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A duplex in Halls Hill (via Arlington County)

(Updated at 6:15 p.m.) The Arlington branch of the NAACP — previously a champion of Arlington’s Missing Middle housing proposal — is claiming the proposal now being deliberated is in danger of violating federal and state fair housing laws.

After hearing nearly 200 public speeches and convening three meetings in mid-January, the Arlington County Board approved a request to authorize hearings on proposed zoning changes that would allow small-scale multifamily buildings with up to six homes in districts zoned exclusively for single-family detached homes.

In so doing, the Board removed an option to consider buildings with seven or eight units and retained an option to impose higher lot size minimums for five-plexes and six-plexes outside of major transit corridors.

NAACP Arlington Branch President Mike Hemminger, Housing Committee Chair Bryan J. Coleman and Secretary Wanda Younger decried the move in a letter released yesterday (Thursday) to Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey.

“The NAACP fiercely opposes these restrictions and urges the County Board to enact only the set of options that will supply our community with the highest number of attainable homes across all of Arlington’s residential neighborhoods,” they write. “The NAACP will not be a bystander as government policies recreate discriminatory effects of the past by preventing people of color from enjoying the same benefits as those living in the county’s wealthiest, whitest neighborhoods.”

Arlington County Board members say they support the zoning changes to partially undo the lasting impacts of housing policy decisions that excluded people of color from many neighborhoods, such as racially restrictive deed covenants, the decision to ban rowhouses — popular among Black people but deemed “distasteful” by local leaders at the time — and a physical wall white residents built to keep out Black people from the Halls Hills neighborhood.

But removing eight-plexes and entertaining lot size minimums are “land use policies that have significant, unjustified disparate impacts on people of color,” which the Fair Housing Act prohibits, the NAACP said.

These restrictions will result in more expensive new construction and create “unequal housing opportunities in the same neighborhoods from which people of color have long been historically excluded.”

These policies would result in more expensive new construction, they say, citing an Arlington County presentation indicating six- or eight-plexes would be attainable for households making $108,000 to $118,000, compared to the $124,000 to $160,000 needed for three- and four-plexes.

Expected housing costs for new construction, by income level (via Arlington County)

By its calculations, the NAACP leaders say, increasing the household income needed from $100,000 to $150,000 would result in some 44% of white households able to buy, compared to 20.3% of Black and 24.3% of Latino households.

That means the number of Black households who can afford Missing Middle homes would decrease by 43% and Latino households by 38%, compared to white households, 32%.

The issue of whether to allow seven- and eight-plexes split the County Board. Members Matt de Ferranti and Takis Karantonis and Vice-Chair Libby Garvey supported removing these options while member Katie Cristol and Chair Christian Dorsey did not.

De Ferranti has argued against it on the grounds that these are mostly going to be rental 1- and 2-bedroom properties, which are not the types of units that Arlington is aiming to build more of through Missing Middle.

But the NAACP maintains that this line of reasoning tacitly endorses “‘camouflaged’ racial expressions” made by members of the public. Read More

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The Arlington County Board on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023 (via Arlington County)

(Updated at 8:20 p.m.) The Arlington County Board has taken the next step toward potentially allowing Missing Middle housing.

This evening (Wednesday), during its third meeting on a request to advertise public hearings regarding the proposed zoning changes, the Board voted unanimously to kick off two months of public discussion on a proposed set of options and alternatives.

The Board will reconvene to consider adopting a final proposal in March.

Opponents and some proponents of Missing Middle housing expressed disappointment with the proposal, which does not include 7- or 8-unit buildings.

The advertised change would allow small-scale multifamily buildings, from duplexes to townhouses to 6-plexes, in areas that are currently only zoned for single-family detached homes. The Board’s vote took off the option to prohibit additional housing types on sites larger than one acre.

The Board must consider some type of parking minimum going forward, as the only option not to have any minimums was struck from the proposal.

Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said he is “deeply disappointed in the advertised ordinance.”

“I’m disappointed that the limited nature of what will be offered today doesn’t give us the ability over the next two months to do the best policy,” he said. “That’s a profound disappointment for me but not certainly not enough to vote against it.

“The most affordable units that could be made available are taken off the table for the biggest lots in Arlington that could accommodate them, limiting the opportunity to further provide attainability for people being able to achieve economies of scale and subsidize on a per-unit basis in a very cost efficient way,” Dorsey added.

