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

If the last year has taught us anything, it is that half measure never provide real solutions to our most pressing problems.

In the realm of housing, our leaders should be taking bold action to address affordability and ensure a sustainable future. This means being courageous in championing an end to exclusionary zoning and embracing policies that will allow multifamily housing throughout the County.

Housing affordability and the terrible legacy of exclusionary zoning are making national headlines. In recent weeks, this has been spurred by a proposal within President Biden’s American Jobs Plan to “eliminate state and local exclusionary zoning laws.” National opinion writers have clarified that restrictive zoning policies are antithetical to both progressive values of inclusivity and conservative values of the free market.

As the national conversation moves toward acceptance of inclusive and open zoning, advocates at the local and state level have succeeded in pushing elected officials to act. Communities across the country are making news by taking bold steps to add housing, in the name of racial justice, as well as economic necessity.

The City Council of Berkeley, California, voted to eliminate single-family zoning, a century after it was the first city to establish the practice. This is a symbolic but significant step, recognizing the racist legacy of exclusionary zoning. Other cities in California have made similar moves, including Sacramento and San Jose. This follows Minneapolis’s transformative zoning change in 2018, and statewide zoning liberalization in Oregon in 2019.

Why isn’t Arlington making news on this front?

We were the beneficiaries of the biggest economic development decision of the past decade when National Landing was selected as the location for Amazon’s second headquarters. This decision made news across the country. The anticipated, and ongoing, challenges to housing affordability, displacement, and tenant advocacy also made news.

But Arlington County is not making news with its policy response. Instead, we are taking miniscule steps, deferring to entrenched interests at every point. Everything is undertaken from the perspective of an incumbent landowner who demands a low-density, car-centered neighborhood blocks away from corridors rich with opportunity.

Arlingtonians pushing for affordable and attainable housing, as well as safe streets and reduced car traffic, face a gauntlet of public meetings. It takes hours of our lives to get a half mile of protected bike lane or an extra unit of housing on a single-family lot.

The Vernon Street Duplex is a proposal for a two-unit dwelling on a corner lot along Washington Blvd. Because of zoning rules, the builder must go through the same site plan review process that the County has for large-scale apartment or office buildings. “Missing middle” housing will never be attainable for middle-income families if it is forced to incur onerous planning processes.

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

I am proud to be a board member of the Alliance for Housing Solutions, a nonprofit that advocates for affordable housing in Arlington. Below is my own modified and condensed version of the letter AHS sent to the Arlington County Board regarding the FY22 Budget.

During this time, we have become more aware than ever how vitally important a safe and affordable place to call home can be. Today, a home is not only where we rest our heads at night but it is also where children receive much of their education and many adults either work or take refuge from the danger created by this rampant virus.

Arlington expects to receive $46M in federal assistance through the American Rescue Plan. Using these funds, the County Board should make the following changes to the FY22 budget:

Increase Investment in AHIF and Realign Income Levels Served

The Manager’s proposal slashes the total Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF) allocation from last year’s level of $16 million to less than $9 million by cutting out all one-time funds for the program. Funds from the American Rescue Plan should be used as one-time funding to bring AHIF to at least $18.7 million in FY22.

In early 2020 AHS was advocating for a $25 million County allocation to AHIF, a level that is still warranted. Funding received from developer contributions, including the Amazon Metropolitan Park contribution, should not be used as a replacement for ongoing General Fund support.

Furthermore, recent data show that Arlington has a significant shortage of housing options for our lowest-income neighbors. The County should prioritize AHIF funding to include a share of units designated for residents making 30% of AMI, and also to buy down higher priced units within Committed Affordable properties so they are available to residents at the greatest need.

Update the Housing Grants Program for a Post-COVID Environment

The Manager’s proposed budget wisely increases the Housing Grants and Permanent Supportive Housing programs by 26% and 28% respectively, including the continued increase in maximum allowable rents. At a time when many Arlingtonians have dropped into lower income brackets during the pandemic, this increase in tenant-based housing assistance will help cushion that fall for some.

