Arlington, VA

Harrison GodfreyProgressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

This Saturday, the Arlington County Board will consider whether to adopt the proposed Affordable Housing Master Plan (AHMP) and accept an Implementation Framework (IF).

Together, these documents represent the best of Arlington’s values and an important first step towards addressing housing affordability. Board members should adopt them.

The AHMP represents years of studying the changing Arlington housing landscape. Its goals — to preserve and grow the supply of affordable housing, make our community more accessible, and promote sustainability — were developed through inclusive community dialogue. The IF lays out public policy tools to achieve these goals and, by 2040, return the affordable housing stock to the levels present in Arlington in 2000.

A key goal of the AHMP is preserving and restoring the rental housing stock affordable to low-income families. This is a critical challenge. Since 2000, Arlington has lost roughly 13,000 affordable units to rent increases and redevelopment.

Addressing this challenge is morally just and economically wise. The loss of affordable rental housing has forced low-income Arlingtonians to relocate, imposing additional costs on those who can bear them least. The resulting labor scarcity makes it harder for business – especially small businesses like restaurants, dry cleaners and hardware stores – to operate. That is one reason why the Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Commission have endorsed the AHMP.

Moreover the AHMP also looks beyond this immediate crisis to broader housing challenges. Over the next 25 years, Arlington needs to add 2,700 new homes affordable to families below 120 percent of the area median income so they can stay in Arlington. Yet, the County’s own analysis shows that without public policies to stimulate the production of these homes, there won’t be enough.

This is an acute issue for Arlington’s young professionals. We love the County’s robust job market, great transit options, restaurants and culture. Perhaps that’s why the County’s Millennial population has skyrocketed. Today, 25- to 34- year olds make up roughly 27 percent of Arlington’s population.

However, as the population of young professionals has grown over the past 15 years, home prices have almost doubled — far exceeding wage growth. The median sale price of an Arlington home, including townhomes and condos, is now above $550,000. Many of us are renting and just making ends meet. While the most fortunate amongst us may be able to buy, most young public servants, artists and entrepreneurs are left to wonder: “Can I afford to stay?”

Growing Arlington’s stock of affordable ownership units is key to preserving Arlington’s cultural and socioeconomic diversity. Keeping Millenials in Arlington will relieve congestion by reducing commutes into and through Arlington from outer jurisdictions. And it is essential to the county’s economic future. As Patricia Sullivan, long-time reporter for the Washington Post recently wrote:

“Keeping as many of these highly educated and tech-savvy residents as possible is a critical factor, experts say, if the County wants to attract employers and build its’ tax base” Given the commercial vacancy rates in Rosslyn and Crystal City resulting from federal cutbacks and facing a burgeoning school-age population, attracting employers and building the tax base are “must do’s” for the County.

Fifteen years ago, when the last affordable housing plan was developed, these demographic and economic issues did not exist. Addressing changing realities is a key reason why the Board should adopt a new AHMP.

Nor are Millennials alone. Changing realities facing older Arlingtonians impact affordable housing too.

I was prompted to write about housing affordability because of my mother’s journey. Almost 40 years ago, she moved to central Arlington and bought a home. Over ensuing decades, the rise in home prices in Arlington – while posing an obstacle to new residents – has served my parents well.

However, like many Boomers looking towards retirement, my parents are faced with the same quandary as many young professionals: “Can we afford to stay?” The AHMP acknowledges this demographic shift. Alongside affordable rentals and home ownership, it makes “Aging in Place” a priority, with new policies aimed at affordability and accessibility for older residents.

The bottom-line is this: our community faces a unique and unprecedented set of economic and demographic realities. By and large, they’re good news. Arlington is younger, more diverse, and more prosperous than most of America. But those same realities leave us facing distinct challenges, like housing affordability. If we’re to remain the vibrant and appealing community we’ve become, we need to face and respond to those challenges.

The AHMP is an important step in doing just that.

Harrison Godfrey is a life-long Arlington resident and Democratic precinct captain for the Ashton Heights neighborhood. A graduate of William & Mary and former White House legislative aide, Harry works on clean energy policy at the state and Federal levels.

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Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organization or ARLnow.com.

Harrison GodfreyGrowing up in Arlington, my friends’ parents were entrepreneurs, artists, public servants, homemakers, lawyers, and service workers. In the past 30 years, I have seen Arlington change, largely for the better.

But as property values rise I wonder: “If I could buy in Arlington (that’s a big if) and raise a family here, will my children grow up in an economically diverse and largely middle class community?”

Continuing on our present course, I fear not.

Over the past several months I’ve written here and elsewhere about millennials and housing affordability in Arlington. How do we make home ownership attainable for young people? Our answer will affect Arlington’s prosperity and culture for decades to come.

Some millennials will earn well above the area median income (AMI) and have ample choices in Arlington. Others will earn well below AMI. For them, ownership here may be out of reach. To its credit, Arlington works hard to provide affordable rental housing.

The challenge is what to do for the majority of millennials who fall in between.