Board member Matt de Ferranti was more supportive.

“My policy goals are the same as they were in December 2019 and in the scope that we wrote in September 2020: affordable homeownership, 3-unit type family dwellings and flexibility in housing types and residential uses in single-family neighborhoods,” he said. “The RTA moves us forward to that goal.”

“I think we need to move forward with what we’ve done,” de Ferranti continued. “We must move forward because my grandparents benefitted from single-family zoning in New Canaan, Connecticut and Pittsfield, Massachusetts and the grandparents and parents of many Arlingtonians of color did not. Move forward because there is never a wrong time to do the right thing. Move forward because if you can build a large home on a lot it is reasonable to build smaller dwellings in the same sized building unless there are outside costs or unreasonable burdens to doing so.”

Immediately following the vote, Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future, an organization opposed to the plan, denounced what the Board approved.

“If County Board members vote to finally adopt this Missing Middle mess, it will permanently stain their legacies,” said ASF leader Peter Rousselot, in a statement. “The County Board has disregarded the testimony and findings of prominent realtors, architects, economists, land use attorneys, engineers, and other experts who all have explained why the Board’s Missing Middle plan won’t work in Arlington.”

In its statement likewise criticizing the decision, Arlingtonians for Upzoning Transparency said the process so far has not been transparent and the result won’t be more modest-sized homes attainable to moderate-income residents.  .

“The [Missing Middle housing] will incentivize developers to tear down modest, single-family homes and build $1.5 million townhouses and duplexes or small one-and-two-bedroom rental units,” said Julie Lee, a founding member of AfUT. “The County should not promote the false promise that the free market will produce lower cost housing. Developers will build the most profitable — and most expensive — [Missing Middle housing] possible, using every bit of allowable lot coverage to do it.”

Leaders of YIMBYs of Northern Virginia, which supported a more robust version than what is now on the table, told ARLnow they commend the Board for unanimously approving the hearings but are disappointed with the limitations.

“All five members of the County Board very clearly stated that they wanted to create a new legacy for Arlington, so now, they have a responsibility to make good on that promise,” the group said. “Most Arlingtonians rent. Most Arlingtonians live in multi-family buildings and most of them say ‘Yes’ to new housing and new neighbors. Making sure that the majority’s voice and interests are represented in the final package is extremely important.”

“The big issue we can’t lose sight of is Arlington’s affordability crisis and housing shortage,” the group continued. “The ultimate litmus test will be, ‘Will Missing Middle actually produce new housing?’ There is a risk — if the final proposal narrows down the [request to advertise] even further, that it won’t.”

Mike Hemminger, NAACP Arlington branch president, said the decision to remove the densest buildings from the proposal amounts to “de facto segregation.”

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Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey during the Tuesday, Jan. 24 discussion of Missing Middle housing (via Arlington County)

(Updated at 12:20 p.m.) Some 200 speakers and seven hours of public comment later, the Arlington County Board will decide whether to authorize hearings on a proposal to allow “Missing Middle” housing later today (Wednesday).

The request to authorize hearings on the zoning proposal was originally placed on the agenda for the Board’s Saturday meeting. After a marathon hearing on Saturday, public comment on the item carried over into the Board’s Tuesday meeting. Rather than make a decision last night, Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said members will take an extra day.

“The matter is with the Board but we’re not going to pick this up right away, colleagues, we are actually going to consider all the testimony we heard on this past Saturday and tonight — the nearly 200 registered speakers — and convene again once we are able to properly deliberate tomorrow afternoon at 4:00 p.m.,” Dorsey said at the conclusion of the meeting.

Last night’s meeting had fewer speakers than Saturday’s but featured a contentious exchange between Dorsey and an opponent of the Missing Middle proposal.

Dorsey intervened twice during the meeting, as some people objected to Missing Middle supporter Jane Green standing behind other advocates of the proposal, holding a sign so it would be visible on camera.

“We had 180 people speak on Saturday and we didn’t have any of this. We’re not going to have it with 20, alright?” Dorsey said. “Let the people speak. You can’t dictate where people stand, so let’s just continue, thank you.”