This would be an ideal time for the County to consider what changes it should make to the long-term design and eligibility of the Housing Grants program for post-COVID needs. This should include expanding eligibility within the program to cover additional groups who are currently unable to receive assistance (such as children aging out of foster care).

The County should lower the percent of income paid toward rent from the current 40% of income to a more reasonable 30% of income. Aligning with federal standard of housing affordability would allow very low-income recipients to a larger financial cushion to cover other important and often unpredictable expenses. Read More

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

The year-long (and counting) pandemic has caused a large increase in the apartment vacancy rate in Arlington.

While stories of an urban exodus are overblown, national research indicates that the pandemic has decreased the inflow of new residents. Some of Arlington’s landlords have responded to high vacancy rates by lowering rents. This is welcome news for renters who struggle to afford payment or want to upgrade their home.

But landlords also have another tactic to fill vacant apartments, by taking long-existing units off the market for long-term tenants and switching them to hotel units or short-term rentals. The County Board should scrutinize these requests and consider the benefits of abundant housing, even if it means large landlords must charge competitive prices. Renters should be the ones benefiting from the lower demand.

Arlington’s vacancy rate is relatively high at 9.4% across the county. This is slightly above what is considered healthy for a rental market (7-8%), but it is still below the rate that would be worrisome. County-wide, landlords have responded by lowering nearly 15%. However, given that Arlington had a 4% vacancy rate before the pandemic, it is not surprising that landlords would look for other options to reduce the number of vacant units they carry.

Dittmar, a locally-based company that owns and manages dozens of older apartment buildings throughout Northern Virginia, has asked the County Board for permission to convert 5% of its vacant inventory at three properties in the R-B corridor as short-term rental units for up to 5 years. (This is a different situation from a new development requesting temporary hotel zoning during its lease-up phase.)

Dittmar’s letter requesting this minor site plan revision, explains:

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Applicant has experienced unprecedented levels of vacancy in residential units. It believes that, as business travel begins to return to the region in the future, there will be a demand for leases of furnished units for less than 30 days. The Applicant seeks to serve this group of people by converting a portion of the residential units on the Property to Flexible Units to allow for a more socially-distanced temporary stay in Arlington.

In their Statement of Justification, Dittmar doesn’t discuss what steps it has taken to fill their vacant units with long-term residents, such as how deeply they have cut rents or other financial incentives they have offered.

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

Crystal City and Pentagon City have long been a patchwork of single-family homes, dense retail, and aging office buildings, cut up by wide roads. Nothing divides the neighborhoods more than Route 1, which is elevated as it comes from DC into Arlington.

Two years ago, when Amazon selected Arlington for its second headquarters, it pushed to include a plan to bring more sections of the highway to ground level. Although many urban highways should be removed, the Route 1 plan is imperiled by the decision to maintain current traffic volume.

Without an absolute commitment to lower speeds, reduce car travel lanes, build protected bike infrastructure, and reduce the total width, a lowered highway is a death trap running through our front yard.

Route 1 is a dividing line between Pentagon City and Crystal City, cutting people off from recreation, shopping, and jobs, to say nothing of the Metro Station and the Mount Vernon Trail. The elevated portions of the highway allow pedestrians and cyclists easier access. Many of my neighbors share the fear that an at-grade Route 1 will be a further impediment to connectivity.

The National Landing BID has been one of the leading forces in favor of the new “urban boulevard.” They assured us that lowering the highway would enhance connectivity and improve the road for all users. They emphasized multimodal improvements and likened their vision to Connecticut Avenue in D.C. or the Michigan Ave in Chicago. Left unstated is that this is only possible with a significant reduction in traffic volume through Crystal City.

