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Peter’s Take: Arlington’s Missing Middle Housing is High-End Housing

Peter’s Take is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Arlington residents’ lives have been upended by COVID-19: parents have struggled to juggle virtual schooling and work responsibilities; many restaurants, hotels and small businesses have disappeared. The County budget has been battered. Yet, County government has been moving full speed ahead to help builders and developers of high-end housing fatten their bottom lines.

Arlington’s Missing Middle (MM) Housing study is a heavily subsidized County government initiative pre-ordained to reach a “solution” to a non-existent problem. The housing types on which this study focuses already are plentiful in Arlington. Many more already can be built by right.

As my colleagues at Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future (ASF) demonstrate, up-zoning to enable construction of even more of this MM housing will NOT provide affordable housing for those most in need.

Missing middle housing is high-end, not affordable, housing

County staff have abandoned earlier claims that their MM study will yield affordable housing. Cloaking themselves in the language of civil rights advocates, they now argue these MM housing types are “under-represented.” A current Green Valley project demonstrates why increasing the representation of MM housing will boost the supply of high-end housing while accelerating the loss of racial, ethnic, and economic diversity, exacerbating our long-term budget deficit, and further damaging our environment. County Board members should renounce these bad community outcomes.

Dr. Jon Huntley of Arlington Analytics (along with ASF’s Mary Glass) recently completed a study of the Towns of 24th townhomes project in Green Valley. This project will provide townhome units in two fourplexes, replacing two single-family homes valued at $675,000 each. Marketing materials show each luxury townhome “starting at $800,000,” meaning owners will need to make $138,977 per year to get a mortgage.  

The County — with no factual evidence to support its claims – says MM homes will be a pathway to diversity. Yet consider 2014-18 U.S. Census data cited in Arlington’s Missing Middle Research Bulletin #2, which shows these Arlington average annual household incomes:

  • African-American – $58,878/year
  • Hispanic – $77,743/year
  • Non-Hispanic white – $134,723/year

Based on these averages, Towns of 24th owners are more likely than not to be white, and in any event, wealthier persons of any race/ethnicity whether relocating from within or outside Arlington. Other data show the townhome price range falls well above income levels of current residents who are over 65, occupy federal or county government jobs, or who are single parents or immigrants.

In higher income or more expensively priced areas either in South Arlington or North Arlington, the market values of new MM housing will require owners to have much higher incomes than the $138,977 in the Towns of 24th example.

By contrast, analyses presented to County staff as part of the current 5-year review of Arlington’s Affordable Housing Master Plan, demonstrate that Arlington’s greatest need for affordable housing is for those who earn 60% or less of Area Median Income (AMI). Sixty percent of current AMI is $68,040 (Slide 8).

Arlington lacks long-term infrastructure financing plans

Arlington has forecast that about 63,000 new residents will move here between 2020 and 2045 under existing zoning. As documented in an ASF presentation (Slides 2-5), Arlington has failed to develop long-term plans to pay for the new infrastructure needed to support these anticipated new residents, let alone the additional residents beyond the 63,000 who would be newly enabled to live here under MM up-zoning.

Arlington lacks long-term environmental impact plans

Arlington also lacks long-term plans to address the severe impacts on our environment of the current hyper-development that ASF’s Anne Bodine describes, let alone the incremental adverse environmental impacts of the arrival of 63,000, or even more, new residents.

Conclusion

Missing Middle housing is high-end housing not affordable housing. MM housing will accelerate gentrification, but will not help those in greatest need.

Before proceeding further, the County government first must:

  • Perform site-specific fiscal impact analyses for new, multi-unit residential projects
  • Release all existing long-term operating budget forecasts
  • Prepare these three sets of County forecasts comparing current zoning with any and all proposed MM up-zoning: (1) Long-term operating budget; (2) Long-term environmental impact; (3) Long-term household income by quintiles, showing projected disparities among different household groups compared to the national average

Peter Rousselot previously served as Chair of the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission (FAAC) to the Arlington County Board and as Co-Chair of the Advisory Council on Instruction (ACI) to the Arlington School Board. He is also a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) and a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA). He currently serves as a board member of the Together Virginia PAC, a political action committee dedicated to identifying, helping and advising Democratic candidates in rural Virginia.

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