Arlington, VA

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

Last week, Arlington County staff held the community kick-off for the Pentagon City Planning Study.

The purpose of this multi-phase process is to determine the area’s capacity for future growth and ultimately make suggestions for zoning and land use changes. I hope the County recognizes the incredible opportunity to welcome more people into our dynamic, transit-accessible neighborhood by putting room for people above capacity for cars.

With the addition of Amazon’s second headquarters, Pentagon City will max out its designated density. But the demand for housing and office space continues to grow.

The master planning process for Pentagon City is an important step because the community can identify improvements that we hope development can bring, with walkability being one of the key attributes that neighbors want. The weakness in this process is the reliance on car-centric transportation analysis that could limit new housing by putting the needs of drivers ahead of current and future residents.

As Chris Slatt recently showed, our transportation forecasts, produce with each Site Plan Development, are flawed. They overestimate the number of car trips that a development will generate. The Multimodal Transportation Analysis (MMTA) reports produce reams of data for car trips and how those car trips may create rush-hour delay at intersections in the area in some future year, which can result in a development being downsized.

The overestimation of driving trips also pushes developments to have more parking spaces than they truly need. Our zoning code requires new developments to have enough parking for “all motor vehicles that may be expected to come to the premises at any time under normal conditions for any purpose.” But research shows that cheap and plentiful parking actually creates more parking demand by motivating people to drive.

The MMTA only addresses transit, walking, and bicycling in shallow terms. It doesn’t show the specific conditions of nearby transit, such as the wait times, trip times, reliability, or crowding. It doesn’t use data on the comfort level of nearby bicycle routes. It doesn’t offer objective measures for pedestrian safety that discourage people from walking.

This means that if the Pentagon City study finds that new housing could cause intersection delays, we would approve less housing. But that forecast is based on bad data on how many people might drive and no analysis of how to improve non-auto modes.

Why should the County set the capacity for residents and workers based on analysis of existing infrastructure, rather than adjust the infrastructure to meet the demand as it arrives? We can actually use density to decrease congestion by making the neighborhood more walkable and making room for people to live within walking distance of shops and offices.

The County’s own Pentagon City transportation data shows that this is possible. Currently, 24% of the households in the area are car-free and we added 1,100 new car-free households in the past 5 years. Three-quarters of all trips in Pentagon City occur by a mode other than a single-occupancy vehicle. In the past 20 years, the developed square footage in 22202 has increased by 24%, car trips have decreased by 18%.

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

This fall, the Arlington County Board will vote on a controversial proposal to make condo development easier along Columbia Pike. The County should reject this proposal and focus our bonus-density programs on low-income renters at risk of displacement and let market-rate development (fueled by better zoning) serve aspiring homeowners.

The Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Form Based Code (N-FBC) is a set of regulations that allows a developer to build to a much higher density in the corridor in exchange for public benefits, including Committed Affordable Housing (CAFs). Currently, a developer using the N-FBC must commit 20-35% of the net-new units in their project as Affordable for households making up to 60% AMI. This applies for both apartment buildings and condo or ownership projects.

The problem is that homeownership is expensive. Arlington staff have found that even when they find families at 60% AMI that qualify for the reduced-price mortgage, the condo fees and maintenance costs can put them at the brink. A job loss or unexpected expense can put them in serious financial jeopardy.

Because the staff still want to encourage condo development along Columbia Pike, they have proposed raising the income level for these units to 80% and 100% AMI. They did not provide evidence that families at this income level will succeed in homeownership where lower-income families struggled. They also fail to mention in their presentation that under these new rules, the developer could sell a Committed Affordable unit for up to $441,000, rather than $264,600. The CAF units are also allowed to be smaller with fewer amenities than the market-rate units. This “public benefit” comes at considerably less cost to the developer, with no change in the number of units they are expected to provide.

Stakeholders in the Columbia Pike corridor have expressed concern that this proposal could exacerbate displacement of low-income renters. The area contains some of Arlington’s last remaining “market-rate affordable” apartment buildings, which are at risk of redevelopment at a higher price point.

The proposal to increase the income limits for Committed Affordable ownership units to moderate-income households is an inappropriate use of the bonus-density system. Arlington County should use its Committed Affordable housing program to prevent displacement, not underwrite homeownership. And while moderate-income families have few ownership options in the current housing market, strengthening rental options would be a better public policy goal than getting a few more households into condos they might not be able to maintain.

