(Updated at 8:25 p.m.) When many Arlingtonians take a look at the sort of impact Amazon has had on Seattle since setting up shop in the city, they can’t help but feel nervous about how the tech giant might transform the county when it arrives.
The city has seen everything from skyrocketing housing prices to nightmarish traffic congestion stemming from Amazon’s rapid growth into one of the largest companies in the world, and leaders there have felt compelled to take new steps to bridge the growing inequality between the city’s tech workers and the rest of its residents.
It all provides plenty of reason to be wary of what lies ahead for Arlington once the company starts bringing its new headquarters to Crystal City and Pentagon City. But local leaders and regional planners are trying to deliver a clear message to quell those concerns — Seattle and D.C. could not possibly be more different.
“A lot of people are influenced by the Seattle example… and they think, ‘We don’t want to end up like that, our problems are already bad,'” County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said during an Amazon discussion yesterday (Wednesday) live-streamed on the county’s Facebook page. “But some of these fundamental economics are very different. I’m not saying we’ll have no problems, but I’m pretty confident we won’t have Seattle’s problems.”
For one thing, it helps that the D.C. region is quite a bit larger than Seattle and its suburbs. Chuck Bean, the executive director of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, estimates that the D.C. metro area is “about 40 percent bigger” than Seattle’s, so there’s “a lot more absorptive capacity” for the workers Amazon will bring here.
It doesn’t hurt either that Bean believes has the region has “an advanced, mature transit system that Seattle didn’t have,” giving people the ability to live a bit further away from the headquarters without necessarily relying on a car.
“Perhaps it’s a bit too mature, but we’re working on that,” Bean said, in a reference to the lengthy efforts by local leaders to get Metro working properly again.
Amazon has pledged to deliver 25,000 new jobs at its new headquarters, but officials have consistently reiterated that only a small portion will likely live in Arlington itself, and many already live elsewhere in the region. The way Dorsey sees it, the county is only likely to see about 20 percent of Amazon’s workers live in Arlington, equivalent to about 5,000 people in all.
In a county of 230,000 people or so and a broader region of millions more, he hopes that such an addition won’t be nearly as disruptive as it was in Seattle. Bean also points out that Amazon’s 25,000 jobs is just a drop in the bucket compared to the 1.1 million jobs his group believes the region will add over the next 20 years.
“Their population grew by 40 percent from when Amazon was founded to about two years ago,” Dorsey said. “That’s a tremendous amount of growth in a short period of time for any community to sustain. They’re not going to have anywhere near that impact, based on that path of growth here.”
Dorsey also notes that Amazon’s employees “earned significantly more than other Seattle workers,” especially when the company was first growing in size. Based on the tech firm’s projections, Dorsey expects that Amazon’s workers will earn “about what the typical higher wage employees in this area already earn” — as a condition of the state’s deal with Amazon, the average salary of the company’s workers needs to be at least $150,000 per year, with that amount increasing each year.
Dorsey acknowledges that there is the chance that adding more wealthy workers will drive up prices around the region, particularly for rent. But Eric Brescia, a member of Arlington’s Citizens Advisory Commission on Housing, says it’s not that simple.
“Intuitively, when you bring more high-income people in, it creates more demand to drive up prices,” Brescia said. “But the price of housing is not only just a function of what the demand is, it’s how does the supply compare to the demand.”
To demonstrate the difference, Brescia drew a comparison between how San Jose managed the explosive growth of Silicon Valley and Charlotte shepherded growth in its financial services sector.
Brescia, an economist for his day job, pointed out that Charlotte has since a 40 percent boost in jobs over the last two decades, while San Jose saw just a 17 percent bump. Nevertheless, home prices in Charlotte only rose by 18 percent in that same period, while they rose by 160 percent in San Jose — adjusted for inflation.
In his mind, the difference comes down to housing production — Charlotte and its suburbs added 400,000 new homes over the last 20 years, while San Jose managed just 100,000.
“This is an illustration that the presence of high-paying jobs does not inherently make housing unaffordable if we’re nimble enough to build housing to accommodate that,” Brescia said. “And I think this region as a whole is really going to have to be thinking of land use policy, transportation policy to determine where these homes are going to go.”
For Dorsey, who once drew headlines for proclaiming that the county should not “protect” certain neighborhoods from density, that illustrates the County Board’s challenge in the coming years.
He points out that Arlington is currently dominated by large swaths of neighborhoods with only single-family homes, particularly in the areas outside of Arlington’s Metro corridors. As county Housing Director David Cristeal noted, the majority of the homes in Arlington are apartments, but the majority of the square footage is occupied by single-family homes.
As more Amazon workers move in, Dorsey expects that officials will need to do something to confront that trend and avoid “inefficient sprawl.”
“Our community has to embrace a conversation about what it really means to grow the supply,” Dorsey said. “Our community in Arlington, and our region in general, devotes a lot of its housing to one house per lot. And if we think about equitable growth, growth that’s diverse and inclusive, that can’t be the sole way we do it.”
That could mean everything from expanding the county’s previous efforts to allow more “accessory dwelling units” on single-family lots, or encouraging the redevelopment of some single-family homes into duplexes.
But Dorsey also admitted that some more drastic changes could be necessary in terms of increasing density throughout the county. If officials don’t embrace that mindset, Brescia fears Arlington could wind up facing some of those Seattle-sized problems it hopes to avoid.
“If some more flexibility isn’t gradually allowed in more regions of the county, we’re increasingly going to be single-family neighborhoods with $2 million dollar homes versus people in very small apartments near the transit corridors, and really nothing in between,” Brescia said. “Some people get scared when you talk about those things, but the question is how to gradually grow so you don’t have that divide.”