When it was Green’s turn to speak, a man moved to stand behind her and next to Adam Theo, a former County Board candidate and the co-founder of YIMBYs of Northern Virginia, an organization that supports the zoning changes.

“Sit down, please,” Dorsey can be heard saying off-screen. “This is childish, this is childish. I will clear the room. Stop it, everybody. I know tensions are high. I know everybody’s excited but we can all be grown-ups, okay? You can either sit down or you can be removed. It’s your choice.”

A man can be heard saying “No, you grow up,” in response to Dorsey. Later, he adds that the Board should “put this to a referendum and let the county vote.” (The county can hold referenda on bond issuances but a referendum on a county ordinance or policy would require authorization from the state legislature, as Virginia is a Dillon Rule state.)

A total of 17 speakers took the podium last night, including many representing organizations, thus giving them three minutes to speak as opposed to the two minutes allotted individuals speaking on their own behalf Saturday.

First up was Jon Ware, speaking on behalf of Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future, which opposes the measure.

Saturday embodied a lot of what frustrates folks about this process. In the week prior, the county put out 150 pages of dense materials with new zoning that goes far beyond the core specifics released only on Halloween. On Saturday, the county cut public speaking times, and talked at the people followed by the people often talking past each other.

He asserted that the people who will be able to afford the 2-3 bedroom Missing Middle housing units will mostly be white, and the county has no process or metrics to “track who gets displaced,” a mechanism that Portland, Oregon, which allows these types of dwellings, does have.

NAACP Arlington branch second vice president Bryan Coleman said the “elephant in the room” is the lack of diversity among Missing Middle opponents, especially those who are talking about gentrification and displacement.

Our residential neighborhoods have already gentrified. The average cost of a detached single-family home last year was $1.2 million. Housing in our residential neighborhoods is getting even more expensive, as 170 homes a year are replaced by McMansions. When we’re talking about displacement, we’re usually talking about lower-income residents being priced out or evicted by landlords. The claim here is different: Upzoning will somehow drive property values so high that some homeowners won’t be able to afford the increased property taxes. Neither part of that claim holds up to scrutiny.

He said it’s implausible a few dozen developments per year will cause property values to spike across the county and those who are burdened by taxes can get relief from the county’s property tax relief program.

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Proposed Missing Middle zoning code changes are set to go before the Arlington County Board for a first look on Saturday.

The Board is slated to review a request to advertise public hearings on a proposal to allow the by-right construction of duplexes, three-unit townhouses and multi-family buildings with up to six or eight dwellings on lots of up to one acre in Arlington’s lowest-density zoning districts.

The proposal includes several options for regulating the number of so-called “expanded housing option uses” (EHOs) built per year, their density and size, and parking and tree canopy coverage.

If Board members approve this request to advertise (RTA), the Arlington County Planning Commission and the County Board will have two months to pick a slate of regulatory mechanisms before holding hearings and, potentially, adopting the proposal in March.

Ahead of the request to advertise, Arlington County warned that speaking times may be shortened on account of the intense public interest in the wide-ranging changes.

“If 75 or more speakers sign up to speak on one item, speaking times will be reduced to 2 minutes for all individuals and 3 minutes for all organizations,” the announcement said. “Speakers will be notified if speaking times change.”

The County Board members adopted an ordinance allowing such time reductions last month, after droves of residents came out to speak about Missing Middle in meetings over the last year.

In addition to possibly shortening speaking times, the county will prioritize hearing from different speakers this month and in March.

“When people sign up to speak at the March public hearing, the Clerk’s staff will identify those that did not speak in January and place them first in the speaking order, followed by anyone that spoke did speak at the January hearing,” county spokesman Ryan Hudson said. “Anyone that signs up to speak will have the opportunity to do so.”

Ahead of the meeting, Missing Middle proponent group YIMBYs of Northern Virginia said this RTA has been years in the making. It says development under this plan will be as “distributed [and] gradual,” but that the county has to start somewhere.

“To further improve affordability, Arlington policymakers can revisit regulations such as height limits in the future, but they must start by legalizing up to 8 units per lot with minimal regulatory burdens, which requires maximum flexibility in the RTA,” the group said in a statement to ARLnow.

(YIMBY stands for “Yes In My Backyard,” the pro-building counterpart to the build-elsewhere-if-at-all NIMBYs, who generally reject that label.)