Leaving Arlington to buy a home is a choice, not displacement. Displacement means losing options for housing affordable at your income. It could be that your rent rose faster than income, your building was redeveloped at a much higher price point, or your building was demolished.

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

One recurring argument against upzoning is that Arlington needs single-family zoning to protect affordable starter homes from expensive redevelopment.

Without restricting lots to one unit, the thinking goes, a developer would be willing to pay a substantial sum to demolish small homes and replace them with multiple units, reaping the profit.

But this argument assumes that Arlington has any remaining starter homes left to protect, and that we could keep them from being torn down and rebuilt as McMansions. The reality is that our land value makes any detached home more expensive than a middle-income family can afford, even if they are not redeveloped.

A basic search on Redfin (conducted this past Saturday) yields only two detached homes in Arlington that are less than $700,000. For a family making 120% of the area median income, maybe one of these would be affordable. Older detached homes in Arlington average $1 million, which means they are unaffordable to all but the wealthiest Arlington families.

As expensive as these detached homes are, restrictive zoning can actually subsidize their prices. Rather than keeping starter homes affordable for middle-class families, single-family zoning serves as a barrier to homeownership. It prevents a group of people from pooling their resources to overcome high land costs and share a desirable residential lot.

The best chance for starter homes in Arlington comes from multifamily buildings. My same Redfin search yielded 55 duplexes and condos with 2+ bedrooms available at $550,000 or less (I set a lower price to account for condo fees). These attached housing forms are the bedrock of middle-class ownership opportunities in desirable places like Arlington. We need many more of them. Without an increase, the next generation of Arlington families will be locked out of the housing market, unless they are willing to move further away.

Contrary to some opinions, there is no single route to upzoning. Research by Emily Hamilton shows that zoning for the number of units is only part of the equation. To achieve affordable, small-scale development, we also need to address lot size, building size, and parking requirements.

Recent examples of upzoning throughout the country have taken many different forms. Last year, Minneapolis’s plan to allow triplexes on all residential lots made waves. This summer, Portland approved missing middle zoning that restricts the size of single-family homes to 2,500 square feet — effectively banning McMansions — and allows 4- to 6-unit buildings up to 3,500 square feet.

Arlington has an opportunity to chart its own course toward re-legalizing multi-unit dwellings. If you want to learn more about Arlington’s Missing Middle Study, please join a webinar with the authors of the five Research Compendiums that provide data on Arlington’s housing stock. This event will take place on Wednesday, September 2 from 7-8:30 p.m.

The demand for housing in Arlington has reached the point that single-family zoning functions to prevent opportunities for middle-class homeownership. If you either have a high income or bought your detached home when it was an affordable starter, congratulations! No one is going to take it from you. But when it comes to your neighbor who wants to sell, let’s use the opportunity to create a new generation of starter homes.

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.


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

My column talks a lot about single-family vs. multi-family homes. But what counts as a family?

The rules that govern who can legally occupy Arlington’s housing have changed to reflect our understanding and acceptance of diverse types of families. But even with significant progress to make our definition of families more inclusive, we have further to go to support the different forms that households take the 21st century.

Arlington’s Zoning Ordinance sets limits on the number of families that can live on a particular lot — what we typically call single-family zoning or multi-family zoning. It also defines what constitutes a family. According to Arlington’s Zoning Ordinance, a family is “an individual, or two or more persons related by blood, marriage or adoption, or under approved foster care” or “a group of not more than four persons (including servants) whether or not related by blood or marriage living together and sharing living areas in a dwelling unit.” So if a group of people is related, they can live together as a family, no matter how people are in the household. But if the group is not related, Arlington limits the household size to four people.

The restrictions placed on families comprised of unrelated people are based on prejudiced assumptions about their character and their impact on the community. This regulation typically targets young people who seek to live together in a single home because presumably they would be dirtier and rowdier than a “traditional” family of two parents and 1.5 kids. It also discriminates again “functional families,” such as two single parents, not in a relationship with each other, cohabitating with their children to share costs and childcare.

Arlington is not alone is viewing households of unrelated people as a nuisance and incompatible with the “character” of a residential neighborhood. However, our country has a long history of restricting people viewed as a nuisance or as lacking character from living equally and openly in our communities.

