The pandemic has dealt a blow to Arlington’s economy, but the county may be well-positioned for a rebound rather quickly.
In a virtual panel discussion hosted by the Arlington Committee of 100 — the second of a two part series — local experts said that unlike past downturns that resulted in a lengthy recovery, this one is driven not by structural economic factors but by a virus.
As people are vaccinated and the pandemic recedes — whenever that may happen — expect a strong recovery.
“The economy right now is reacting to the health crisis and [that] is driving the recession,” said Jeanette Chapman, economist and director of the Stephen Fuller Institute at George Mason University. “This is not a normal recession.”
Due to the pandemic, consumer spending dropped significantly. Compared to this time last year, credit and debit card spending is down nearly a quarter in Arlington (less than D.C. comparably, which is down nearly 30%).
However, that is an improvement from early spring when spending overall was down about 50%.
As expected, the drop in spending was mostly concentrated in the transportation, apparel, hotel, and food service sectors. Grocery and food spending rose in 2020.
While job losses continues to be a concern, the Northern Virginia region is above the national average. Chapman says this is due to “mostly being a knowledge services economy and can send a bulk of workers home [to telework].” A big chunk of the job losses, as expected, are in the leisure and hospitality sector, accounting for nearly a third from November 2019 to November 2020.
“Leisure and hospitality jobs tend to have lower wage scales,” says Chapman. “Those jobs are hardest hit.”
In general, says Chapman, the losses regionally are skewed toward lower wage jobs. However, because this recession is due to a health crisis, Chapman says we can expect a near full recovery by 2022 due to the widespread availability of a vaccine.
Arlington’s small businesses, particularly those dependent on in-person interaction, are also being significantly impacted.
Telly Tucker, director of Arlington Economic Development, said that any business with fewer than 50 employees is defined as a “small business.” This encompasses about 90%, or 6,000, of the county’s businesses.
Arlington’s small business emergency grant provided nearly 400 businesses with a combined $2.7 million. More than half of those businesses were woman and/or minority-owned.
As for bigger businesses, Tucker also spoke about how office building vacancy rates actually were decreasing going into 2020 from a high of over 20% in 2015.
While the vacancy rate has since risen and now sits at 16.3%, that remains below the office vacancy rates of the mid-2010s. Commercial real estate like office buildings are a major source of tax revenue for the county, Tucker noted.
What’s more, a number of large, multinational companies have made a home in Arlington over the last five years. This includes Microsoft, which made the announcement just last week that it would have a significant presence in Rosslyn.
The Arlington housing market, meanwhile, is doing well. Homes are typically selling for between 3% to 5% over listing price, noted Tucker, which is a positive sign.
The special election candidates — Takis Karantonis (D), Bob Cambridge (R) and Susan Cunningham (I) — all called for a focus on equity and discussed ways to navigate a tighter county budget.
Karantonis, who serves as vice-chair of the Alliance for Housing Solutions and is former executive director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, laid out a several-pronged approach to how to focus the budget as the county works to manage a more limited revenue stream.
“COVID is an unexpected stress on our budget,” Karantonis said. “Citizens expect to have a government that reacts to such unexpected impacts. Right now, don’t know how deep or broad COVID economic impact will be. The focus [should be] social safety net expenditures as our first priority. Five-thousand families are on food assistance and the region has lost 300,000 jobs.”
Karantonis said in reviewing capital investments, the County Board should prioritize those that leverage external funding, like state and federal grants. Other priorities, he said, include micro-loans to help small businesses get back on their feet and trying to rescue Metro and the Arlington Transit bus service, which have seen substantial ridership losses during the pandemic.
“Then [we can] come out of this with a better base to decide how we will structure the county later,” Takis said. “I’m an economist, I’m trained to do this, and I’ve done it in the private sector and non-profit sector. The best focus is on economic development to rebound.”
Cambridge, an Army veteran and former CIA employee who works as a lawyer in Arlington, said his campaign is built on the idea that different political ideologies have good ideas that can contribute to each other. Cambridge said his approach to recovery would be built on incorporating more flexibility into the budget to address these sorts of crises.