YIMBYs of NoVA highlighted other organizations supporting the proposal, including the Arlington branch of the NAACP, the Sierra Club and Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE).

“Arlington faces a fundamental choice between growth and inclusion or stagnation and spiraling inequality,” the group said. “Continuing the status quo would be an unsustainable future for Arlingtonians, forcing more essential workers into long commutes and driving more young families to relocate, often to exurban sprawl.”

Arlingtonians for Upzoning Transparency (AFUT), which opposes the proposal, claims that the plan as written will:

  • Make Arlington less diverse;
  • Ignore the thoughtful views of experts and its own advisory groups;
  • Are not needed to meet the Metropolitan Washington Area Council of Governments’ (COG) goals for housing in Arlington and lack the necessary analysis and planning to begin an iterative process;
  • Leave behind low, moderate, and middle-income households — with a one bedroom unit in an 8-plex requiring a household income at 117% of AMI; and
  • Are not integrated with our interconnected priorities for transportation, the environment, and job growth.

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Crystal House (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Arlington County has selected two developers — Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing and D.C.-area developer EYA — to oversee the construction of affordable housing within an apartment complex in Crystal City.

They’re committing to provide 844 units, of which 655 will be committed affordable units and the remaining will be market-rate, in the Crystal House Apartments at 1900 S. Eads Street, near Amazon’s second headquarters.

After a site plan for the project was approved in 2019, Amazon put up $381.9 million so that the nonprofit Washington Housing Conservancy could purchase the 16-acre site in late 2020, stabilize rent for the 828 existing units and build more than 500 new units. The purchase was part of its commitment to create and preserve affordable housing as rents rise amid its growing HQ2 presence. Amazon later donated the land and development rights to the county.

APAH and EYA are committing to provide 100-plus more committed affordable units than for which the county planned.

“While this is a large development for APAH, the scope and phasing are consistent with our capacity and the need for more affordable housing in the region,” APAH Director of Resource Development and Communications Garrett Jackson tells ARLnow. “EYA has successfully completed several similarly-scaled public-private projects with municipalities and housing authorities including the Brownstones at Chevy Chase Lake and the Lindley with the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission, Capital Quarter with the District Housing Authority, and the 45-acre Westside Shady Grove with Montgomery County.”

Jackson said both APAH and EYA have experience developing housing in partnership with localities in the D.C. area.

“Specifically, APAH co-located the Arlington Mill Residences, 122 homes, adjacent to the Arlington Mill Community Center over one shared garage. Presently, APAH is building 150 units of senior housing in Fairfax County on what was previously a Fairfax County stormwater detention facility,” he said. “EYA and APAH are currently working together on a public-private partnership in the Fort Totten neighborhood in the District that shares many of the same characteristics as the Crystal House project.”

“The Crystal Houses development will create a mixed-income community, ranging from people making 30% of the area median income and up. It will be multigenerational, with one 80-unit development set aside for senior housing. There will be 371 units with two bedrooms or more, of which at least 102 will be three bedrooms and “rare 4-bedroom affordable units,” Jackson said.

“We will provide permanent supportive housing units onsite, all affordable units will offer free Wi-Fi, we will offer residents services for affordable units, and we will develop two parks for the approved site plan,” Jackson said. “EYA is also exploring homeownership.”

Services will be provided in partnership with Arlington County Department of Human Services, Arlington Food Assistance Center and Our Stomping Ground, which helps adults with disabilities live independently.

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Crowd at Sunday’s anti-Missing Middle housing rally at Innovation Elementary (photo courtesy Esther Bowring)

Several hundred people gathered early Sunday afternoon at Innovation Elementary School for what was dubbed the “Reality Check Rally.”

As others were glued to their TVs for the last day of the NFL regular season and its playoff implications — or going about errands, children’s activities, or jobs — the attendees spent their afternoon hearing a dire picture being painted about the proposal to allow multifamily housing of up to 8 units per property in single-family home neighborhoods, also known as Missing Middle.

As outlined in a press release from organizers Arlingtonians for Upzoning Transparency and Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future, plan critics are concerned that it will “accelerate gentrification, reducing Arlington’s diversity; displace moderate-and low-income households, including seniors, persons with disabilities and renters; raise property values and taxes; reduce tree canopy and greenspace; and further overload schools, infrastructure and services.”

