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County Board Mulls Changes to Affordable Housing Grants Ahead of Budget Vote

The County Board is slated to vote on its fiscal year 2022 budget tomorrow (Tuesday) and affordable housing is top of mind for many Arlingtonians and Board members.

In February, County Manager Mark Schwartz proposed a budget with $71.1 million earmarked for housing — about 8.5% of the overall $834 million county budget, excluding schools.

This month, however, housing advocates told the Board that may not be enough to tackle the entrenched problem of rising housing costs and the deepening inequality caused by the pandemic. In response, Board members have identified three ways to amend the budget.

Testifying before the County Board on April 6, Carlos Velazquez, who sits on the board of trustees for Arlington Community Foundation, said the county needs to maintain flexibility for families seeking housing aid.

“COVID-19 assistance has helped many low-income families and individuals [stay in Arlington] and keep food on the table,” he said. “But the need has not gone away… We believe that flexibility should be maintained after the pandemic to help residents resolve delinquencies and develop plans to move forward from personal crises.”

Over the last two weeks, County Board members have discussed ways of doing just that. Last Thursday, ahead of the vote tomorrow evening, County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti proposed adding up to $2.4 million in several areas.

The chair proposed just over $1 million to maintain COVID-era guidelines that expanded eligibility for working families who needed financial aid during the pandemic. For those receiving grants, who currently contribute 40% of their income toward housing, de Ferranti is also proposing about $487,000 in one-time and recurring funding to lower annual housing contributions.

According to county staff, that could affect 700 families.

“This is of interest to us in the sense that severely rent-burdening individuals at 40% is more than [The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development] recommends,” de Ferranti said.

The County Board is also looking to add $850,000 in one-time funding for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund, a loan fund that helps to fund the development of new, dedicated affordable housing.

A portion of the $17.5 million set aside in the budget for the county’s response to the pandemic, meanwhile, will go toward eviction prevention. Housing advocates would like to see the county take bolder action in light of rising housing costs and economic hardship among lower-income residents.

Shaheera Sayed, an advocate with ACE Collaborative, an Asian American community-building group affiliated with Alexandria-based advocacy organization New Virginia Majority, said more needs to be done to prevent displacement of current residents.

ACE, which recently organized a rally near the future Amazon HQ2 in Pentagon City, proposed adding $8 million in funding.

“There is proof that the Asian Americans and other communities of color in Arlington county are struggling,” she said. “By adding more funding and expanding eligibility in programs such as the Housing Grants, more people who are unable to get affordable housing but are struggling to pay rent can benefit from this program.”

Beyond this year’s budget, County Board members say that more housing support will be needed for years to come. The most vulnerable in Arlington will likely face the longest road to full economic recovery, said County Board member Katie Cristol.

“Let’s not set ourselves up to make this purely one-time investment in Fiscal Year 2022,” she said.

Photo (top) via Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, (middle) via Arlington County

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