“The budget is highly strained right now,” Cambridge said. “We have got to be flexible and respond as our understanding of challenges become more and more obvious. We do have a lot of city services we need. That is the sinews we all need. We really need to do things in a different way.”
Cunningham, who worked at the Internal Revenue Service and founded the nonprofit EdBuild, said the county should do more to improve how projects are financed.
“There are a lot of opportunities in our budget for improving our spending,” Cunningham said. “Not eliminating, but improving implementation. Our projects take too long, our community engagement takes too long, we don’t look back and do audits of capital programs. There’s a lot of room to improve and be more accountable.”
Cunningham said the budget should prioritize updating the outdated infrastructure, particularly Arlington’s stormwater and flood mitigation systems.
Cunningham and Cambridge both argued for a data-driven approach to solving issues of inequality on Arlington.
“Data and facts should guide us,” Cunningham said. “Our data elements tell us the story of suspensions that begin in kindergarten for black and brown children at much higher rates, and of COVID outcomes right now with over 50% of cases in the Hispanic community. The numbers tell us where we’re doing okay and where we’re not. We should use that to guide our efforts and evaluate the implementation of changes.”
Karantonis argued addressing inequality in Arlington has to go deeper than data and statistics, though, and must look at how different communities in Arlington are prioritized or ignored in county discussions. He pointed to a situation where he said the civic association of a historically Black neighborhood was overlooked in county discussions.
“We have to be active about doing this… including restorative justice efforts and looking at the educational system, making sure people have access to resources,” Takis said. “The numbers are great, but what matters is how people feel.”
Also during the debate, the candidates discussed transit on Columbia Pike. None — including Karantonis, a booster of the Pike streetcar plan while at CPRO — expressed an interest in reviving the cancelled streetcar project, though the candidates “did press for increased attention to mass-transit along the Columbia Pike corridor, and leveled criticism at the county government for not acting fast enough or going far enough in meeting the transit needs of residents there,” the Sun Gazette reported.
The special election is scheduled to be held on July 7.
Image via Arlington Committee of 100
“Arlington has been one of the hardest-hit communities in the commonwealth for COVID-19,” the organization said in an event description. “Join us to learn more about how Arlington is responding and what you can do to stay safe and help others.”
The lineup is a who’s who of leadership handling the response on a local level, including:
- Libby Garvey — Chair, Arlington County Board
- Zachary Pope — Emergency Manager, Arlington Public Schools
- Dr. Reuben Varghese — Public Health Director, Arlington County
- Karen Coltrane — CEO of local nonprofit Leadership Center for Excellence
Varghese has been at the forefront of the coronavirus response in Arlington and has already participated in previous online discussions about the virus’ impact on how Arlingtonians should handle the crisis.
The Committee of 100, which normally holds in-person discussions and debates about community issues, said participants will be able to ask questions during a Q&A portion of the meeting.
The group will be hosting the webinar via Zoom on Wednesday, April 22, from 7-8:30 p.m. A link is sent after registering, along with an email address to which one can submit questions.
The event is scheduled to be moderated by Lynn Juhl, chair of the Committee of 100.
Man Punched Outside Ballston Subway — A man was punched in the face outside the Subway on Fairfax Drive in Ballston yesterday. The assault occurred just before lunchtime and those flocking to the restaurant for footlongs had to step over splatters of blood on the sidewalk. No word yet on what prompted the fight nor whether the suspect, who reportedly fled into the Metro station, was later apprehended. [Twitter]
Tonight: Committee of 100 County Board Debate — The Arlington Committee of 100 will be holding a County Board debate tonight at Marymount University. The program, moderated by ARLnow’s Scott Brodbeck, will start at 8 p.m. after a meet and greet and dinner. [Committee of 100]
History of the W&OD Railroad — Before it was a bike and pedestrian trail, the W&OD was a regional railroad that transported goods and people across Northern Virginia. How would the area and our transportation problems be different if it had stayed a transit corridor, asks a GGW contributor. [Greater Greater Washington]
Local Social Media Influencer Profiled — Clarendon resident and mother of two Angelica Talan “has made a career out of building a loyal following on social media.” She blogs at Clarendon Moms and Angelica in the City and also has done some modeling and acting. [Arlington Magazine]
Tree Group Wants More Trees — The Arlington Tree Action Group replied on Twitter to a posting of the photo above: “Beautiful sky! It would look even better with more trees! #ArlingtonVA #trees.” [Twitter]
Nearby: Alexandrians Worry About Takeout Window — A proposed takeout window for a new Mexican restaurant on King Street prompted a protracted debate among members of the Alexandria city council. Said one opponent on the council, who ultimately lost out on a 4-3 vote: “I think this is maybe one small step in the direction of what we don’t want Old Town to become.” [Washington Business Journal]
Photo courtesy Dennis Dimick
But after the audience went home and the microphones were turned off, that wasn’t the end of the candidates’ work.
