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Did the Arlington County Board Pass a $10 Million Doorstop?

Although the headline of Scott McCaffey's Arlington Sun Gazette's online story this morning reads, "Unanimous: County Board OKs affordable housing plan," a "supplemental report" on Thursday, September 17, added, "A clarifying statement that the Affordable Housing Master Plan does not commit the County to any immediate or future expenditures." So, unless the Arlington County Board can identify how it's going to pay for the subsidized housing, the Affordable Housing Master Plan, and accompanying Implementation Framework, will remain little more than a multimillion dollar doorstop.

Bur first, let's take a few minutes, and look at McCaffrey's Arlington Sun Gazette report from Saturday's Board meeting:

"Arlington County Board members on Sept. 19 adopted a plan they believe will help stem the exodus of affordable housing out of the community, using tools ranging from additional tax dollars to developer incentives.

"The unanimous vote, taken after hours of testimony and discussion, represented the culmination of a three-year process that including a public task force and, in the final weeks, negotiation among board members themselves.

"John Vihstadt, who had remained on the fence about the overall package and on the day of the vote said he believed the plan and its implementation framework “fall short in important respects,” nonetheless concluded the pluses outweighed the minuses.

“The plan is a net positive, and an important blueprint for our collective future,” Vihstadt said as the vote approached.

"Several other County Board members, whose support for the package never seemed in doubt, said their action presents an opportunity to include affordable housing as a bedrock tenet of Arlington’s commitment to a social safety net.

“While we can’t solve all the problems, we certainly can try,” County Board Vice Chairman Walter Tejada said.

"The package had the support of most housing advocates, but some in the community voiced concern about the cost – Arlington already spends far more of its municipal budget on housing than neighboring jurisdictions – and over unforeseen and unanticipated side effects."

McCaffrey also pointed out, "County officials acknowledge that passing the housing plan may turn out to be the easy part." For example, he notes, "Implementation of the plan also may face challenges in the current political environment, since advocates for other spending priorities (open space, schools, transportation) have become more aggressive in pushing their agendas, and more willing than in years past to throw sharp elbows at those pressing for competing priorities."

In closing, McCaffrey noted that "county officials paused to bask in the glow of the plan’s passage."

We've growled several times since early June on issues involving the affordable housing master plan (AHMP). On June 7, 2015, we noted the Arlington County Civic Federation voted 47-29 to support the AHMP. A few days later, on June 11, 2015, we growled about two op-eds about affordable housing. Two days later, on June 13, 2015, we growled, noting the County Board had set set a course on affordable housing. On June 17, 2015, we growled, noting citizen responses to the AHMP, and finally, on September 9, we growled after County Board candidates "sparred" over the AHMP.

Some background material can be found at the Affordable Housing Study webpage.

In addition to the "supplemental report" mentioned at the top, which, incidentally, includes the Board report and the Affordable Housing Master Plan (AHMP) and Implementation Framework (IF), several other Board documents may be of interest: see item 45 at the Board's September 19, 2015 agenda. Available are the original Board report with AHMP and IF plus letters from the public and letter from the Planning Commission.

The Washington Post's Patricia Sullivan wrote two reports on the Board's affordable housing plan. There was a long version, posted online September 18, 2015, which appeared in the Sunday, September 20, 2015 edition, and a short post-meeting version. The long report is worth-reading, especially if you prefer letting Ms. Sullivan slog through the details of the AHMP and IF. For example, she reports:

"Arlington’s plan would add about 15,800 affordable units to the county’s stock of 10,000, making 17.7 percent of county homes affordable to low- and moderate-income households by 2040.

"Many of the affordable units are expected to be older homes or apartments, which don’t appreciate as quickly as newer places. The plan calls for distributing affordable housing, which is concentrated mainly in South Arlington, more evenly throughout the county.

"While most of the attention is focused on renters who make less than the median income, rising prices also affect those who are trying to buy a home, officials say.

"For that reason, Arlington’s plan calls for keeping 28.4 percent of the new homes built in the county by 2040 affordable to buyers whose incomes are between 80 and 120 percent of the area median — between $85,000 and $127,700 for a family of four."

Her post-meeting report included the following observation:

"Three hours of personal and heartfelt testimony from those who said they have benefitted from Arlington’s existing housing supports swayed the lawmakers who said they couldn’t recall more affecting testimonials in their tenures."

The county's Saturday press release include three bullets:

  • Sets goals for increasing supply, ensuring access, improving sustainability
  • Addresses geographic distribution
  • County Board identifies priority next steps drawn from accepted Implementation Framework

Again, read the 3-page press release if you don't have time to read the entire 118-page "supplemental report" or even longer original Board report.

Oh, about that $10 million doorstop mentioned in the subject line. Although a better estimate might be possible on the back of the proverbial napkin, the estimate could even be higher since the County Board "directed the Manager to focus on four implementation areas over the next 2 years." If anyone wishes to challenge the accuracy of ElGrowlerGrande's $10 million guesstimate, I will publish them in a future Growls.

The ARLnow.com news site also posted a detailed, lengthy report today. Although much of it is of the "personal and heartfelt testimony" by advocates, it is fairly-well balanced by critics of so-called affordable housing.. And, some reader comments are perceptive, e.g., Nick_SoBoston commented, "The subsidized housing mafia is determined to force the average taxpayer to pay for their grand socialized housing plan . . . Tax, tax, tax, spend, spend. spend!"

Growls readers who haven't communicated with the Arlington County Board about the affordable housing master plan are urged to tell them what you think about their decision. Just click-on the link below:

  • Call the County Board office at (703) 228-3130

And tell them ACTA sent you.


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