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Making Room: Celebrating the Heroes of Affordable Housing

Making Room is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

On November 15, advocates for housing in Arlington will take an evening to (virtually) honor the important work of the past year.

The event is the Alliance for Housing Solutions’ Ellen M. Bozman Affordable Housing Awards. If you support affordable housing in Arlington, I hope you will join us. The event is free and open to the public.

In January, I had the great privilege of joining the board of the Alliance for Housing Solutions (AHS). In February, we launched a campaign to push the County Board to double the revenue provided to the Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF). Arlington’s budget outlook was optimistic as the office vacancy rate was lower. I was excited to be working with Arlington’s community of housing advocates to increase AHIF to $25 million and make significant progress on the supply of affordable housing in coming years.

Once the pandemic hit, the need shifted to keeping our neighbors in their homes during a public health and economic crisis beyond anything we have experienced in our lifetimes. Although the crisis is unfortunately not over, we can take the time to recognize Arlingtonians who stepped up to protect our neighbors most in need of affordable housing.

Each year, the Bozman Awards recognize organizations and individuals who demonstrate a commitment to the preservation of housing affordability in Arlington. The award is named for Arlington civic leader and AHS founding board member Ellen M. Bozman.

This year, we will gather virtually to recognize two groups that stand out for their extraordinary effort to help low-income Arlingtonians facing eviction or other housing insecurity: Arlington Thrive and The Church at Work. In addition to critical work at the height of the pandemic, these groups remind us that most important thing we can do for the long-term response to the pandemic is keep families in their homes.

Arlington Thrive supports vulnerable resident by making same-day emergency financial assistance. This can make the difference for a family facing a dire need. Because they have proven capacity to distribute aid quickly, Arlington Thrive became the County’s primary partner for distributing funds from the Department of Human Services, as well as private donors. This work is keeping thousands of Arlingtonians who have faced job loss or health struggles in their homes.

The Church at Work is less formal and only coalesced during the pandemic. After Arlington Public Schools shut down in March, social worker Phyllis Thompson mobilized a coalition of local churches to support families in need. Together, this group raised $300,000 in two months for APS families to pay rent during the pandemic.

The event will also honor the legacy of Erik Gutshall, the Arlington County Board member who we lost too soon. I first learned about “missing middle” housing by following Gutshall’s campaign in 2017. He was a strong advocate for diversifying Arlington’s housing stock. He also understood that making density work in Arlington would require a holistic approach to planning, including issues such as parking and transportation.

I hope you will join me at the 2020 Bozman Awards to honor advocates for affordable housing in this challenging year, and start thinking about what we can achieve in 2021.

Ellen M. Bozman Awards
Sunday, November 15
7:00-8:30 p.m.
RSVP to join this virtual event

Jane Fiegen Green, an Arlington resident since 2015, proudly rents an apartment in Pentagon City with her family. By day, she is the Membership Director for Food and Water Watch, and by night she tries to navigate the Arlington Way. Opinions here are her own.

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