Photo via Facebook
(Updated at 3 p.m.) With Amazon gearing up to move into his neck of the woods, Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) is angling to substantially beef up state spending on affordable housing development.
Lopez, who represents a variety of South Arlington neighborhoods surrounding the tech company’s planned headquarters in Crystal City and Pentagon City, is eyeing a two-pronged approach to the issue in this year’s General Assembly session.
Both of his legislative efforts involve the Virginia Housing Trust Fund, a pot of money Lopez helped create back in 2016 to offer low-interest loans for developers hoping to build reasonably priced housing. Though state lawmakers have only allocated a few million dollars to the fund for the last few years, Lopez hopes to simultaneously ramp up appropriations for the program and find a more stable source of funding for it going forward.
Leaders in Arlington and Alexandria have both committed to send more resources to local programs targeting housing affordability in the wake of Amazon’s big announcement, but those efforts will only be designed to target the communities surrounding the tech giant’s new office space. And with most prognosticators predicting that the 25,000 Amazon employees set to descend on the area will choose to live all over the Northern Virginia region, Lopez sees a clear need for a state-level solution.
“This is a statewide problem,” Lopez told ARLnow. “And I believe affordable housing is a quality of life issue in Virginia, and it’s something we should be funding in the same breath as transit, transportation, environmental protection and education.”
Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, has already proposed sending $19 million to the housing fund over the next two years as part of his latest budget proposal. That change would make $20 million available for the current fiscal year, and another $10 million available the year after that.
But Lopez is envisioning an even larger amount heading to the fund, and he’s planning on proposing a one-time, $50-million influx to make a difference right away.
The amount might seem small compared to the state’s mammoth budget, but Lopez expects it could make a big difference — he points out that the fund has already helped kick start two projects along Columbia Pike in just the last few years alone.
Michelle Winters, the executive director of the Arlington-based Alliance for Housing Solutions, notes that the trust is “currently a small source of funding that is spread fairly thin across the state.” That means even Northam’s proposal, to say nothing of Lopez’s more ambitious ask, would be a “quantum leap” forward for the state, according to Michelle Krocker, the executive director of the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance.
“Federal housing dollars are really diminishing, so it’s increasingly up to state and local governments to fund this stuff,” Krocker said. “Arlington has been a leader on this…but the state of Virginia is being fairly negligent, to put it mildly, in providing resources through the trust fund.”
Accordingly, Winters expects even a modest increase would prove to be meaningful, in Arlington and elsewhere.
“Even though it is small, any source of funding to help fill the gap in an affordable housing project’s budget is very valuable and can help make some more projects feasible,” Winters wrote in an email.
Yet Lopez also sees a clear need to make affordable housing funding a bit more predictable going forward.
Currently, Lopez laments that he has to go “hat in hand” to appropriators on General Assembly committees, urging them each year to set aside money for the trust fund. He’d much rather see lawmakers set up a dedicated funding stream to ensure regular, stable contributions to the loan program each year.
Accordingly, Lopez is backing a bill to establish such a funding mechanism — in essence, the legislation would pull away an annual percentage of surplus revenue from state “recordation” taxes, or levies on home transactions.
He’s proposed such legislation in the past, and acknowledge that it could face an uphill battle this time around — lawmakers with power over the state’s purse strings may be loathe to give up any budgetary discretion, after all.
Even the one-time cash infusion could prove difficult for Lopez to achieve, considering that Republicans have already declared Northam’s budget proposals “dead on arrival,” as a fight over tax revenues brews in the General Assembly.
“We’re all very concerned that with Republicans being so opposed to the governor’s amendments… that we’ll really have to wait and see whether the governor’s housing trust fund plans survives these deliberations,” Krocker said.
It doesn’t help matters either that some key lawmakers (and even some Northam administration officials) shied away from including more affordable housing money in the state’s proposal to Amazon, arguing localities and developers are better suited to fund this kind of development.
But Lopez is “hopeful” that the grave concerns raised about the housing market in the wake of Amazon’s announcement could help change minds on the issue, and he’ll certainly have allies among Arlington’s legislative delegation.
“Housing will be an issue here for at least a decade or more,” said Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District). “Amazon coming in won’t change all that dramatically, but it does increase the urgency for affordable housing and putting funding behind this.”
