Arlington, VA

This weekend the League of Women Voters of Arlington is hosting a workshop to educate residents about the history of racism behind American — and Arlington’s — housing policies.

The free workshop is co-sponsored by the local NAACP branch and the nonprofit Alliance for Housing Solutions, and will run from 1-3 p.m. this Saturday, September 28 at Wakefield High School.

Local nonprofit Challenging Racism will explain how the federal government denied black homebuyers mortgages — a policy known as redlining — and subsidized white suburbs.

Former Wakefield teacher and co-founder of Challenging Racism, Marty Swaim, told ARLnow that the Federal Housing Administration started subsidized mortgages during the Great Depression — but only to whites. In segregated Arlington, this led to developers building suburbs for white buyers who could access the federal program helping them afford the properties.

“It depressed the value of black properties because it made those areas even less desirable,” Swaim said. “It’s a cascade of effects.” 

One 1971 HUD guide for homebuyers in Arlington, retrieved from the Center of Local History’s archives, mapped housing by price. Black neighborhoods like Hall’s Hill and Green Valley were color-coded in red to signify the lowest home values (under $20,000.) Whiter neighborhoods in North Arlington were shaded blue and purple to indicate more attractive homes valued between $40,000 and $50,000.

“A lot of Federal Housing Administration loans went to people who settled in these areas, and they were all white,” said Swaim.

Redlining was in addition to another form of discrimination prevalent in Virginia: restrictive covenants on deeds that prevented homeowners from selling to minority homebuyers. Some such covenants remain on deeds in Arlington, unenforceable but a reminder of the state’s segregated past.

Redlining and restrictive covenants were outlawed in 1968 with the passage of the Fair Housing Act, a bill which took years to gain traction. In 1965, activists in Northern Virginia led a petition drive to support it, garnering signatures from 9,926 Arlingtonians, some of whom reporters from the Arlington Sun described as signing the petition in secret from their husbands or neighbors.

“It is abundantly clear that the Negroes will be welcomed in hundreds of neighborhoods in Northern Virginia,” activist Arthur Hughes told the Sun at the time.

But even after the Fair Housing Act passed, decades of discrimination would affect black neighborhoods in Arlington, and nationwide, for years to come.

“Arlington is not immune,” agreed Carol Brooke, who heads the League’s Affordable Housing Committee.

Brooke said Saturday’s event is an opportunity to highlight how racist policies shaped neighborhoods and determined who has been allowed to call Arlington home.

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The League of Women Voters of Arlington decided to take a stand against gerrymandering with an upcoming public event, an Un-Birthday Party for Elbridge Gerry. 

The event is taking place tomorrow (Wednesday, July 17) at Ireland’s Four Courts in Courthouse from 6:30-8:30 p.m. There will be trivia, tips on political activism, free food and games. Tickets can be purchased for $10 on Eventbrite.

With Gerry’s birthday coming up on July 17, the League of Women Voters decided to remember his legacy and role in history.

Elbridge Gerry established a reputation as “the father of gerrymandering” in 1810, during his time as governor of Massachusetts. He was notorious for dividing electoral districts for political gain and power. 

The United State Supreme Court ruled last month, that although gerrymandering seems unjust, it isn’t the place of federal judges to intervene. The ruling means gerrymandering decisions will be left up to individual states and Congress.

The League of Women Voters disagrees with the Supreme Court’s decision — and opposes partisan and racial gerrymandering in general — and plan to speak out on the issue at the event.

Jackie Rivas, a member of the Arlington League and coordinator for the upcoming event, said she wants people to understand that everyone is affected by gerrymandering. She said that she hopes this event sends a message to local politicians that the public is paying attention and cares about the issue. 

Rivas told ARLnow that the League has invited local politicians to attend and hear elevator pitches about potential legislative changes from members at the event. 

Image via Arlington League of Women Voters/Eventbrite

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Morning Notes

RCA Building Redevelopment Nixed — Plans to tear down the aging RCA office building at 1901 N. Moore Street in Rosslyn and replace it with a 24-story residential tower have been placed on hold “indefinitely.” Instead, owner Weissberg Investment Corp. is now seeking to lease up vacant spaces in the building. [Washington Business Journal]

New County Board Clerk Announced —  “The Arlington County Board today named Kendra M. Jacobs the Clerk to the County Board. She will join the County Board Office in her new role on Monday, July 9. Jacobs comes to Arlington County Government from the City of Alexandria, where she has managed the Department of Planning and Zoning’s Boards and Commission Unit since 2003.” [Arlington County]

LWV to Host Gerrymandering Forum — The Arlington League of Women Voters is hosting a forum entitled “Gerrymandering in America and the Future of Popular Sovereignty” on Thursday, July 12 at 7:30 p.m. at the Arlington Mill Community Center. [League of Women Voters, InsideNova]

More ART Mechanical Issues — The bus serving the ART 43 route today “died on [Route] 50 right before the Crystal City exit,” a rider reports. Per the transit agency, which has been plagued by problems recently: “Due to mechanical issues ART 43 to Court House Metro from Crystal City Metro at 8:51 AM will not operate. We apologize for your inconvenience.” [Twitter, Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Eric

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The Arlington League of Women Voters is hosting a free screening of a new Zach Galifianakis film.

Better known for comedies like The Hangover and The Campaign, Galifianakis tackled the serious topic of gerrymandering and money in politics in his new film, “Democracy for Sale.”

The League is sponsoring the film’s screening at the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse (2903 Columbia Pike) on Wednesday, Sept. 27.