Of course, not everyone agrees.

A handful of Missing Middle supporters also showed up at the event, according to Patch, including those representing the Arlington branch of the NAACP. Supporters have also showed up to pivotal County Board meetings, albeit not in the numbers seen at Sunday’s rally.

Meanwhile, in November’s County Board election, the two candidates supportive of Missing Middle to various degrees — incumbent Matt de Ferranti and independent Adam Theo — took about 71% of the vote to 28% for independent Audrey Clement, who based her campaign around her opposition to Missing Middle.

The Missing Middle debate in Arlington is a particularly pitched version of debates that often play out here and elsewhere across the country, particularly when it comes to proposals to build infrastructure, build new housing, or change the physical built environment in general.

It raises the question of just how local governments should handle such opposition.

Often, opponents of such projects will make the case that their numbers, their passion, and their arguments should be enough to put a stop to what they’re protesting, or at least to grant additional time for more studies and community input. (An online petition against Missing Middle in Arlington has more than 5,000 virtual signatures.)

On the other hand, those who are supportive of building — more housing, in particular — have been saying that there is a well-formed playbook for stopping things from being built and that elected officials should not be so quick to grant those with the loudest voices and largest crowds what they want. They argue that there is a mostly silent majority that’s okay with things being built —  a group that does not have the time, desire nor, in some cases, economic ability to wage a support campaign to counter the opposition.

It’s difficult to boil this very fundamental debate about the role of local government and community input — a county-specific form of which is known as the Arlington Way — into a concise poll. But today we’re going to try!

In general terms, how pivotal should community input be to county decision making, when there’s a large contingent that opposes a given proposal?

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Construction of an approved residential development at the Rappahannock Coffee site on Columbia Pike is on hold for now.

The approved six-story, 120-unit building with ground-floor retail and underground parking would replace three one-story retail buildings and a surface parking lot on the southeast corner of the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. Barton Street, at 2400 Columbia Pike.

Yao Yao, with YW Development, told ARLnow that his firm isn’t going to pursue redevelopment at this time, citing high and climbing interest rates and a generally poor economic outlook — including mixed signals of a looming recession.

Instead, he is looking for a new tenant to fill the vacant retail space next to Rappahannock Coffee and Roasting and generate some income before moving forward with the project. It used to be occupied by Cabinet Era before the business moved to Falls Church.

Leasing agent Erik Ulsaker says the space will work as-is for a temporary retail concept. Any tenant would have to be okay with a termination option if, in three to four years, economic conditions improve and it comes time to build.

“This is a good space for startups, and people who want to get going on their business plans,” he said, adding that he and his business partner “welcome creative ideas,” like pop-ups.

“If it goes over well, it could be put into the development, as we’ve got 16,000 square feet of retail on the back end,” he said. “It’s a good way to test the market.”

YW Development’s proposal went before the Arlington County Board last year. It modified an existing, already-approved proposal for the site by adding 6,500 square feet, 15 residential units and 36 parking spaces while preserving existing building facades.

The long-delayed project — first proposed in 2013, approved in 2016 and pushed back in 2020 — was initially led by Columbia Pike-based B.M. Smith, which was behind the Penrose Square development across the street.

Hat tip to John Antonelli

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A smaller home flanked by newer, larger construction in the Halls Hill neighborhood (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Households of color face significant barriers to homeownership, according to a new report from Arlington County.

A division of Arlington’s planning division, Housing Arlington, conducted the study to understand trends in the local homeownership market. The report, released earlier this fall, was the first step in a multi-phase homeownership study that kicked off this summer.

It follows on the heels of the Missing Middle Housing Study, which identified a number of low-density housing types that could be added to Arlington’s housing stock. The result of this study was a series of proposed zoning changes intended to encourage their construction beyond where it is currently allowed and, possibly, lower home prices.

“We know that the benefits of homeownership are exponential and home ownership is one of the most effective ways to build generational wealth in this country,” said county planner Akeria Brown, discussing the report in a recent Housing Commission meeting. “We also know that many households, minority households in particular, were not or traditionally have not been afforded opportunities to be able to purchase in this environment.”