Attendees submitted written questions to the candidates throughout the evening, but due to time constraints, they could not all be answered. So with Election Day just two weeks away, ARLnow collated the unanswered questions and emailed the three County Board candidates for their responses.
(A similar article with responses to follow-up questions for the three School Board candidates will follow in the near future.)
Candidates’ unedited responses are below.
1. What are the challenges you would tackle in the area of affordable housing?
The biggest challenge would be to convince my fellow Board Members to:
1) amend the tax code to create Housing Conservation Districts (HCDs) where landlords would be given incentives to rehab rather than tear down existing affordable housing; and
2) loosen accessory dwelling unit (ADU) regulations to allow renting space in private homes, while limiting the impacts of such rentals on residential neighborhoods.
While Arlington is a great place to live, it’s undeniably getting harder and harder to put down roots here and stay rooted if a smaller home is what you need as your family shrinks. Housing affordability is a critical component of the progressive values I espouse; it is also an essential component of a strong middle class in Arlington.
As a County Board Member, I will follow a multi-point plan that includes: (1) the creation of medium density “missing middle” housing along our major commercial corridors, (2) modernization of the our zoning ordinance to enable home sharing and facilitate aging-in-place, (3) tireless support for the 2015 Affordable Housing Master Plan, and (4) continued annual funding for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund and Housing grants. I will also continue the existing, strong partnerships with non-profit housing providers as well as others in the non-profit community who provide services to Arlington residents living in affordable housing.
As detailed in my “missing middle” housing proposal, Arlington cannot subsidize our way to mass affordability, instead we must unlock the potential of the market to deliver the housing we need. The good news is that there is ample opportunity in Arlington for us to create the neighborhood-scale housing and retail areas known as “missing middle.” The missing middle framework uses market forces to diversify our housing supply and responds to the needs of residents both young and old. These modestly scaled lofts, stacked flats, co-ops, and micro units are designed to preserve neighborhood character and can fit into the edges of single-family neighborhoods and along commercial corridors, with ground floor retail and restaurants to serve adjacent homes.
In the area of affordable housing, I would tackle these three main challenges:
Ensuring that developers pay their fair share:
- Increase the zoning fee for apartment developers who forego affordable units, as it is currently just 1/3 of the fee allowed under state law.
- Shift housing assistance funds to direct housing grants in order to support more residents earning less than 40% of the area median income.
Approaching certified and market rate housing with a multifaceted approach:
- Incentivize the development of multifamily structures designed to address senior mobility needs, as well as co-living spaces designed to meet the needs of young professionals.
- Ensure accessory dwellings become a viable option for housing while not contributing to parking and density concerns.
- Explore Housing Conservation Districts as a way to maintain larger-scale areas of market rate affordability with careful caution not to unintentionally make these areas into suburban ghettos.
Providing housing affordability programs to address the needs of low- and middle-income Arlingtonians:
- Develop new homeowner affordability programs to support community/developer partnership models like community land trusts and low-equity housing cooperatives.
- Bolster existing homeowner assistance programs that enable our teachers and first responders to live in the communities where they serve.
As a progressive, independent voice on the Arlington County Board, I have the ability to advocate for a variety of reasonable housing affordability solutions that “Put People First” instead of defaulting to developers’ demands.
Last week the Arlington Committee of 100 hosted a debate at Marymount University among those running for local office.