Housing and the County Budget — A new Greater Greater Washington article explores ways to add new housing at a time when Arlington County is facing a serious budget gap. [GGW]
Trails Treacherous for Cyclists — Despite efforts to plow local trails, many stretches in Arlington were still icy or snow-covered yesterday. [Twitter]
Police Warn About Phone Scam — “The Arlington County Police Department is warning the public about a fundraising phone scam targeting County residents. Residents have contacted the police department after receiving unsolicited phone calls from individual(s) claiming to be with the Arlington County Police Department and requesting donations to benefit the disabled and underprivileged children.” [Arlington County]
Fraser Among Those Called By Scammers — Arlington resident and local media personality Sarah Fraser was among those to be called by the scammers posing as ACPD. [Twitter]
A Modest Proposal for Stop Signs — “Close observation of local driving practices confirms the view that stop signs have become irrelevant, since no one obeys them. The closest drivers come is to slow and then slide through the intersection. It would be a cost-saving measure if Arlington County were to remove all its stop signs and replace them with ‘Yield’ signs.” [InsideNova]
Va. 8th District Has Most Federal Workers — “The House member with the most federal workers in his or her district is Democratic Rep. Don Beyer, whose Virginia district includes 86,900 federal workers. (Among districts with no military bases, Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly’s neighboring Virginia district has the highest number of federal workers.)” [Pew Research h/t Patricia Sullivan]
Stuck School Bus in Maywood — “#ArlingtonVA school bus stuck this am on N Fillmore St & 23rd St. N 3 days *AFTER* the snow! This hill on Fillmore is NEVER timely plowed or cleared. Do not put children at risk! Can @ArlingtonVA please clear this street.” [Twitter]
H-B’s Rosslyn Home Has New Name — The new Rosslyn home for the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program has a new name, after a School Board vote last night. The under-construction structure’s new name: The Heights Building. The vote came after the School Board voted to change the name of Washington-Lee to Washington-Liberty. [Twitter, Arlington Public Schools]
CPRO Gets New Interim Leader — “The Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO) has named Karen Vasquez as its Interim Executive Director. Karen has spent the last fifteen years working in the field of economic development, creating compelling stories to help recruit and retain Fortune 500 companies, non-profits, hotels and more to Arlington, Virginia.” [CPRO]
Animal Welfare League Nabs Chicken — “AWLA’s 75th animal control case of our 75th year came in just a few days ago! We received a call about a chicken on 8th Rd S., and Officer Swetnam was able to catch the chicken, now affectionately called Henny Penny, and bring her back to the shelter. [Instagram]
Arlington Housing Costs Top D.C. ‘burbs — “Homes in Arlington had the highest per-square-foot costs across the Washington suburbs, according to new sales data, although most jurisdictions saw lower averages from a year before. Arlington’s per-square-foot cost of $435 led the pack but was down from $473 in 2017, according to figures reported Jan. 10.” [InsideNova]
Snow Coming This Weekend — Gas up the snowblowers: accumulating snow is likely this weekend. By county ordinance, all snowfall under 6 inches must be removed from sidewalks within 24 hours of the last flakes. That gets bumped up to 36 hours for 6 or more inches of snow. [Capital Weather Gang]
New ‘Best of Arlington’ List — The 2019 “Best of Arlington” list is in. Among food-related winners, Ambar was named Best Restaurant, Barley Mac was named Best for Date Night and Matt Hill of Liberty Tavern Group and Hungry was named Best Chef. [Arlington Magazine]
AWLA Dog Featured in People Magazine — “One of our AWLA alums, Lucy, is featured in People Magazine this week! Here’s the online article about her weight loss journey after being adopted — her owner helped her go from 26 lbs to 14 lbs.” [Twitter, People]
Case of the Disintegrating Coffee Cups — On four separate occasions, a Washington Business Journal reporter had a coffee cup from Compass Coffee in Rosslyn start to disintegrate and leak in her hand. The company says they were sent a bad batch of paper cups and are working to remove all of the faulty cups from their cafes. [Washington Business Journal]
Va. Legislature to Consider Housing Bills — “A new surge in development in parts of Northern Virginia could come next year under a proposal to overhaul 2016 proffer legislation in this year’s General Assembly… Another proposal would ban discrimination by local governments through land use decisions against low-income or other specific types of development.” [WTOP]
Power Issue at Ballston Metro Station — There are reports that power was out at the Ballston Metro station this morning, meaning no working elevators, escalators or fare kiosks, and only minimal lighting. [Twitter, Twitter]
As Arlington leaders gear up to confront a yawning budget deficit in the new fiscal year, the county’s business community is delivering a message to officials holding the purse strings: cut spending, but don’t raise taxes.
The Arlington Chamber of Commerce recently staked out a series of local policy positions as 2019 gets rolling, and one of its biggest asks this year is that the “county government seek and adopt additional savings and economies of scale before considering any increase in the real estate tax burden.”
Such a request may well be a futile one — the County Board has already asked County Manager Mark Schwartz for proposals on what various tax rate hikes might look like for fiscal year 2020. Schwartz has also warned that a mix of service cuts, layoffs and tax increases will likely be necessary to cope with a budget deficit that could prove to be as large as $78 million, as Arlington anxiously awaits Amazon and its projected boost to county coffers.
But the chamber is, perhaps predictably, urging the Board to instead embrace its strategy from a year ago, when members opted to avoid any tax rate increase in favor of some targeted cuts.
The business group is even asking the Board to conduct “a local study of comparative tax rates between Arlington and surrounding jurisdictions to discover specific tax rates and impact fees that put the county at a competitive disadvantage in attracting and retaining certain segments of the business community,” which could prompt additional rate and fee cuts.
The chamber would much rather see the Board focus on attracting more businesses to boost revenues instead, urging leaders to make economic development the Board’s “chief policy priority” this year.
That means the business group wants the county to continue its use of “competitive incentives, tied to strong benchmarks, both to attract and to retain businesses” — Arlington officials long disdained such measures, but the county’s soaring office vacancy rate has convinced leaders to use incentives to lure companies from Amazon to Nestle in recent years.
Naturally, the chamber says it also backs the county’s proposed incentive package for Amazon itself, set to include a mix of investments in transportation improvements around the new headquarters and a chunk of the new tax revenues generated by the company’s arrival in the area. The chamber previously backed the county’s pursuit of Amazon even before the exact details around the incentives became public in November; the Board will formally vote on the deal this winter, as will the General Assembly.
With Amazon on the way, the group also urged the Board to embrace the “addition of mass transit systems (bus-rapid transit or similar) in the Crystal City/Potomac Yard and Columbia Pike corridors.” The county is set to extend the Crystal City-Potomac Yard Transitway to Pentagon City in the coming years, while the idea of bus-rapid transit for the Pike has been batted around ever since the notorious streetcar’s cancellation.
