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Local NAACP tells County Board it supports plan to allow more residential housing types

Townhomes in the Green Valley neighborhood (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) The Arlington branch of the NAACP has come out in support of the county’s Missing Middle Housing Study draft framework.

The proposal calls for allowing small-scale multifamily housing in the residential areas of Arlington currently zoned only for single-family homes. The new “missing middle” homes — ranging from townhomes to 8-plexes, depending on the lot size — would be limited to the same physical size and footprint currently allowed for single-family homes.

The NAACP said in a letter to the Arlington County Board that such an action “is a first step in a series of necessary actions to reverse the damage done to Black and Brown residents by governmental and nongovernmental acts designed to segregate and disempower.”

“The recommendations successfully balance the needs of existing single-family home residents by keeping design standards the same while opening previously closed single-family home neighborhoods to diverse residents by allowing townhouses and buildings with 2-8 units in R-5 to R-20 zones,” said the letter, which was sent to the Board on Monday. “This change will begin to rebalance Arlington’s land-use policies with the makeup of its population; 70% of Arlington’s residential land reserved for single-family homes will potentially provide desperately needed housing to many more residents.”

Graphic used by the local NAACP in an email supporting ‘missing middle’ housing (via Arlington NAACP)

The proposal has faced criticism on local listservs and social networks, with some residents expressing concern about parking, traffic, school crowding and other issues that could potentially arise from higher-density housing. A Change.org petition entitled “Arlingtonians Opposed to Upzoning” has received more than 800 online signatures.

The group Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future, which is leading the opposition to the proposal, wrote last week that “the county is declaring war on single-family areas of Arlington,” adding that the proposed changes would be “politically and legally impossible to unwind, even if it falls short of stated goals or produces negative results.”

Additional criticism has been aimed at the relatively short window for public comment, which is currently set to close on Friday. Three-quarters of respondents to a recent ARLnow poll said the window should be extended to allow more time for residents to weigh in.

The County Board is currently expected to take action on the proposal later this year.

The NAACP says the proposal, if enacted, “will not repair the harm done to communities of color in Arlington in the last hundred years,” but argued that it would open up more housing opportunities to lower- and middle-income residents.

“The proposed Missing Middle framework is an important first step to addressing the legacy of racial discrimination and segregation in the housing market,” the group wrote.

The local NAACP has been particularly influential in Arlington in recent years, notching victories in its calls to rename Lee Highway and remove Arlington House from the county seal and logo.

The full letter is below.

May 23, 2022

Arlington’s shameful history of racist, exclusionary zoning policies needs reforming, and we urge the County Board to adopt the Missing Middle Housing Study Phase 2 Draft Framework. The framework is a first step in a series of necessary actions to reverse the damage done to Black and Brown residents by governmental and nongovernmental acts designed to segregate and disempower. We appreciate the work county staff have put into the Missing Middle Housing Study and the strength of their recommendations.

The recommendations successfully balance the needs of existing single-family home residents by keeping design standards the same while opening previously closed single-family home neighborhoods to diverse residents by allowing townhouses and buildings with 2-8 units in R-5 to R-20 zones. This change will begin to rebalance Arlington’s land-use policies with the makeup of its population; 70% of Arlington’s residential land reserved for single-family homes will potentially provide desperately needed housing to many more residents. We are particularly pleased to see the inclusion of 8-plex units because these will be the most attainable for residents making the area median income.

Black and Brown residents have struggled to find affordable homeownership opportunities in Arlington. The proposed zoning changes could result in additional housing attainable to up to 39% of Black households, 39% of Latino households, and 60% of Asian households in the Washington metro area, according to county staff analysis.

The proposed zoning changes also would aid environmental justice by allowing more low- and moderate-income workers to live closer to their places of employment, thereby reducing the negative environmental and social consequences of long commutes. Effects of the proposed changes on tree canopy should be minimal, as the current pattern in Arlington is for small single-family homes to be replaced by very large homes that cover as large a percentage of single-family-zoned lots as would the townhouses and homes with 2-8 units envisioned under the Missing Middle framework.

Allowing missing middle housing to be developed in R-5 to R-20 zones is a foundational element of improving housing affordability broadly, encouraging greater racial and economic integration, and expanding access to homeownership. However, this necessary step is not sufficient to bridge the gap between the market and lower income households and the victims of historical discriminatory practices. We strongly urge the County to commit to increased funding for affordable homeownership that targets first-generation homeowners as well as other programs that seek to affirmatively address the past harms of de jure and de facto racial segregation and associated discriminatory policies.

The proposed zoning changes in the draft framework, in and of themselves, will not repair the harm done to communities of color in Arlington in the last hundred years. However, the proposed Missing Middle framework is an important first step to addressing the legacy of racial discrimination and segregation in the housing market.

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