Racially restrictive deeds excluded certain racial and ethnic groups, particularly Black people, from certain neighborhoods last century, while certain zoning policies, at least to an extent, had the same practical effect. Arlington County maintains that there is a strong relationship between these older policies and today’s lack of homeownership opportunities for households of color.

While the county has a number of programs to help people earning below 80% of the area median income access homeownership, such as by providing counseling and helping households make down-payments, the aim of this study is to gauge their efficacy, improve them and potentially launch new ones.

“We want to look at ways to support moderate-income households to be able to build generational wealth, to build that long-term housing and financial stability and take advantage of incentives that go along with home-ownership to right some of those issues that have occurred along the way,” Brown said.

Before staff could do that, they needed to go beyond the data points showing lower homeownership rates among households of color.

Staff cited data showing that banks are less likely to lend money to Black and Hispanic borrowers when they are buying a home or refinancing.

Black and Latino households had the highest mortgage application denial rates, 9.3% and 7.2%, respectively, compared to non-Hispanic white borrowers, 2.7%, and those of Asian descent, 3.9%.

“The leading reason for loan application denial in 2021 was insufficient income to meet lender requirements, followed by incomplete credit applications and credit history issues,” the county report said.

Mortgage approval and denial rates in Arlington by race and ethnicity (via Arlington County)

Black and Latino households also obtained 30-year loans with higher interest rates than other borrowers on average.

About two-thirds of mortgages originated in 2021 were for refinancing existing homes when interest rates were low. Application denial rates were higher across the board, but still divided along racial and ethnic lines.

Interest rates were higher in relatively lower income neighborhoods including Buckingham, Halls Hill, and Glebewood, as well as the western portion of the Columbia Pike corridor and the Columbia Heights neighborhood.

In addition, homeownership rates are lowest in Arlington’s three historically Black neighborhoods, noted Mike Hemminger, the incoming president of the Arlington branch of the NAACP, in the meeting.

The county has to be intentional about reversing this trend, Alice Hogan, who sits on the Board of Directors for Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, said in the meeting.

“It’s not just about making ownership an option,” she said. “What is the demographic makeup of the folks who are going to achieve that ownership if we really want to get to the equitable piece of this?”

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Rainy day in Rosslyn (staff Photo by Jay Westcott)

While the pandemic prompted a well-documented exodus to, and development of, sleepy suburban and exurban towns, the Rosslyn Business Improvement District says it has identified a different Covid migration pattern.

About a quarter of Americans reported moving to cities where they could be within a 15-minute walk or bike ride of grocery stores, healthcare and parks, according to a national survey by the BID.

The survey also found 41% plan on moving to be within walking or biking distance of their preferred amenities — including coffee shops, schools and gyms — in the next one to three years. That’s in contrast with places that prioritize mobility by motor vehicle, with sidewalks and bike lanes as a relative afterthought.

Amenities that Americans want within 15 minutes of them (via Rosslyn BID)

The idea of being in a place within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from these amenities, dubbed a “15-minute city,” was developed by French-Colombian academic Carlos Moreno. He says his aim is to “rebalance” localities that have been designed to boost productivity rather than well-being. The Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, popularized his idea when lockdowns kept people closer to home than usual, and efforts to realize Moreno’s idea took hold there and in other European cities.

Arlington County Planning Commission member Daniel Weir embraces the concept, saying it is better for people and the environment.

“Cities are for people, not cars, and we should be able to get our needs met within a 15-minute walk or bike ride,” he said. “Once upon a time, in living memory for our grandparents, every city in America — from Luray, Virginia to Manhattan — was a 15-minute city. Sometime after the war, we got the idea that cities were about highways and cars, and people had to make way. Now, we’re seeing auto-oriented infrastructure and development is one of the most flawed social experiments of all time.”

Arlington is now trying to at least partially unwind auto-oriented development along Langston Blvd and Richmond Highway, but has yet to tackle the suburban neighborhoods that fall outside its primary planning corridors. Still, the county, which has no singular city center, has had a number of “15-minute cities” spring up through transit-oriented development, which began in the 1960s.

Transit-oriented development created compact urban villages of Rosslyn, Courthouse, Clarendon, Ballston, Pentagon City and Crystal City along the Orange and Blue Metro lines, and is facilitating more development on the bus-connected Columbia Pike.