Other transit projects on the chamber’s wishlist include “second entrances at the Crystal City and Ballston Metro stations, and a new Rosslyn tunnel.” The Crystal City second entrance is set to be constructed as part of the Amazon improvements; the Ballston and Rosslyn projects will require a considerably more tricky funding lift from the county.
And when it comes to ways to beef up the county’s supply of affordable housing to cope with Amazon’s projected impact on home prices, the chamber stressed that “providing developers and property owners with incentives is the best, perhaps only, way to obtain substantial additional units that are affordable to a broad part of the community and to preserve existing housing stock.”
The chamber also did not pass by another opportunity to lament the “ill-advised” nature of the county’s development of new “housing conservation districts” in 2017.
Some property owners felt ambushed by the county’s work to freeze the redevelopment of affordable homes, and the chamber is pushing for a more “open process that includes suggestions and comments from the business community” as the Board charts out the next phase of policies governing the districts.
With newly reshuffled leadership on the Arlington County Board, local officials are pledging a focus on equity as Amazon arrives this year, particularly when it comes to housing in the county.
The Board’s annual organizational meeting came with little in the way of procedural surprises last night (Wednesday). Vice Chair Christian Dorsey earned unanimous approval take the chair’s gavel, replacing outgoing Chair Katie Cristol, while Libby Garvey was elevated to take his place.
But the meeting still represented a major turning of the page in the county. Not only was the gathering the Board’s first since Matt de Ferranti’s swearing in, returning the Board to unified Democratic control for the first time since 2014, but it was a chance for Board members to sketch out a vision for how they plan to confront what looks to be a difficult year.
Naturally, Amazon proved to be the elephant in the room as officials delivered their annual New Year’s remarks. In kicking off the Board speeches, Dorsey framed his upcoming year-long chairmanship as one that will have “an emphasis on equity,” especially when it comes time to “expertly manage” Amazon’s growth.
Dorsey noted right away that he’s “only the third person who looks like me to ever serve as chair” of the Board — he joins Charles Monroe and William Newman, now the chief judge of Arlington Circuit Court, as the only black men to hold the gavel in the county’s history.
Accordingly, he said that history will guide his focus on “ensuring that Amazon’s gradual growth here benefits our entire community,” especially as the county prepares to confront some tough budget years while it awaits a projected revenue boom from the tech giant’s presence.
“Taken together, budget gaps today, and significant investment and commercial growth in the near term, present us with the dual responsibility of ensuring that today’s austerity doesn’t disproportionately burden the marginalized and most vulnerable, and that better times don’t leave those same people behind,” Dorsey said.
Board members agreed that a key area focus for leaders on that front will have to be changes to the county’s zoning code, as officials work to allow different types of reasonably priced homes to proliferate around Arlington. Cristol and Board member Erik Gutshall both praised the Board’s past work on housing conservation districts as a good first step, but both emphasized that the county needs to do more to meet its own goals for creating new affordable homes each year.
“Amazon’s arrival has focused our community energy on protecting our middle class from being priced out permanently,” Cristol said. “We can’t squander the opportunity to tackle this hard and important zoning reform work in the year ahead.”
De Ferranti agreed that the county should be fighting for a “significant public and private investment in affordable homeownership and rental housing” as it finalizes its incentive package to bring Amazon to Arlington.
But he and Gutshall also emphasized that a commitment to environmental equity should guide the county’s negotiations with Amazon, arguing that officials should work with the tech company to ensure its new campus in Crystal City and Pentagon City is “net-zero energy,” meaning that Amazon’s buildings generate as much energy as they consume. Gutshall even went a step further, proposing that the county join the growing calls for a “Green New Deal” from some of the newest Democrats heading to Congress, arguing that the “trade-off between the environment or the economy is a false one.”
Yet Board members pledged to keep a more local focus as well, particularly when it comes to Amazon’s impacts on the county’s already crowded classrooms.
Officials are hopeful that county schools will able to handle the gradual arrival of Amazon employees and their families, but Gutshall and Cristol both called for renewed long-range planning efforts for new school buildings.
De Ferranti was even more specific, saying the Board should build future budgets to “put the county in a position to fund the building of another high school” — the School Board is currently in the midst of hashing out plans for new high school seats at the Arlington Career Center, but whether or not that facility will provide the equivalent of a fourth comprehensive high school for county students remains an open question.
Through all of these difficult discussions, however, Garvey urged everyone — from local officials to activists — to strike embrace “civility.” The year-long debate over Amazon has already promoted plenty of tense meetings and raised voices, and the new vice chair argued that “Arlington Way has gotten rather frayed around the edges” in recent months.
“People sometimes jump to the assumption that intent is nefarious, or are all too quick to take offense when no offense was intended,” Garvey said. “We have to set some basic standards, and then follow through by not allowing people to violate those standards and stay in the discussion, or at least not to dominate the discussion so that everyone else decides to leave.”
Arlington officials managed to create or preserve 515 homes guaranteed to remain affordable to low-income renters this year — but the size of that number masks the fact that the county still isn’t meeting its own affordable housing goals.
In a report released this week evaluating Arlington’s progress toward fulfilling the standards of its “Affordable Housing Master Plan,” county housing staffers trumpeted the 221 new “committed affordable” units officials helped developers build in Fiscal Year 2018.
The county also managed to preserve another 294 existing homes to ensure their rent prices remain low enough to be deemed “affordable.” Though the term may seem subjective, officials define it to mean that a home’s monthly rent or mortgage, plus utilities, is “no more than 30 percent of a household’s gross income.”