At the debate, the six candidates for County Board and School Board in the 2017 general election clashed on a range of issues, from how to engage more millennials in county government to closing the achievement gap in Arlington Public Schools.
The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office should rethink its relationship with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to a leader at a criminal justice nonprofit.
Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, legal director at the Falls Church-based Legal Aid Justice Center — which provides legal representation for low-income Virginians — said with President Donald Trump’s harder line on illegal immigration, Arlington and other jurisdictions should look again at how they work with ICE.
Under former President Barack Obama, he said, ICE was focused primarily on deporting illegal immigrants who are gang members and criminals. But now, according to Sandoval-Moshenberg, their orders appears to be broader as they seek to deport non-criminals as well.
Fellow panelist, Deputy Sheriff David Kidwell, said that Arlington is legally required to provide information on people under arrest electronically to Virginia State Police. VSP then shares that data with the FBI and ICE, among other law enforcement agencies.
If a person in jail is wanted by ICE for deportation and the Sheriff’s Office receives a request to hold onto them, it notifies ICE 48 hours before the person is released to come and collect them. But Sandoval-Moshenberg said that should change.
“I think there are a lot of assumptions and agreements under the old administration that need to be revisited given the new administration’s policies,” he said.
The pair were on a panel Wednesday night to discuss the impact of the changes in immigration law and enforcement as part of the Arlington Committee of 100’s monthly program at Marymount University.
Kidwell echoed County Manager Mark Schwartz’s statement earlier this year that Arlington cannot protect anyone from federal immigration enforcement. Instead, he said, Sheriff Beth Arthur has made the decision to “uphold the law.”
“She has decided once that request has been made [by ICE], to honor that request,” Kidwell said.
A third panelist, Laura Newton, director of Student Services at Arlington Public Schools, said APS will not require families or students to reveal their immigration status when they register. She added that families should not be afraid of sending their children to school.
“We need to make sure people know we are an open and welcoming county, and we will not stop anyone registering for school because of their legal status,” Newton said. She added that policy has not changed over the past several years, and APS has not received any complaints about it.
Still uncertain is the future of the approximately 800,000 people that will be affected when President Trump’s rescinding of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program starts to take effect in March. Trump is reported to be working on a deal with congressional Democrats to preserve DACA protections via legislation.
The decision, which affects people brought into the country illegally as children who were granted work permits and protection from deportation, was criticized by local members of Congress as well as the County Board.
Sandoval-Moshenberg estimated there are around 17,000 undocumented immigrants in Arlington. He said the dearth of affordable housing has meant the immigrant population has been slowly squeezed out. In 2000, 30 percent of Arlington residents were foreign-born, but in 2010, that figure went down to 20 percent.
“As the laws and policies have become more and more welcoming to immigrants and more and more friendly to immigrants, less and less are living here as fewer and fewer can afford to live here,” Sandoval-Moshenberg said. He said that ending DACA could mean more people go back into the shadows.
Both Kidwell and Newton said their agencies will not change their stances on illegal immigrants. Kidwell said sheriff’s deputies and police officers will not ask anyone under arrest about their immigration status, while Newton emphasized that APS mission to educate anyone and everyone who lives in Arlington.
“It’s not our place to judge the reasons why you are here,” she said. “Our job is to educate you.”
The Committee of 100 will discuss the impact of immigration policy and enforcement on private organizations and civic groups at its November meeting in the second of its two-part series on the issue. In October the group will hold a forum with local candidates for public office.