More from an email from LWV:

A border and barbeque aren’t the only things Virginia and North Carolina have in common. The two states also have some of the most gerrymandered districts in the country. Cozy relationships between regulators and industry are another commonality. A new film called Democracy for Sale featuring NC native and comedian Zach Galifianakis puts a spotlight on the ways big money political interests have influenced the drawing of district lines and led to a lack of environmental protection and tax cuts for the upper class and corporations, education cuts, gerrymandering, and laws designed to decrease voter turnout.

After a successful tour of Democracy for Sale in North Carolina, we’re excited to bring the film to Virginia on a statewide tour beginning on September 19th. The showings are presented by the Virginia Civic Engagement Table in partnership with local organizations throughout the state. Each screening event will be followed by a Q&A and discussion with local leaders.

While the film focuses on NC as a case study, the parallels to Virginia are innumerable. We hope these screenings will shed light on the similarities and show audiences how to get involved in demanding reform.

Come and bring your friends!

Photo via League of Women Voters

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Morning Notes

Autumn in Arlington (Flickr pool photo by Eric)

LWV to Address Pike Changes — Scheduled well before yesterday’s news that the county’s streetcar project is being canceled, the League of Women Voters tonight will hold a forum entitled “Columbia Pike in Transition.” The forum will explore the future of the Columbia Pike corridor. [InsideNova]

Board Approves Affordable Housing Loan — The Arlington County Board has approved a $8.5 million loan for developer AHC Inc. to purchase the Spectrum Apartments at 5055 S. Chesterfield Road and convert 80 market-rate apartments to committed affordable units. [Arlington County]

Va. Liquor Price Hike — The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has approved a price hike for liquor that’s expected to raise an extra $5.4 million for the state coffers. [Washington Business Journal]

McLean Stabbing Victims Recovering — Arlington law firm Bean, Kinney & Korman says its managing shareholder, Leo Fisher, and his wife are recovering from a brutal stabbing in their McLean home. “There has been universal concern for the welfare of Leo and Sue, and we are thankful to be able to assure everyone that they are recovering steadily,” the firm said in a statement yesterday. Meanwhile, new details have been revealed about the hours-long “torture session” former Bean Kinney attorney Alecia Schmuhl and her husband Andrew allegedly put Fischer and his wife through on Nov. 9. [Washington Post]

Rip Sullivan Joins Bean KinneyRecently-elected House of Delegates member Rip Sullivan has joined the Courthouse-based law firm of Bean, Kinney & Korman, the firm announced yesterday. [Bean, Kinney & Korman]

Flickr pool photo by Eric

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(Updated at 2:20 p.m.) Every ten years, following the U.S. Census, the Virginia legislature gathers in Richmond to redraw the state’s legislative boundaries. And every ten years, the party that’s in power at the time attempts to draw the borders in a way that favors their electoral chances.

It’s called ‘gerrymandering,’ and it’s practiced in state houses across the country.

But the Virginia chapter of the League of Women Voters has seen enough. Together with the national LWV organization, they’ve been pushing for the past seven years to take redistricting responsibility away from state legislators and put it into the hands of some sort of nonpartisan commission or process.

“We believe that although we have some great state legislators, them drawing their own lines is like having the foxes guarding the hen house,” said Olga Hernandez, president of the LVW of Virginia, at a forum in Ballston last week. “We just think there should be a fairer way of representing people and the interests of the community”

It may be too late for this go-round; the redistricting process is set to get underway in April. Since the forum, Gov. Bob McDonnell has created a bipartisan commission to help oversee this year’s redistricting process. But Hernandez is hopeful that lawmakers may finally be on the verge of passing more permanent reform that would promote transparency instead of the past preponderance of backroom deals.

Redistricting reform has made for some strange but powerful political bedfellows. Arlington’s Del. Bob Brink (D), Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R), former gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds (D) and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) have all been supportive of the League’s efforts, Hernandez said.

“It’s not just one side” of the political spectrum, she said.

Hernandez points to California as a state that was heavily gerrymandered after the last census, but which has since reformed its system thanks to a voter referendum and support from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. While she believes Virginia could be on the same path, she acknowledged that it’s still an uphill battle.

“It’s hard to get people to give up power,” Hernandez noted.

This year, as far as Arlington’s state legislators and congressman are concerned, redistricting is not expected to have much of an effect. While rapidly-growing Northern Virginia counties like Prince William and Stafford are likely to add districts and radically change district boundaries, Arlington has grown at a more modest pace and will likely only see minor changes and contractions in district borders.

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The League of Women Voters of Arlington is bristling at a snub by the Committee for a Better Arlington (CBA).

The Committee did not respond to the League’s repeated requests for information about the effects of CBA’s proposed change to Arlington’s form of government, prompting the League to issue a press release today saying it’s “concerned” about “the depth of the public dialogue” regarding the change.

The League, which has no official position on the change-of-government initiative, says it wants “an open discussion focusing on the practical implications of the proposed… changes that could greatly affect County residents.”

“Arlington voters have the right to be informed on issues of such important to our community,” League preisdent Nancy Tate said. “Any proposed changes to our government should be discussed in a concrete and practical manner.”

The Committee for a Better Arlington, meanwhile, responded today with a statement of their own.

Since this past winter, the Committee has met with numerous organizations and civic associations to speak with their membership about this referendum. The League of Women Voters was the only community organization to decline our request – on more than one occasion. Our focus continues to be educating voters and collecting signatures so Arlingtonians will have a choice at the ballot box this November.

The Committee’s request to speak to the League’s membership, referenced in the statement, may be granted after all.

“Should [the League] sponsor a public forum, which we may do, we will of course invite representatives from both sides of the issue, as we have indicated to the CBA,” Tate told ARLnow.com in a subsequent email.

The full statements from both groups, after the jump.

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