Until 1968, when the Fair Housing Act was first enacted, it was legal to discriminate against Black Americans, Jewish Americans, or immigrants because you thought these residents would degrade the character of your neighborhood. Until 1974, you could decline to rent or sell your property to a single woman out of a moral concern for women living without a father or husband. Until 1988, you could keep a renter with a disability or a family with children out of your rental property because you thought accommodating them would be a nuisance. Until just this year, it was legal in Virginia to deny housing to a gay, lesbian, or transgender person, because you objected to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

These are all cases where a person or family was view as a nuisance or a detriment to the community’s character based on bigotry or prejudice. Spurred by civil rights movements, the law gradually rejected the basis for discrimination and recognized housing access as an essential component of equality.

The nuclear family is no longer the dominant family type (if it every was), and in the absence of extended family networks, many people look beyond traditional family relationships of blood and marriage to build their lives. Arlington County shouldn’t be in the business of determining which families or households are worthy of living in residential neighborhoods, and it shouldn’t prevent the diverse forms that families take from finding mutual support and affordable housing. As we evaluate the proper density for our neighborhoods, we should also expand our definition of family.

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.


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

We lost a tree in my neighborhood during the storms last month. It was a large tree that provided shade for the nearby tennis and basketball courts. It will take decades for a new tree to provide that benefit for the park. But as a forward-thinking community, we plant trees now knowing that they will provide shade in the future.

This is an apt metaphor for housing affordability. We need to build new housing now so that we have older homes that will be affordable for middle-income families in the future. Therefore, when we evaluate our zoning policy or a site plan, we shouldn’t only judge it by the cost of the new housing that will be produced, but also on the cost of the older housing that it will become.

It is easy to complain about a new apartment building because it will charge extremely high rent when it opens. But this is the beginning of the building’s lifecycle that will eventually end up as a more affordable property.

Searching through advertisements in the Washington Post from the 1960s-1980s, I found many examples of buildings once described as “luxurious” that now have rents affordable to those making 60-80% of the Area Median Income (approximately $50,000-$90,000, depending on household size).

For example, RiverHouse in Pentagon City was described as “luxurious” when it first opened. It was Northern Virginia’s first high-rise apartment building and it had air conditioning, which was rare for homes in 1957. Now, River House one of the most affordable buildings in the area and is home to many long-term residents. Older buildings are cheaper because they have fewer amenities and lack the on-trend upgrades of the newest buildings.

The process can work in the opposite direction as well. Older properties can get renovated and command high prices. Every year, Arlington loses market-rate apartment buildings that are affordable to moderate- and low-income households. Every redevelopment is a noticeable loss because we don’t have a pipeline of aging buildings that can provide affordable options.

Preserving these older, more affordable homes is one strategy for maximizing housing options in Arlington. We can also accept that older buildings will eventually be renovated and made more expensive and rely on a new crop of aging buildings to take their place in our housing ecosystem. When we allow enough housing to meet demand, there will always be a segment of older, less flashy buildings are affordable to lower- and middle-income households.

Blocking new construction because it results in “luxury apartments” is the same as objecting to a newly planted tree because it doesn’t yet provide shade. Let’s plan for future growth that we know is coming so that we can have homes for people at all income levels and at all stages of their lives.

Tweet via @ShaneDPhillips/Twitter

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.


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

Like many states throughout the country, Virginia suspended evictions during the public health emergency caused by Covid-19. This was an essential step for protecting vulnerable community members during this pandemic. Evictions are damaging not only because they remove a person from their home, but they also make it difficult for the person to get a lease in the future. To have a resilient community that can survive this pandemic, we need to keep everyone housed.

Advocates like me thought that Arlington evictions would be put on hold until July 21. As late as the July 7 Housing Commission meeting, the people who are generally the most plugged-in thought the moratorium would be extended. Instead, the Arlington General District Court started hearing unlawful detainer (eviction) cases at the beginning of July and there are 112 cases scheduled for Thursday, July 30.

Eviction moratoriums are a stop-gap measure meant to buy time for long-term solutions. At some point, the moratorium will end and the rent will be due in a lump sum, which could mean thousands of dollars owed. On top of this, the additional $600 in weekly unemployment benefits is set to expire on July 31. Preventing a “tsunami” of evictions is imperative. It’s times like this that I wish the United States had guaranteed minimum income. But let’s settle for providing financial assistance to reduce rent owed and give tenants a better standing to negotiate with landlords.