The combined total of 515 units is down slightly from the 556 the county created or preserved last year, though up from 2016’s total of 322 homes.
But the master plan, adopted by the County Board in 2015, calls for Arlington to be making a bit more progress in this area by now.
The document sets a goal that 17.7 percent of the county’s available housing should be affordable by the time 2040 rolls around, meaning that the county will need to create or preserve 15,800 committed affordable units before then. That means the county needs to generate 585 net new affordable homes each year, a standard that Arlington hasn’t been able to hit since passing the master plan three years ago.
And with Amazon on the way, and fears about housing affordability growing, advocates see this latest report as yet more clear evidence that the county needs to take more aggressive steps to solve the problem.
“The county has been off-pace for meeting its AHMP goals since the beginning,” Michelle Winters, the executive director of the Alliance for Housing Solutions, told ARLnow via email. “They need to ramp up the pace in order to meet their own goals.”
Winters also points out that the 2018 numbers may be a bit misleading in considering the county’s progress toward its goals. The 294 affordable homes that the county preserved came courtesy of a loan at the “Park Shirlington” development in Fairlington, which Winters points out “is only guaranteed affordable for three years until the developer comes back with a proposal for long-term affordability (which may include fewer affordable units in the end).”
Of course, Housing Director David Cristeal notes in the report that the “desirability” of Arlington as a community has “made it much harder to find modestly priced housing, which lags behind demand,” complicating any effort to preserve affordable homes. The county has taken some steps to address that issue in recent years, particularly by creating new “Housing Conservation Districts” to protect older homes, and the Board has mulled expanding that program moving forward.
Yet Winters has often urged the county to use those districts to incentivize property owners toward affordable redevelopments, upping the number of affordable homes on the same property. Her group and others on the Board, including newly elected member Matt de Ferranti, have agitated for increased contributions to the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund as well, increasing Arlington’s ability to hand out loans and promote affordable developments.
Without taking more drastic steps now, Winters fears that the county will become even more unaffordable for low-income renters. She points out that the report also shows that the number of small, two-bedroom homes in the county continues to decline in favor of new single-family home construction, and that’s before the development boom most observers expect that Amazon will kick off in the area.
“This is evidence of our disappearing, older, more modest and previously affordable homes, replaced by larger high-end new construction,” she wrote.
Photo via Park Shirlington
Arlington County Prepares for Winter Weather — Though a winter storm this weekend is looking increasingly unlikely for the area, Arlington County says it is preparing for a snowy winter and “will be ready to fight back” against snow and ice. [Arlington County]
More Solar Panels for APS — “Arlington County Public Schools signed a contract on Thursday night that they say will save them millions of dollars. Five of their schools will be made over with solar panels as part of a power purchase agreement, or PPA, with a Charlottesville, Virginia firm called Sun Tribe Solar.” [WUSA 9]
Fire at Ledo Pizza — Firefighters responded to an electrical fire at the Ledo Pizza restaurant in the Red Lion hotel in Rosslyn yesterday. The fire was extinguished by a sprinkler system. [Twitter]
Amazon, Pentagon City and Housing — Most or even all of Amazon’s permanent presence in Arlington could actually be in Pentagon City, not Crystal City. That presents an opportunity to add more housing, including affordable housing, in Pentagon City. [Greater Greater Washington]
American May Add Flights at DCA — “American Airlines is closely ‘studying’ online retailer Amazon’s plans to open a second headquarters steps away from its hub at Ronald Reagan Washington National airport, where it is already planning to add seats at the slot-controlled facility. ‘We absolutely plan to upgauge at DCA,’ the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier’s vice-president of network Vasu Raja tells FlightGlobal.” [FlightGlobal]
Our Lady of Guadalupe Celebration — “On Saturday, December 8, approximately 300 people are expected to pour into Saint Agnes Catholic Church’s Parish Hall in Arlington to celebrate the anniversary of the apparition of the Blessed Mother to Juan Diego on December 12, 1531. Following the Mass, there will be a candle lit procession with some of the faithful carrying a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, followed by praying the rosary, and a potluck dinner with live entertainment -a mariachi band!” [Diocese of Arlington]
Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler
Activists Speak Out Against Amazon — “Activists who believe the fix is in and the Arlington government already has rolled over for Amazon used what limited opportunities they had at the Nov. 17 County Board meeting to demand more accountability and transparency from elected officials… The confrontational stance taken Saturday by a coalition of left-leaning groups on the issue ended the five-day high Arlington officials had been on since” the Amazon HQ2 announcement last week. [InsideNova, YouTube]
Experts: Amazon Real Estate Boost May Take Awhile — “The arrival of Amazon is likely to help boost parts of the local real estate market… But pump the brakes on the enthusiasm just a bit — any growth regionwide in home sales due to Amazon will be a plus, but not so large that it overshadows overall market dynamics. ‘My sense is that Amazon’s arrival will not have an immediate noticeable impact, but will over time be a contributor to increased values in close-in Northern Virginia,’ said Carol Temple, a certified residential specialist with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage.” [InsideNova]
Op-ed: Build More Housing in Arlington — “New jobs don’t have to mean displacement. It comes down to a choice on the part of Arlington County policymakers: Revise local zoning rules to allow for new housing to accommodate new residents, or require a growing population to compete over a stagnant supply of housing.” [Washington Post]
Home Shopping in Arlington on a Tight Budget — “If you’re like my fiancée and me, with good jobs and ‘professional’ graduate degrees but attendant student loan debt and slightly delayed careers due to school and the recession, you probably can’t even buy into the ‘starter’ segment of the market without significant savings or a sudden gift or inheritance. However, we did manage to buy a home in Arlington for $425,000. Here’s how we did it.” [Greater Greater Washington]
How Virginia Sealed the HQ2 Deal — Amazon’s decision to split HQ2 between two different places actually helped convince some skeptical Virginia state lawmakers to support the deal. [Richmond Times-Dispatch]
Road Closures Planned for Thanksgiving 5K — “The 13th Annual Turkey Trot 5K will take place on Thursday, November 22, 2018. The Arlington County Police Department will conduct [a number of] road closures from 6:30 a.m. until approximately 10 a.m. to accommodate this event.” [Arlington County]
Amid persistent concerns that Amazon’s army of new workers will displace low-income Arlingtonians, county leaders plan to redirect their existing investments in affordable housing to better serve the areas impacted by the new headquarters — but the county won’t be upping its financial commitment to spurring the construction of reasonably priced homes.