Now VDOT shared a preview of its vision for Route 1, confirming everything locals feared and expected. In contrast to the vision championed by the BID (only 5 or 6 lanes, with protected bike lanes and wide sidewalks), VDOT proposes expanding the highway with 9 lanes and no bike infrastructure. The plan includes two left turn lanes, against the explicit wishes of the BID. To appease neighbors worried about commuter traffic cutting through nearby local streets, VDOT has to put drivers’ speed and convenience first.

This outcome is not surprising. VDOT consistently pushes to widen roads and views traffic safety as the need to keep cars moving. Arlington and VDOT are also pursuing a widening project on Route 50/Arlington Blvd, over the objections of adjacent residents and the Transportation Commission, under the auspice of “safety.”

Now that I see VDOT’s rendering alongside the purported study goals, the dissonance is laughable. These 9 lanes of traffic are neither safe nor environmental. They do nothing for transit effectiveness or multimodal accessibility. They do not mend the urban fabric. Instead, VDOT’s plan would put a dangerous, polluting highway through a growing downtown neighborhood.

VDOT’s unfortunate reality check might be enough to kill this project altogether. But we can do better than Route 1’s status quo. A committed group of local residents has been exploring alternative ideas, informed by extensive outreach to neighbors. It is time for our elected leaders to get involved and push for a real commitment to safety and connectivity. We can praise Arlington for approving large-scale development, both commercial and residential, to meet obvious demand. But unless we also commit to reducing car traffic, we will fail to bring inclusive, sustainable, humane growth.

Community members can voice their concerns at a public meeting on March 3.

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.

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 Making Room is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely those of the authors.

Guest column by Kellen MacBeth and Michael Pruitt

Arlington County has an opportunity to develop critical policies to address the ongoing negative impacts of over 100 years of racial segregation and discrimination in our housing market.

In fall 2020, county staff released a draft Fair Housing Plan and the accompanying Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice (AI) report which consolidated data on housing segregation and its continuing impact on our community.

The Analysis is comprehensive, detailing how the color of your skin and the neighborhood in which you live drastically impacts your life expectancy, educational attainment, income, employment, and poverty level. It makes abundantly clear that there are massive disparities between white residents and residents of color that are shutting many of our neighbors out of Arlington’s prosperity.

However, instead of being a serious attempt to implement Arlington’s 2019 Equity Resolution and meaningfully address our legacy of segregation, the draft Fair Housing Plan appears to be a bureaucratic paperwork exercise. The plan is a 10-page rehash of existing programs and half-hearted measures that have produced little evidence of progress toward eliminating obstacles to fair housing in a meaningful way. Arlington County’s elected leaders and County Manager have failed to acknowledge the clear political will in our community to address these longstanding issues.

Arlington’s draft Fair Housing Plan attempts to follow Obama-era federal guidance, but fails. Under past guidance from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), communities must tie their theoretical aims to specific, quantifiable goals. Arlington’s draft plan contains no such metrics, no way to monitor success or failure, and no way for the public to hold our leaders accountable.

If Arlington County truly wants to make good on their statements supporting racial equity, they should consider the following changes.

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

Development planning in Arlington is guided by the idea that density is a burden which must be paid for with public benefits.

If a property owner wants to add more units to their planned apartment building that they are allowed ‘by-right,’ they must also fund something off the community’s wish list. But if the price of this is too high, the community loses both new homes AND the improved urban space.

We see this dynamic at play with the Clarendon Sector Plan. Most recently amended in 2006, the Sector Plan sets forth a vision of the “urban village” where “people of all income levels, ages and household make-ups can walk to home, work, shop, and play.”

Fifteen years later, some items on the community’s “wish list” haven’t come through. Large blocks south of Washington Boulevard remain half-used parking lots. No parks have been added. Cars still reign supreme. The goal of relocating Fire Station 4 has not been achieved. The Sector Plan does not allow enough density and height to fully maximize the community benefits these sites could provide.