Arlington’s Tenant-Landlord Commission started work last year on plans to reduce evictions, two of which went into effect earlier this year. First, the Clerk of Court is now attaching a one-page summary of eviction prevention resources to the summons sent to Arlington residents who are facing eviction. If tenants know their rights and their resources to stop the eviction process, hopefully we can keep more people in their homes. Second, the Arlington General District Court will hold unlawful detainer (eviction) hearings Thursdays each week. This will allow service providers, such as Arlington’s Department of Human Services (DHS) and legal aid, to deploy staff when they will have the most impact. Caseworkers and attorneys can intervene before docket calls to provide resources and mediation that can divert a tenant from an eviction.

These two relatively simple, low-cost strategies can give tenants the information and resources they need to prevent an eviction. Arlington should do more to provide legal representation for tenants during the eviction process. Funding another attorney would be a relatively small cost for an incredibly significant benefit.

What at-risk families need most right now is money to pay their rent. In the past few months, Arlington County has provided $1.9 million to Arlington Thrive to expand its capacity to provide emergency financial assistance for families facing immediate need. Virginia has also rolled out a program to provide grants to families to cover their rent. DHS is working to distribute these funds, regardless of a resident’s immigration status and with no impact on the Public Charge rule.

Governor Northam called a special session of the General Assembly to address the Covid-19 crisis. Now is the time to act before families are forced into crowded, unsafe conditions; pushed further from their jobs and communities; or end up on the streets.

Northam has a responsibility renew the eviction moratorium, as a prelude to a more comprehensive plan for reducing evictions during the pandemic and beyond. VOICE has issued a 4-part test that communities should to pass before resuming evictions. Just as we shouldn’t reopen bars before we have the virus under control, we shouldn’t evict people until they know their rights and our social service agencies are equipped to provide renters the help they are entitled to.

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.


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

The McMansion is the universal punching bag for housing politics in Arlington.

It is a symbol for both pro-growth and anti-growth advocates of everything that is wrong with our land use and zoning policies.

For those who fear growth and decry upzoning, the McMansion is a threat to the suburban Arlington of yore, when a couple of middle-class public servants could afford a three-bedroom home on a tree-lined street. “Greedy developers” snatch up these modest bungalows and bulldoze them to make way for a monstrosity, leveling trees in the process.

For those who embrace growth and welcome upzoning, the McMansion is a failure to accommodate our growing population, allowing access to a single, affluent family, rather than allowing 2 or more families the same opportunity. Restricting density in popular neighborhoods limits our ability to create walkable urban places that are vibrant and full of opportunity for people at all income levels.

While I harbor no ill-will toward anyone who lives in a newly-constructed, 5,000 sq. ft. million+ dollar home, the prevalence of this type of dwelling signifies a failure of our housing market to meet the demand of our residents. If we conclude that McMansions are a symptom of a problem, perhaps we can agree on a solution.

In the first “research compendium” published as part of the Missing Middle study, Arlington County staff lay out the impact that single-family redevelopment has had on our housing supply.

Much of Arlington was developed in the 1930s through 1950s, which means many of our homes are older stock, roughly 1,500 square feet with 2 or 3 bedrooms. In just the past ten years, 8% of all of Arlington’s single-family detached homes have been either been torn down and replaced or substantially renovated. The newly-constructed replacement homes average 4,750 sq. ft. and cost an average of $1.7 million dollars.

Overall, Arlington County analysis shows that “the average sales price for a detached single-family house increased 45% between 2010 to 2019.”

With the increasing price of single-family homes, middle-class Arlington families have few opportunities to buy. At an average of $1.7 million dollars, a McMansion is only affordable to a family making $485,000 per year, which is more than three times the income of the average Arlington family of four.

McMansions are also outsized for the needs of most families. Data shows that the size of a typical household is decreasing, while the size of new homes continues to rise. In the last fifty years, the average square feet of living space per person has nearly doubled.

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

This piece was co-written by Gillian Burgess.

Next month, the Arlington County Board will approve its Capital Improvement Plan (or CIP) after a truncated process. This critical component of Arlington’s budget outlines the investment that the county will make in infrastructure in the future.

Unfortunately, the County Manager’s proposed CIP budget is setting us up to perpetuate inequities in our infrastructure investments at a time when we should be responding to a crisis by pursuing equity.