“The 15-minute city approach is consistent with many facets of the Arlington Comprehensive Plan and is more intrinsic in Arlington’s principles for compact and transit-oriented development,” says Erika Moore, a spokeswoman for Arlington County Dept. of Community Planning, Housing and Development.

Where the pandemic is helping advance the 15-minute city concept in Arlington is via an expansion of uses permitted in the county’s densest zoning districts.

“This is creating potential for expanded uses, including workshop spaces, breweries/distilleries, indoor agricultural such as hydroponics, and animal boarding,” she said. “This blending of retail, restaurants, entertainment, and destination uses, along with offices in smaller, non-traditional formats may prove beneficial to residents living in any of Arlington’s mixed-use corridors or in close proximity to them.”

No longer does a Rosslyn resident, for instance, need to drive to a lower-density part of Arlington to board their pet.

While Rosslyn has transformed from downtown district to 15-minute city, BID President Mary-Claire Burick says the county, property owners and the BID must keep “working together to keep our urban center active and accessible.”

Burick says her organization supports the mixed-use developments and the amenities they’re bringing.

“We support Arlington County’s planned investments in public green space and critical transportation infrastructure — such as the removal of the Fort Myer Tunnel,” she added, “and further building out Rosslyn’s network of pedestrian and bike facilities — which are essential in helping make our amenities even more accessible.”

The BID will focus on “economic resiliency efforts, as well as our community events, programming, and placemaking, all which help create an urban downtown where people want to be,” Burick said.

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Construction on an upsized home on N. Dinwiddie Street in Halls Hill (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

In Green Valley, resident Portia Clark says she and her neighbors are bombarded with calls and letters from realtors and potential investors about buying their homes.

“We were once a very stable community of homeowners who bought our homes to live here and pay them off,” she said. That increasingly seems to be changing.

There, as in Halls Hill — also known as High View Park — homes are being changing hands as the older generation passes away and their inheritors decide to sell. Some want to buy in more affordable areas, while others cannot afford to make necessary repairs or take over the mortgages, she said.

“At one time, we were the last affordable neighborhood in Arlington to buy a house in,” said Clark, president of the Green Valley Civic Association. “Investors are buying affordable homes, to tear them down and rebuild or have been building townhomes, condos or homes they are renting out.”

Green Valley and Halls Hill — both historically Black communities — are among a handful of Arlington neighborhoods with higher investment rates, according to a home ownership report published by the county in October. The report analyzed home-ownership market trends and barriers to buying.

The county report looked at the number of home loans for investors versus the total loans lent out for every census tract in Arlington. Pentagon City and Aurora Highlands, Radnor-Fort Myer Heights and Halls Hill had investment rates exceeding 12.5%. Investor purchases made up between 10% and 12.5% of financed purchases in Green Valley and Lyon Park, while other neighborhoods had lower rates of investor interest.

Loans issued to investors in 2021 by neighborhood in Arlington (via Arlington County)

Neighborhoods like Clark’s are have lower owner-occupancy rates and higher rates of property purchased for investment purposes, but overall 86% of Arlingtonians in single-family homes are owners, according to Erika Moore, a spokeswoman for the Dept. of Community Planning, Housing and Development.

Reasons for higher investment rates vary by neighborhood, per the report. The county attributes investment in Pentagon City and Aurora Highlands to Amazon’s HQ2, and investment in Radnor-Fort Myer Heights to interest in the River Place co-op, where an expiring ground lease makes properties more attractive to investors than to individual homebuyers.

When asked if staff had any guesses as to why Halls Hill, Green Valley and Lyon Park attracted more investors, Moore said the data staff collected was unclear.

Realtor Eli Tucker says these neighborhoods all have “pockets” of less expensive properties, typically multifamily homes, and many of the investors in Arlington are builders. That tracks with Arlington’s consistent rate of homes torn down, rebuilt and sold at a premium.

Tear-down and rebuild trends since 2012 (via Arlington County)

In Halls Hill, Green Valley and Lyon Park, the less expensive options include apartments and smaller duplex and townhouse properties, which often have no or low HOA fees. These neighborhoods also attract renters.

“[These] are very good rental locations and properties, but tend to be passed over more by principal buyers,” he said. “They can generate higher return-on-investment for investors than many other locations and property types that generate a lot more competition from principal buyers.”

