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County Board Establishes Housing Conservation District Policy

According to the Arlington Sun Gazette's Scott McCaffrey today, "Leadership of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce is not happy with action by the County Board to create housing-conservation districts, but plans to stay engaged as the plan is fleshed out during 2018."

McCaffrey went on to explain, writing:

"County Board members on Dec. 16 adopted what they’re calling a “policy framework” as part of an effort to stem the exodus of affordable-housing units from the increasingly gentrifying community.

"County officials say they are taking steps to meet a need, but the local business organization suggested it was a rushed, ready-fire-aim approach without the requisite community input.

“This plan will limit the development potential of a property, impede access to financing for property owners to reinvest in these properties, and could discourage redevelopment of older housing,” Chamber officials said in an e-mail to their membership after the vote.

"In addition to concerns about a lack of transparency, Chamber officials voiced anxiety about limitations put into effect on those who want to develop townhouses, which in recent years have begun to rise in place of razed older apartment units in areas like Westover.

"The business organization had asked County Board members to defer action until 2018, but on a 4-1 vote (with John Vihstadt against), board members voted to move forward.

“Thousands of Arlingtonians living in market-rate rentals simply could not afford to live in our community if this housing were to disappear,” board chairman Jay Fisette said of the 14,000 or so market-rate (non-subsidized) affordable units that remain in Arlington."

Here's more on the Chamber's position:

"Kate Bates, president of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, said despite the organization’s disappointment on the vote, it would work with county officials as they continue their efforts on the plan in 2018.

"The Chamber proved over the past year that it is not to be trifled with on public-policy issues. When the County Board in December 2015 approved beefed-up policies on rules regulating those towed from private property, the business organization and its allies went to Richmond and convinced both the General Assembly and Gov. McAuliffe to support measures overturning that action and slapping further handcuffs on the ability of Northern Virginia localities to regulate trespass towing.

"While the Chamber contends the board’s Dec. 16 action on housing districts went too far, some activists counter that it doesn’t go far enough, and want the county government to enact a new crop of historic districts, which provide the local government significantly more regulatory power over some neighborhoods. But establishment of those districts is time-consuming and can lead, as has been the case in Westover where one is being considered, to a significant split among property owners."

Finally, he includes the following comments by retiring County Board member Jay Fisette:

“Thousands of Arlingtonians living in market-rate rentals simply could not afford to live in our community if this housing were to disappear,” board chairman Jay Fisette said of the 14,000 or so market-rate (non-subsidized) affordable units that remain in Arlington.

“If we are to remain a diverse, inclusive, sustainable community, we must do what we can to preserve these rentals,” Fisette said."

Additional details are available in the county's December 16, 2017 press release, which contains three talking points:

  • Signals intent to retain affordability in areas with market-rate affordable rental housing
  • Moves to implement established Affordable Housing Master Plan policies
  • Reclassifies townhouse development as a special exception use requiring additional review by the community and County Board

The Board discussion was based on a staff presentation, a County Manager's report to the Board, and letters from the Planning Commission and Arlington's Alliance for Housing Solutions (Agenda Items No. 45.A, 45.B, 45.C, and 45.D on Saturday's Board agenda).

We growled on June 13, 2015 about the course the County Board chose for affordable housing.

The Washington Post's Patricia Sullivan introduced her report on the Board's action setting up the housing conservation district, saying:

"Worried about the loss of nearly 17,000 apartments affordable to low and middle-income residents, the Arlington County Board on Saturday made it tougher for private property owners to convert multifamily buildings into single-family homes."

She later pointed out just how much Arlington County taxpayers already subsidize so-called affordable housing, writing:

"Arlington County pours 5 percent of its operating budget into a revolving loan fund that has helped nonprofit developers build or rebuild “committed affordable” units for the poorest residents, including a $6 million loan for 294 units in Park Shirlington made last month. But families at 60 percent of the area’s median income have experienced a drop in the number of privately owned “market rate affordable” units from about 20,000 in 2000 to 2,780 in 2016."

If you believe in free market solutions to solving problems such as affordable housing, you are encouraged to make your views known to members of the Arlington County Board. 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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