The typical CIP budget process involves months of community input. It also typically projects out the investments that the county will make over the next 10 years. This long-term planning is essential for infrastructure projects that will serve residents across the county for many years to come. It is so time-consuming that it typically only happens every other year. The last CIP was adopted in 2018.

However, under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, County Manager Mark Schwartz has proposed a budget with only one year of investments, with a promise to come back next year with a longer-term (4-6 years) investments. Mr. Schwartz said he was guided by five principles in these making the county’s investments:

  1. Finish projects that are underway;
  2. Repair infrastructure that is failing or at the end of its life;
  3. Meet legal and regulatory obligations;
  4. Make investments to address the pandemic;
  5. Implementing the body-worn camera for police, sheriff, and fire marshalls; and
  6. Invest in strengthening stormwater infrastructure.

The first five categories can be described as “needs and requirements,” but the sixth is the only new investment the county is considering. Funding for the projects come from many sources: grants, specific fees, real estate taxes (through the annual operating budget) and bonds, which the public votes on in November. Many of those sources are restricted in what they can be used for, such as grants for transportation projects.

The Manager’s Proposal leaves new projects that we typically see in the CIP — everything from parks to bike lanes — unfunded and delayed for at least a year. This year, the Manager is recommending a bond referendum of $51 million to fund the first round of stormwater projects. If approved, this would be the first time a bond was issued specifically for stormwater infrastructure (previously, stormwater had been funded by the stormwater tax and utilities bonds).

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

I grew up in a predominantly white suburb in Minnesota. My family didn’t talk about race, but we had plenty of ways to indicate that black people were not our neighbors. I remember my parents warning me not to cross the river into Minneapolis. Once, after taking the wrong exit into a black neighborhood of Northern Minneapolis, my dad told me to lock the doors as we drove through.

This prejudice didn’t disappear when I moved to deep blue, progressive Arlington. But now I am more aware of the coded language white people use to mark black people as outsiders. I read Nextdoor complaints about people from outside the neighborhood playing basketball in Virginia Highlands Park. I’ve seen posts on DC Urban Moms decrying the school busses that pull up in front of Arlington’s affordable housing buildings. Without ever mentioning race, we can clearly show who is and isn’t welcome in our neighborhoods.

Our impulse to separate ourselves from our black and brown neighbors is deadly. Research from Boston University shows “racial residential segregation was the predominant factor explaining why some cities have greater black-white racial disparities in fatal police shootings — even after controlling for a city’s crime rate, median income, racial composition of its police force, and other factors.”

Now we are mourning the murder of George Floyd, a black man from South Minneapolis, by a police officer who thought he was a threat. The perpetrator, Derek Chauvin, lived in the white suburb of Oakdale. Neither man lived far from where I grew up, but as the New York Times explains, these two neighborhoods are worlds apart. The Twin Cities metropolitan area used to have a region-wide affordable housing mandate and Minneapolis consciously desegregated its schools, but these policies lost white support in the 1980s. Now, the region has one of the largest racial wealth gaps in the country.

In the twenty-first century, Arlington has removed most of the obvious racism from our housing policy. The segregation wall at Hall’s Hill was literally washed away by flooding in 2019. The black neighborhood that was removed to clear land for the Pentagon has a commemorative plaque.

But even without racial covenants or redlining, the consequences of which remain with us, we have plenty of tools to separate white and black families.

Exclusionary zoning — the rules that prevent anything but a detached, single-family home from being built in certain neighborhoods — is the modern form of residential segregation. In Arlington, zoning on 87% of our 26 square miles bans anything except a detached single-family home. Our site plan review process, which is overly deferential to existing homeowners, prevents or delays the creation of new committed affordable housing.

Today, single-family neighborhoods have become gated communities that are accessible only for the wealthiest families, who are disproportionately white. This prevents black families from gaining opportunities and building the wealth that could reduce racial disparities. And when black families do live in these exclusive enclaves, they can be subject to surveillance and police scrutiny.

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Jane Green writes a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

On May 6, a select group of Arlington Democrats voted to endorse Takis Karantonis as their candidate in the special election to fill the seat vacated due to the tragic illness and death of Erik Gutshall.

(Full disclosure: My husband was a member of the closed caucus and I serve with Takis Karantonis on the board of the Alliance for Housing Solutions.)