While critics of Arlington’s decision to court Amazon’s HQ2 have focused on everything from the headquarters’ potential impact on county schools to its transportation systems, the tech giant’s impact on housing prices has perhaps drawn the most scrutiny of all.
The D.C. region has already seen a housing crunch in recent years, and all manner of experts have theorized that the arrival of Amazon’s thousands of highly paid workers will only worsen the county’s challenges. Accordingly, Virginia’s offer to Amazon includes a frequent emphasis on the region’s commitment to addressing local housing woes, and it touts a $150 million investment in affordable housing by Arlington and Alexandria over the next decade. The state has also pledged massive investments in existing programs through its Virginia Housing Development Authority.
But the details of the proposal contain a bit more nuance. The county won’t achieve that affordable housing investment by increasing its annual contributions to various housing-focused programs; rather, it will earmark about a third of those funds for projects creating affordable homes in Crystal City, Pentagon City and along Columbia Pike.
“We’re hoping that will help us create 1,000 new committed affordable units in that area,” County Board Chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow. “And that’s joined by the new commitment from the state, so we’re clearly making this a priority.”
The county currently sends about $21 million to affordable housing efforts each year, county economic development spokeswoman Cara O’Donnell said. That includes just over $14 million to the Affordable Housing Investment Fund, a loan program designed to encourage affordable developments, and contributions to other loan repayment programs for low-income renters.
That means about $7 million each year will be dedicated to housing affordability programs impacting the neighborhoods surrounding Amazon’s new headquarters. Cristol also hopes to increase that amount as new tax revenues from the company flow into county coffers, though Arlington will need a few years to truly feel those revenue impacts.
Michelle Winters, executive director of the Arlington-based Alliance for Housing Solutions, was hoping to see the county step up its total commitment to affordable housing funds immediately, not simply move money around. She points out that, even with the county’s existing efforts, Arlington has seen dramatic declines in its “market rate” affordable homes, which are designed with prices to match the current housing environment. The number of “committed affordable” homes, where housing prices are controlled, has also not kept pace with growth, she points out.
“It’s going take additional analysis to determine if this will actually be enough to meet the needs arising from Amazon and other growth in the region,” Winters said.
More intense Amazon skeptics, however, believe that anything short of a full-court press from the communities surrounding the new headquarters will spell disaster for renters in the area. State Del. Lee Carter (D-50th District) fully expects that Arlingtonians priced out of the county will soon flock to outer suburbs like his Manassas-area district, causing a ripple effect throughout the Northern Virginia region.
“I live in a one bedroom apartment in Manassas; my rent’s going to go up, and I’m going to get priced out of my own district,” Carter said. “It speaks to the flawed conventional wisdom around economic development. It says that more jobs are always good: but at what cost?”
County officials don’t see the situation as being quite so dire, however. They note that up to 20 percent of the workers Amazon plans to hire likely already live in the area, and that employees will arrive gradually in Arlington over the next few years, not simply show up all at once and disrupt the housing market overnight.
Arlington leaders also believe they’ll have more tools at their disposal to address housing affordability by the time Amazon starts truly ramping up its hiring.
One key way the county earns money for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF) is by forcing developers to make contributions to it as they win local approvals for massive new projects. Amazon won’t be building much in Arlington right away, choosing to move into some existing space in Crystal City to start — that’s an outcome affordable housing advocates feared, as the company won’t be required to chip into the AHIF until it starts sketching out construction plans.
But County Board member Erik Gutshall points out that Amazon has big plans for future construction in the area, which will eventually result in “straight contributions” to the AHIF. Amazon has already purchased large tracts of land in Pentagon City from developer JBG Smith, and could opt to fully re-develop some of the existing buildings it’s leasing someday.
“Over time, everything is going to be new,” said Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey. “They’re not just going to stay in existing 1960s buildings. Permanently, they’re building new stuff.”
Yet Winters argues that programs like the AHIF can only do so much to create new affordable housing in the county. She credits the county for some of its work to preserve some older, moderately priced homes, but urged officials to do more, with greater urgency.
“While additional subsidy and investment is absolutely needed, it’s not the only thing that it’s needed,” Winters said. “We absolutely need to ramp up the pace housing is added to the county.”
Other urbanists are willing to call for even more transformative changes to make that happen, now that Amazon has arrived.
Or, independent of Amazon's decision, all localities in DC metro need to build more housing, *esp* in wealthy nhoods w/ good schools, transit, and jobs. That means North Arlington, Ward 3, Bethesda, etc. https://t.co/I3rg9A8egE
— Jenny Schuetz (@jenny_schuetz) November 13, 2018
Cristol acknowledged that “the one thing we can’t address through public policy is speculation in the market,” and early estimates suggest that speculation will be no laughing matter — McEarney Associates, a group of Northern Virginia realtors, released a report estimating that overall home prices will rise anywhere from 20 to 30 percent in the wake of Amazon’s announcement, with appreciation rates “north of 15 percent” in the immediate vicinity of the new headquarters.