It’s March 1 — Not only is today the first day of March, with spring (March 20) and Daylight Saving Time (March 13) around the corner, but it’s also the Super Tuesday presidential primary day here in Virginia. Arlington’s 52 polling places opened at 6 a.m. and will close at 7 p.m. [Arlington County]
Committee of 100 to Discuss Racial Tensions — On Wednesday, March 9, the Arlington Committee of 100 will hold a discussion entitled “Are Arlington’s Police and Justice Systems Prepared to Respond to Community and Racial Tensions?” Among the speakers are Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos and Police Chief Jay Farr. [InsideNova]
It’s a Good Time to Lease an Office in Arlington — D.C.-based commercial real estate firm West, Lane & Schlager is advising companies to consider leasing office space in Arlington in the near future. The firm says the D.C. area is definitely a tenant’s market at the moment, but the tide will eventually turn. With vacancy rates stabilizing, companies can take advantage of lease concessions now, before the market turns in favor of landlords, the firm says. [Patch]
Four Courts Four Miler Coming Up — The popular annual Four Courts Four Miler race will take place Saturday morning, March 12. Registration is currently $40 and will, in part, benefit the Arlington County Police Benevolent Fund. As in previous years, those who beat the runner dressed up as a leprechaun — Ireland’s Four Courts manager Dave Cahill, a 3:10 marathon runner — will get a special gift from the pub. [Pacers Running]
You know a top executive’s gig is tough when an entire room applauds after someone gets up and says, “thank you for taking the job.”
Wiedefeld started the night by telling the crowd he has been fighting a cold since the January blizzard, when Metro shut down for a couple days, and will be taking a decidedly unglamorous trip to Lincoln, Nebraska later this month to check on the manufacturer of Metro’s problematic 7000-series railcars.
Turning around Metro is an exhausting job and Wiedefeld sounded, well, a bit exhausted.
During the audience question-and-answer session, he was asked whether Metro should lower the expectations of riders for the reliability of a two-track system built in the 1970s for a sleepier capital city
“I do think we need to be more realistic about what’s achievable and what’s not,” Wiedefeld said. “You can only fit so much through a small tube, that’s just reality. We need to do a better job of educating the public, for sure.”
Despite that, Wiedefeld acknowledged Metro’s problems, took responsibility for rider frustration and promised change.
“I don’t think we’re doing the best we can do,” he continued. “We’re not putting out the service the best we could, and that’s the first thing we need to do.”
Under Wiedefeld, who was formerly the CEO of BWI Airport in Maryland, Metro has three main priorities: improve safety, improve basic service reliability, and get its fiscal house in order.
Wiedefeld is approaching the challenge from the bottom up: he’s been trying to spend as much time as possible with Metro’s front-line employees: those maintaining the rails, driving the buses and cleaning the trains. He said Metro’s headquarters and leaders have been too removed from its day-to-day operations on the ground, something he wants to improve.
Wiedefeld has also been making an effort to be a more visible leader in the region. That’s what brought him to the Committee of 100. At the meeting, Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey marveled that Wiedefeld was the first Metro general manager she had actually met in person in all of her years of public service.
The realities of Metrorail’s maintenance needs may require some fundamental changes in the way Metro operates. Poor maintenance, after all, is what’s causing much of Metro’s current unreliability. The agency doesn’t even have enough working rail cars to meet its promises about eight-car trains. The delivery of the new 7000-series cars — only 80 are in service so far — will help, but they must be maintained, in addition to track and the myriad other components of the Metro system.
“We need to take a hard look at how we’re doing things, particularly on the maintenance side,” Wiedefeld said. “These are big, complex systems.”
Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette, who last year launched a “personal crusade” against bottled water, will debate a representative of the bottled water industry this weekend.
Fisette and Chris Hogan, Vice President of Communications for the Alexandria-based International Bottled Water Association, will speak at the Arlington Committee of 100’s monthly dinner meeting.
The debate, which is being held at Marymount University (2807 N. Glebe Road) will begin at 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan 8. An RSVP is required by Jan. 5.
From the event’s Facebook page:
In 2009, the Arlington County Board passed a resolution banning the use of taxpayer funds to purchase single use, bottled water – with a very few exceptions. That resolution spoke to the environmental cost of producing, transporting and disposing of these bottles. While that may have reduced their use at county sponsored functions, many of us still use single use bottled water. Incoming Board Chairman Jay Fisette has begun a crusade to reduce the use of single use plastic water bottles. At our January meeting we will address the questions related to this initiative. What are the advantages of single use bottled water? What are the effects on the environment of the way we dispose of the empty bottles? Are there alternatives that provide the same or similar advantages?
Arlington County water department employees and representatives from the Natural Resources Defense Council are also expected to attend.