Seattle have done so and the private sector is making large investments in housing affordability. This is also happening in areas like Charlotte where they have created a Housing Opportunity Fund surpassing a $50M goal of private funding for affordable housing.
- Leveraging our location at the seat of the federal government. We can push for needed expansions in federal legislation, like enhancing federal tax credit programs that provide critical equity for affordable housing.
- Recognizing that it is not just a “supply of affordable housing” issue. At its heart, it’s an issue of income disparity, such as the obstacle that a $7.25 minimum wage (vs $15 in the DC and Montgomery County) creates for working families seeking to stay in or come to Arlington, as described in an earlier column in ARL.com.
In 2020, let’s seize this opportunity to create the tools and hold ourselves accountable to make sure we realize our vision of an Arlington where each person can live in dignity.
Carmen Romero is the Vice-President of Real Estate Development at the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing. She sits on the Board of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO) and the Virginia Latino Advisory Board and is also a member of the Urban Land Institute’s Affordable and Workforce Housing Council.
*Housing is considered affordable when rent or mortgage, plus utilities, is no more than 30% of a household’s gross income.
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So you want to make wine? Walk through a day of winemaking in The Nose That Knows.
Now you can have fun with your family and friends when deciding where to eat!
Just hop aboard The Lunch Train and set the destination for: breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, or nightlife!
– No app necessary. Simply go to the website if you’d like!
– No account necessary
– Use your current location or a desired location
– Add restaurants you’re interested in, invite your friends, and play the game!
Lyon Park & Ashton Heights’ biennial home & garden biennial tour is back. The tour will include contemporary custom homes, older historic bungalows as well as renovated properties. One of the stunning homes on the tour is pictured above. In addition to beautiful & unique homes, the Villa & Vistas ’22 event will conclude with a festive reception at the Lyon Park Community Center at 414 N Fillmore Street, Arlington VA 22201. What could be better right?
All proceeds from this event will go to the Lyon Park Citizens Association (LPCA) towards our neighborhood jewel & hub, the Lyon Park Community Center (LPCC).
When: Sunday, October 2nd, Noon – 4 PM.
Where: Meet to get your tickets and the tour map at the Lyon Park Community Center (414 N Fillmore Street) We will have a table with information outside.
Join us as we explore Vini Franchetti & their two sister vineyards Passopisciaro (Sicily) and Vini Franchetti (Tuscany) for our Sicily/Tuscany Wine Dinner!
Sunday, Oct 9 @ 6pm
Special Guest: This wine dinner we will be hosting the wine maker