Accordingly, Cristol does see a need to “meet the supply challenge,” but she’d prefer to double down on some of the county’s existing efforts to loosen zoning rules for “accessory dwelling units” or allow more renovations to older duplexes, rather than pursue more dramatic changes.
“We need to increase our urgency in expanding housing options among that ‘missing middle’ housing stock,” Cristol said.
Crystal City Business Owners Ready for Facelift — “[Crystal City’s] reputation is sufficiently anemic that Amazon announced it is rebranding the area where it will build its hub ‘National Landing,’ a change that aroused next to no protests from most local proprietors. ‘Whatever Jeff Bezos wants is fine with me,’ said Billy Bayne, owner of the Crystal City Restaurant Gentlemen’s Club, referring to Amazon founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos, who owns The Washington Post. ‘I’m just happy he’s here.'” [Washington Post, Greater Greater Washington]
Calls for More Housing — The arrival of Amazon has prompted some urbanists to start calling for upzoning and the creation of more housing density, including in wealthier neighborhoods. [Twitter, Twitter]
More on New VT Campus in Alexandria — “When fully realized, the $1 billion Innovation Campus, which includes state support, will spark discoveries and help fill immense demand for high-tech talent in the greater Washington, D.C., area and beyond. The Commonwealth of Virginia and Virginia Tech have committed to provide $250 million each to seed the project.” [Virginia Tech]
Get Ready for Snow — Arlington is expected to get its first snowfall of the season Thursday, with up to an inch of snow and sleet falling Thursday morning before changing to rain. Forecasters, meanwhile, are calling for a snowier than usual winter, with up to two feet of snow falling inside the Beltway over the course of the season. [Capital Weather Gang, Twitter, Capital Weather Gang]
‘Doug the Scammer’ is Now in Arlington — A notorious scammer has apparently crossed the river from D.C. and is now trying to scam people in Arlington. His latest targets: restaurants in Courthouse. [PoPville]
Suicide on Roosevelt Island — The brother of a D.C. man arrested on weapons charges and accused of saying that “the 11 victims of the Pittsburgh shooting ‘deserved it'” shot himself on Roosevelt Island on Saturday, Oct. 27, hours after the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue. [Washington Post]
What Amazon Employees Are Reading — Amazon employees are very interested in reading ARLnow articles about Amazon, but the most-read story on the site among Amazon workers over the past week is about the opening of Bethesda Bagels in Rosslyn. [Twitter]
As all signs continue to suggest that Crystal City will soon become home to at least half of Amazon’s new headquarters, affordable housing advocates are increasingly concerned that Arlington won’t force the tech giant to take action to mitigate the new office’s impact on housing prices in the county.
The company’s abrupt decision to split its “HQ2” between Crystal City and New York City, as detailed in a flurry of national news reports, means that Arlington could see only half of the 50,000 new jobs Amazon promised along with the new headquarters. Nevertheless, fears linger that the arrival of even a portion of those workers would further squeeze the county’s already tight housing market.
County and state officials have steadfastly refused to release any details about their pitch to Amazon, including details on potential economic incentives for the company, or any community benefits designed to account for how a sudden influx of thousands of workers might drive up housing prices and demand.
Amazon has also been mum on how it might set up shop in Crystal City, but speculation abounds that the company would move into the thousands of square feet of vacant office space controlled by JBG Smith, the area’s largest property owner. The real estate firm was intimately involved in assembling Crystal City’s HQ2 bid, and Arlington officials have salivated over the prospect that the company could reverse the county’s high office vacancy rate in one fell swoop.
But should Jeff Bezos and company move right in to that vacant space, experts worry that the county won’t have the ability to extract any cash for Arlington’s main tool for spurring the development of reasonably priced homes: the Affordable Housing Investment Fund, commonly known as the AHIF.
The program offers low-interest loans for new construction or redevelopment efforts to add more affordable housing in the county, and the county regularly requires developers behind high-density projects to contribute to the fund, in order to offset the impacts of that development on the rest of the county.
Yet Michelle Winters, the executive director of the Alliance for Housing Solutions, points out that Amazon could well avoid any such contribution, despite bringing thousands of highly paid workers to the area. After all, the company may simply prove to be a very, very large office tenant, and not plan any new construction in the county for years yet.
“These fees are a major component of how we pay for affordable housing in Arlington,” Winters told ARLnow. “But we just don’t know what kind of deal they’re potentially making with Amazon.”
Through a spokeswoman, Arlington Housing Director David Cristeal confirmed that the “county does not require AHIF contributions if a tenant moves into existing space without building anything new.”
“A developer or building lessee would not need to contribute to AHIF if they move into an existing building without requesting additional density and/or a site plan amendment,” Cristeal wrote. Site plan amendments, in general, are reserved for major construction projects.
County Board Chair Katie Cristol agrees with Cristeal’s assessment, noting that the “mechanisms for achieving contributions to the AHIF are tools available to us during the land-use process” only.
“The time at which we’d achieve something like that is as the building is built, not as a tenant moves in, which makes sense,” Cristol said.
What that means for the county’s potential deal with Amazon, Cristol can’t say. She says the county still has yet to work out the details of just how the tech giant would move in to Arlington, making it a bit too early to speculate on technical questions like potential AHIF contributions.
