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Hurtt Locker: Who Deserves a Say in Arlington?

The Hurtt Locker is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

ARLnow posed the following Morning Poll question last week: Should homeowners have more of a say in local government than renters?

This question came on the heels of an editorial in the Arlington Sun Gazette about reducing the amount of single-family housing in exchange for multi-family units, a conversation currently being driven by affordable housing proponents that is sure to dominate the county budget conversation in the coming weeks and months.

Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol signaled support for a $9 million increase (or 54%) to the Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF) over this fiscal year’s $16 million investment. “This is, I recognize, a lot of money,” Cristol said. No joke. But in politics — and in government — nothing moves unless pushed. And affordable housing proponents have been out in force at recent meetings.

Anyone who attends an Arlington County Board meeting or any of the myriad meetings of boards and commissions knows issues are debated and discussed and decided by representatives from competing local interest groups, many of which are comprised primarily of homeowners — even though renters make up 57% of household units, according to the 2017 Census American Community Survey (ACS). One might argue that homeowners already have a disproportionate say in local government over renters.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing. As a renter who is a member of my civic association and has an interest in local issues, I realize I’m probably an outlier — even in Arlington. Many of my contemporaries are renters who work on federal issues (either on the Hill or at a nonprofit or interest group), and they are not particularly interested in local issues. They won’t show up for a County Board meeting or a Civic Federation debate or a Committee of 100 dinner. But they make up a significant percentage of those impacted by decisions our County Board and School Board make, whether or not they always realize it.

And what about big and small business owners who don’t live and vote in Arlington? Should they have less of a say in local government? Representatives from Harris Teeter spoke at a recent County Board meeting regarding the proposed re-development of the grocery chain’s location at 600 N, Glebe Road in Ballston alongside residents who would be impacted by the development and the Ballston BID whose interest is economic growth in that neighborhood. Even former Delegate Rob Krupicka, who lives in Alexandria but owns a small business near Columbia Pike, probably deserves a say in local government if and when it impacts his business.

Are long-term, community-rooted homeowners and short-term, transient renters interested in different issues? Do they care about different and sometimes competing policy solutions? Sure. But both are important voices as we address important issues like affordable housing, school overcrowding, and infrastructure. Make no mistake: Renters have just as much of a stake in Arlington as homeowners do; and we pay just as much for county services, even though many of those costs are passed along in the total amount of the rent, rather than in a property tax bill from Arlington County.

All that to say this: If you made it to the end of this column, take a few minutes to fill out the County’s “How Should We Be Spending [Your] Money?” survey. Because you — as a renter, or homeowner, or out-of-town business owner — deserve a say in Arlington.

One additional note: Since my last column on November 14, I have met with a number of community activists from across the political spectrum to talk and learn more about local issues. As I outlined in my first column, I hope to take many of these conversations offline and into the community, so reach out if you’d like to sit down over a cup of coffee or a beer.

Matthew Hurtt is a 10-year Arlington resident who is passionate about localism and government transparency and accountability. Hurtt is a member of the Arlington Heights Civic Association and was previously the chairman of the Arlington Falls Church Young Republicans. Hurtt prides himself on his ability to bring people of diverse perspectives together to break down barriers that stand in the way of people realizing their potential. He is originally from outside Nashville.

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