A Sector Plan guides the private development around Arlington’s Metro stations, establishing the density, height, and uses of future buildings, and lays out the community features (affordable housing, LEED building certification, parks, improved streetscapes, etc.), that new developers will provide if they want to “buy” additional density. It can be specific, including where a new road should break up a superblock and which blocks should have a hotel vs. retail or office space.

The Sector Plan implements Arlington’s Comprehensive Plans, specifically the General Land Use Plan (GLUP), which “establishes the overall character, extent and location of various land uses.”

Sector Plans are visions of what a community wants but has almost no power to realize. The fulfillment is left up to the development process. In the update to the Clarendon Sector Plan now underway, County staff and community members hope to create the right recipe to achieve their urban vision. Private development could transform these empty parking lots into vibrant streetscapes and buildings for people to live, work, and stay, all within a short walk of the Metro.

But before these planned developments can even begin their long process toward approval by the County Board, they need amendments to the Sector Plan. The projects need taller heights and steeper building tapers than what the 2006 Sector Plan calls for. Additionally, they need to shift the location of the desired new street (“10th Road”) and the owner of the Silver Diner site wants to redevelop their property as a hotel rather than an office building as the Sector Plan indicates.

Over the coming months, participants will determine how they can “advance the sector plan’s vision” with new “guidance and zoning for private development.” These changes will hopefully allow Clarendon to replace more parking lots with residential and commercial buildings, offering more productive uses of our scarce urban land. But the Sector Plan process also reveals the central flaw in our development planning.

In the short term, you should participate in the Clarendon Sector Plan process to allow more height and density in these blocks south of Washington Boulevard to maximize the direct and indirect benefits to the broader community.

In the longer term, Arlington should rethink the development process that treats new housing or office space as a problem that must be mitigated through expensive public benefit projects. By funding public improvements through fees from new development, the costs end up borne almost exclusively by renters and new buyers, rather than on the whole community.

Instead, we should make it easier to build homes and offices and use general revenue to pay for community needs. Funding infrastructure and amenities through property taxes, or better yet a land value tax, would put urban improvements in the hands of citizens, rather than leaving them to the whims of the development process.

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.

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

What are the consequences of Arlington’s housing shortfall?

What housing options are missing in Arlington’s neighborhoods?

What are the characteristics of your neighborhood that you most value?

These are some of the questions that Arlington County is asking as part of its Missing Middle Housing Study. And these seemingly innocuous questions are already generating heated opposition. In order to address Arlington’s housing shortage, we need to overcome the vitriol when it comes to talking about zoning.

“Missing Middle” housing, a phrase coined by Daniel Parolek, refers to small, multi-unit dwellings that allow multiple families to split the cost of land. Historically, duplexes, quadplexes, and rowhouses were common and legal to build in residential neighborhoods. Over the past century, zoning has restricted the types of housing allowed on most land – large apartment buildings in narrow corridors, detached single-family homes everywhere else.

Before Arlington staff make any recommendations about zoning ordinance or policy changes, they are charged with “building a common understanding” among County residents about the problem of housing affordability and distorted supply in Arlington.

If the rhetoric at public meetings, to say nothing of the comments section of this site, is any indication, we are a long way off from consensus about the health of Arlington’s housing market, the County’s capacity for more residents, or the impact of allowing more types of housing in more places.

The first step toward “common understanding” is a community survey that walks participants through data about the current state of Arlington’s housing market. The goal is to educate residents about the facts: our housing supply is constrained, and the types of housing are limited. At each point, participants can give feedback about their own experience and share what they see as the biggest impacts or concerns related to recent housing trends.

Some residents will be upset when confronted with the reality of our housing crisis and the history of Arlington’s development. Changes to zoning can seem like a threat to financial security and assumptions of what a residential neighborhood looks like. But for many people in Arlington, the current market is impossibly out of reach and new choices are the only way to gain a foothold in the County.

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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.

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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.

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