However, she did point out that the whole point of Arlington luring Amazon in the first place is to generate new tax revenue, which the county could then direct into the AHIF or other measures to preserve and create affordable housing.
“The reason to bring in new tenants to Arlington generally is they fund all those things,” Cristol said. “Whether it’s the AHIF, housing grants, public schools, transportation costs… It can be easy to lose sight of that.”
Of course, there are plenty of experts skeptical of just how much Amazon’s arrival will actually juice county revenues, especially if Arlington signs off on hefty tax breaks to lure the company here in the first place. For instance, the government accountability group Good Jobs First, an intense Amazon critic, estimates that localities can end up paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in subsidies for each job that a major new investor generates.
Kasia Tarczynska, a research analyst with Good Jobs First, notes that the county could always limit the tax breaks it offers the company and “use that money for affordable housing, public transit and workforce development.”
“In Boston, for example, as part of the incentive package, the city said it would invest $75 million in affordable housing, instead [of] giving that money to Amazon,” Tarczynska wrote in an email.
But that’s where the county’s secrecy around its offer to the company, which has been criticized by liberal and conservative activists alike, stymies further analysis.
Even still, Winters and Tarczynska both expect that the county could still work out a deal with Amazon that involves a contribution to the AHIF, or other affordable housing measures, even if it wouldn’t be strictly required by county ordinances.
“If I were Amazon, I would pay in more than what would ordinarily be required, because their own workers would benefit from more affordable housing in the community,” Winters said. “This is one of the biggest companies in the world… I’d imagine it could be considered the cost of doing business for them.”
Ben Beach, the legal director for the Partnership for Working Families, notes that plenty of other local officials have negotiated for such concessions as large companies have sought to move in to their communities. The question on his mind is whether Arlington officials will do the same.
“Local governments have a wide range of tools at their disposal; the question is simply political will,” Beach wrote in an email. “And in this case, we know there is substantial public money involved, so there’s really no excuse for anything less than a gold standard community benefits package.”
Photo via JBG Smith
Effort Returns $68K to Arlington Residents — Staff from the Virginia Dept. of the Treasury were on hand at county government headquarters in Courthouse earlier this month to encourage those coming to pay their local taxes at the deadline to see if they have any unclaimed cash or property being held by the state. In all, the officials were able to return about $68,000 to people who stopped by. [InsideNova]
Population Growth Outstripping New Housing — A potential major worry should Amazon bring its HQ2 to the D.C. area is what it will do to the cost of housing. The region has fallen significantly short of housing production since 2010, according to a new report: “While the inner region’s population increased 7 percent, the number of housing units increased only 3 percent.” [Urban Institute]
County Defends Using Bonds for Artificial Turf — Despite suggestions otherwise, Arlington County Board members said Saturday that the county only uses bonds to fund artificial turf project when the lifespan of the bond equals or is less than the expected lifespan of the turf. [InsideNova]
Signature Partners with Yale — “[Signature Theatre] announced Monday a pioneering partnership to bolster musical-theater writing talent at the college level — a fairly underdeveloped avenue for professional American theaters. With financial backing from longtime Signature supporters Ted and Mary Jo Shen… Signature will produce one graduating Yale senior’s musical-in-progress annually in a three-week workshop, beginning next summer.” [Washington Post]
Mea Culpa — Yesterday, ARLnow sent a promotional email for a townhouse community with the pithy subject line, “So many reasons to move to Chantilly, VA.” While we didn’t get any complaints, this subject line does not reflect our commitment to serving the Arlington community and sending it as-is was a mistake for which we apologize.
Major Crystal City Development Approved — “The Arlington County Board today approved a two-phase plan to redevelop a portion of Crystal Square, in the heart of Crystal City. The project will add 100,000 square feet of street-oriented retail businesses, including a new Alamo Drafthouse movie theater and a grocery store, to Crystal Drive, and upgrade an existing office building to ‘Class A’ office space.” [Arlington County]
Sunflower Restaurant Closed in Falls Church — Vegetarian restaurant Sunflower recently closed its location in Seven Corners. In its place, Bawadi Mediterranean restaurant has opened. Meanwhile, Sunflower has a location in Vienna that remains open. [Twitter]
HUD Grant to House Low-Income Arlingtonians — “The nearly $464,000 HUD Housing Choice Mainstream Voucher Grant is a specialized voucher program that will help non-elderly persons with disabilities who are transitioning out of institutional settings, at risk of institutionalization, homeless, or at risk of being homeless, rent housing in Arlington. The County’s Department of Human Services expects 40 Arlington residents to will be housed through the grant.” [Arlington County]
Another Arlington Money Diary — Another Arlington resident is the subject of a Refinery29 “money diary.” The latest profile subject is “an administrative assistant working in law who makes $57,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on candles for her daughter’s birthday cupcakes.” [Refinery29]
GW Unveils New Clubhouse at Barcroft Park — “[GW] Baseball’s first on-site clubhouse was unveiled at Tucker Field Saturday after more than a year of renovations. The Fassnacht Clubhouse and Training Facility is a 6,200-square-foot space that includes a locker room, coaches’ offices, a players lounge and an indoor turf training space. Each player received a customized locker, and the existing batting cages at the field were also enclosed, according to an athletics department release.” [GW Hatchet]
Fall Foliage Mostly MIA in Va. — “By the final third of October, fiery colors of fall are usually all over the place in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Not this year. While we are still at least a week or two from typical peak fall foliage in the immediate D.C. area, this year’s delay in autumn color is unlike anything in recent memory.” [Washington Post]