Owner-occupancy rates by neighborhood (via Arlington County)

As for River Place, Tucker says it attracts investors whereas most cooperatives tend to restrict investors looking for rental income. The ground lease set to expire in 2052 creates two investor-friendly conditions.

First, the timeline means fewer mortgage options, which means buyers must pay with cash, which favors investors. Second, it means unit values are going down, instead of up.

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(Updated at 4:10 p.m.) Arlington’s Missing Middle housing proposal has aroused plenty of passion, but the strong opposition (and support) only registered a blip in last night’s election results.

Democrat incumbent Matt de Ferranti easily won his re-election bid for the Arlington County Board, with 61% of the vote to 28% for Audrey Clement and 10% for Adam Theo. (All but one county precinct have reported results as of publication.)

Leading up to the election, Missing Middle — a series of zoning changes that would potentially allow the construction of townhouses, duplexes and 3-8 unit buildings in districts zoned for single-family homes — had become a battleground issue for candidates.

De Ferranti staked out a middle ground on the issue, supporting lower density types such as duplexes, three-unit townhomes and fourplexes, but not eight-plexes, while independent candidate Adam Theo did not support any caps on density.

Perennial independent candidate Audrey Clement opposed the plan full-stop based on concerns about its impact on the environment and county infrastructure, as well as concerns of displacement.

Proponents of the zoning change say last night’s results indicate as the support of most residents and the County Board needs to crack on with approving it.

“Arlington County voters have spoken,” said YIMBYs of Northern Virginia in a statement. “In a race that was widely seen as a de facto referendum on the Missing Middle housing proposal, 70% of voters chose a candidate who ran in support of these zoning reforms. Legalizing diverse forms of housing throughout Arlington County is not only existentially important to making the housing market function again and building a more inclusive Arlington. It is also good politics.”

The organization’s Activism Coordinator Grace White said Arlington is mostly made of renters and people who live in multifamily buildings, but they’re constrained to 25% of the land.

“To them, Missing Middle housing is a no-brainer, and necessary for them to see any kind of future here,” she said.

Opponents, like Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future, say the proposal has the same flaws today as it did the day before the election, and its members will continue educating voters about what those are.

“Speaking for ASF, the only way to really know in a comprehensive way what Arlington residents think on Missing Middle would be to have a referendum,” says group founder Peter Rousselot. “That would be a clear way for people to express how they feel about Missing Middle. In an election we just had where there are so many other issues being talked about, the whole impact is diluted a lot.”

How Missing Middle split voters

For George Mason University Mercatus Center senior research fellow Emily Hamilton, the results appeared to mirror Arlington’s geography.

“I’m not sure to what extent voters were focused on Missing Middle versus other issues, but it does seem that the election results followed housing typologies, with Clement doing the best in some of the least-dense parts of North Arlington and Theo doing the best in some of the densest,” she said.

“The results show that while people who are opposed to Missing Middle have been visible at public engagement sessions and with yard signs,” Hamilton continued, “most voters didn’t cast use their vote to oppose Missing Middle.”

A precinct map of Arlington County, showing the four precincts where independent Audrey Clement beat Democrat Matt de Ferranti (via Virginia Public Access Project)

Arlington County Republican Committee communications chair Matthew Hurtt says the debate split Arlington Republicans, too, with an “overwhelming majority” of the Arlington GOP opposing the proposal, but “a strong contingent” of Young Republicans supporting it.

“The Arlington GOP likely broke for Audrey Clement, while the YRs likely broke for Adam Theo,” he said.

(Theo, who has described himself as “an independent progressive libertarian,” has advocated for streamlining building permits, lowering property taxes and allowing more housing to be built.)

Despite the divide, Arlington County Democratic Committee chair Steve Baker says he hopes the problem of housing affordability can get Arlingtonians to work toward a solution.

“I think we all agree that in a county where a residential lot costs over $1 million, that housing will remain one of our key issues,” he said. “Even though some candidates tried to use our varying views to divide us, Arlingtonians voted to affirm that we can solve our biggest challenges together.”

De Ferranti echoed this sentiment last night.

“We have to tackle housing with creativity and commitment, and that means both affordable housing and housing affordability — which are related but distinct,” he said. “We need to have a civil discussion and stay engaged in the work needed to address housing affordability.”

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