When my mother settled here, artists, budding entrepreneurs, and public servants could afford Arlington. With the median sale price of a “home” (detached dwellings, townhouses, and condos) now above $550,000, many find Arlington out of reach.

If ownership is unattainable to this group, they will move to more affordable urban centers. We will lose civic and artistic contributors and a significant share of a creative class that is critical to growing and diversifying our economy. Left behind will be a stratified county increasingly reliant on federal largesse.

In July 2012, Arlington initiated an Affordable Housing study. The resulting March 2015 draft plan found ownership housing affordable to families earning below 120 percent AMI “will continue to be undersupplied without public policies to stimulate and incentivize the production of lower cost ownership housing.”

In response, planners have suggested increasing the supply of affordable housing, raising density, and studying options to “enable greater flexibility in housing type.” This is promising. But to more quickly match today’s demand with existing supply, the County should also look to innovative financing options.

Upfront costs are a significant barrier to homeownership. Having graduated into a sluggish economy and saddled with student debt, few millennials have $110,000 in cash (20 percent of a median-price home).

That’s why “shared-equity” programs show significant promise.

In a shared-equity program, first-time homebuyers can get a deferred-payment, no-interest loan to partially cover down payment and closing costs. The buyer can defer payments until they sell. They then repay the original loan plus a proportionate share of the home’s net appreciation. This turns renters into buyers, helping them to build equity while putting down roots in the community. The fund is self-sustaining, refreshed with repayments and appreciation.

Arlington already has a similar program: the Moderate Income Purchase Assistance Program (MIPAP). But in FY 2014, just 14 MIPAP loans were made, up from three in the prior two years.

That’s partly because the maximum purchase price of an eligible home is $362,790, far less than the Arlington median, although the maximum allowed loan — $90,000 — and the minimum contribution required of the buyer — 1 percent — are quite helpful.

To improve MIPAP, we need to increase funding for homeownership programs. Funds to support MIPAP shouldn’t come out of support for low-income families, but rather reflect a strong commitment to both affordable housing and housing affordability.

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Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Harrison Godfrey(Updated at 5:00 p.m.) “Sorry young feller, but Arlington is an expensive, highly desirable part of the region. You’re just going to have to start farther away, then move up after you’ve saved money, the old fashioned way” – Online commenter “JMosesBrowning”

A month ago, I penned an op-ed for the Washington Post wherein I observed how Arlington is becoming an increasingly unaffordable place for young professionals to live. That is a change from when my mother moved here in the mid-1970s.

That’s bad news for “millennials” like me, but it’s potentially worse news for our County.

“JMosesBrowning” is one of many online critics who might be surprised by how much I agree with their sentiments. Like prior generations, Millenials are happy to start small, build equity, work hard, and climb the ladder. But Arlington seems to be missing a couple of rungs in the ladder.

When you compare median income for young professionals in DC against median rental and mortgage costs, we can barely afford to rent here, let alone buy. And that’s before you take into account student debt and wage stagnation.

The suggestion of critics that we “move farther away” creates more problems than it solves. Even setting aside the issue of regional sprawl, Arlington should want millennials to stay in the county. Young professionals typically pay more in local taxes than they use in services — especially those without school-age children.

Moreover, when millennials move “farther away,” they move much farther, to urban centers with which Arlington must compete.

Rather than migrating to exurbs like Leesburg or Bowie, millennials are moving to urban centers like Baltimore, Cleveland, and St. Louis. Between 2000 and 2010, all three of these cities saw greater percentage growth in the population of people ages 25 to 34 than did the Washington metro area.

Indeed, millennials are eschewing a car-centric suburban/exurban lifestyle. As of 2011, fewer people age 16-24 had driver’s licenses than at any point in the past 50 years. We instead seek out “dense, diverse, interesting places that are walkable, bikeable, and transit served” according to Joe Cortright, an urban economist who heads the City Observatory think-tank.

This shift isn’t a passing fad. Rather, it represents a growing recognition of unaffordable and unsustainable aspects of car-based living. In fundamental ways, this preference is a return to earlier migrations to cities. Over the course of American history, suburbanization was actually an aberration. In many ways, we’re being “old fashioned.”

The importance of this shift to Arlington’s competitiveness cannot be overstated. One need only look to Marriott’s announced relocation from Bethesda of its corporate headquarters. Marriott’s CEO cited the need to attract talent — “as with many other things our younger folks are more inclined to be Metro-accessible and more urban. That doesn’t necessarily mean we will move to downtown Washington, but we will move someplace.”

With its density, educational attainment, schools, diversity and walkability, Arlington is well positioned to attract millennials and companies like Marriott that depend on a diverse workforce. Keeping those companies and workers will, however, require addressing housing affordability.

As federal dollars dwindle, the D.C. economy has actually shrunk. Arlington has felt the pinch, with almost 29 percent of office space in Rosslyn and 23 percent in Crystal City vacant. To counteract federal cuts, we must diversify. Read More

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