Erik was an advocate for Missing Middle housing during his campaign for the County Board in 2017. Following that race was what first brought me into local politics as a relatively new Arlingtonian. Erik also clearly understood the connection between housing and other zoning regulations and transportation policy, such as the role of residential parking requirements.

As Arlington’s population grows in the urban corridors, both those along Metro lines, but also along Columbia Pike and Lee Highway, the County Board will benefit from Takis’s direct experience with economic development in Arlington. (Although I am personally disappointed that we won’t have a renter on the Board.)

In their endorsement, Greater Greater Washington acknowledged Karantonis’s “long record of fighting for less fortunate people and an area of the county that has not gotten the planning or transportation investments it needs.” (I no longer work for Greater Greater Washington and I had no role in making the endorsement.)

In answering the candidate questionnaire released by the Alliance for Housing Solutions, Takis emphasized the specific, practical tools that he sees available for the County to expand the diversity of our housing options, while also creating affordable homes for low-income residents.

Takis recognizes that many types of housing are “compatible with the gentle transition from our commercial corridors to our established neighborhoods.” He sees the Form-Based Code model is a good way to provide a “level of predictability” for adding “missing middle” housing types into residential areas that border commercial zones – including micro-units, stacked flats, duplexes and triplexes.

As for committed affordable housing, Takis wants to use tools such as the recent zoning amendment “to incentivize the creation of more onsite affordable units on the land being developed.” Recognizing that our high housing costs are due to the high cost of land, he would explore land banking, Transfer of Development Rights, Tax Increment Financing, and Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing as opportunities to produce more affordable units. I am looking forward to learning more about his policies in the next two months.

Currently, two other candidates have stepped forward for the July 7 special election. Susan Cunningham also wants to emphasize planning in Arlington’s non-Metro corridors. Based on her candidate statement, she is interested in “selective upzoning to enhance business viability and housing choice and affordability.” She emphasized “long-term planning” to balance growth with facilities investment, open space, and County spending.

The Arlington Republican Party has also announced a candidate. While Bob Cambridge does not have a campaign website at the time of this writing, the Arlington GOP platform states a commitment “to maintain an ample supply of market-rate affordable housing, to avoid the need for housing subsidies.” Additionally, they support job creation in the County and “fair and reasonable zoning” — although what that means specifically remains to be seen.

It will be impossible to fill Erik Gutshall’s shoes, and it will be up to Arlington voters if they want an equally passionate advocate for diverse and affordable housing on the County Board when we vote on July 7. Regardless, the election will shape our County during this critical time, when we can look outward and be welcoming of new residents, or be insular and closed off. I hope everyone follows the campaigns and makes their voice heard. You can request an absentee ballot online here.

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.


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

We are now in Week 4 of social distancing. Schools are closed. Most stores are closed or pick-up only. Arlingtonians who are not fortunate enough to be teleworking are faced with furloughs, layoffs, or difficult travel to essential work. Arlington has even closed parks, fields, courts, and playgrounds.

These are difficult changes that are intended to flatten the curve of coronavirus infections.

But as we prepare to stay at home until June 10, as the governor has ordered, we will need outlets for safe outdoor exercise. About half of Arlington County residents do not have a yard. Our public and private spaces are incredibly limited.

The sidewalk is nearly all that is available to us to get exercise and fresh air, which is critical for a lasting commitment to social distancing. Arlington County even agrees that individual outdoor exercise is a legitimate activity.

Anyone who has tried to go for a walk in the past few weeks can plainly see that our neighborhoods were not built for social distancing. None of our sidewalks are wide enough for people to pass with 6 feet of distance. But while you might blame density for the crowded conditions, the problem lies in the 30 feet of pavement we have devoted to cars.

With all that has changed about our lives, our deference to cars has remained. Even as the streets have emptied of commuters, shoppers, and visitors, our roads remain unchanged. Arlington residents have made voluntarily limited our freedom of movement. We need to expect the same for cars.

Across the country, cities are blocking of parkways and widening sidewalks. Arlington County needs to make our community safer for outdoor recreation by repurposing street space. Instead of privileging cars, we need to create priority for walkers, joggers, and cyclists. This is a critical issue of public health. For social distancing to be successful, we need to give people opportunities to go outside.

You don’t even have to take it from me. Dan Rather agrees (although we shouldn’t wait until later).


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