There is an affordable housing crisis unfolding in almost all metropolitan areas of the United States, with a particularly acute situation in the DC metro area. Arlington is no exception. According to the latest report by the Arlington County housing staff, there are now only about 3,700 units affordable to tenants making 60% area median income (about $45,000 for a single or $60,000 for a family of three), whereas in 2000, there were 20,000 units. While the county spent several years and much money crafting an affordable housing master plan, the board has never backed it with adequate financial resources.
The County Board likewise has been too indifferent to the eviction of tenants from and demolition of Westover garden apartmentsand their replacement with luxury townhomes. The growing segregation in terms of housing and income within the county is increasingly being reflected in our schools, with some schools in south Arlington having over fifty percent FARM rates and schools in North Arlington with less than five percent (which is reflected in test scores).
ORA believes that Arlington County needs to take aggressive action to stem the rapid decline of affordable housing in our community. To that end, ORA believes that as a first measure, the county should seek ways to expand the number of housing vouchers for low-income residents, in particular by increasing the fee imposed on developers for opting to forgo inclusion of affordable housing units in new projects when seeking a zoning change. In the mid- to long-term, the affordable housing policy needs to be reengineered to be based on shared-equity housing solutions.
Arlington should seek to establish a community land trust, a la the Champlain Housing Trust in Burlington, Vermont, and to focus on creating mixed-income low-equity housing cooperatives like the Townhomes on Capital Hill in Washington, DC.