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September 14, 2015

Arlington Greens suggest changes to affordable housing plan

Below is the written position of Arlington Greens on the proposed Arlington affordable housing taskforce:

September 10, 2015
Arlington Green Party
Affordable Housing Master Plan, Implementation and Framework and General Land Use Plan

Preserve MARKs
The Affordable Housing Plan should explore creative ways to preserve MARKs (as in offering
renters the “first right of refusal”, incentives to building owners, extended land use for affordability, preservation of existing zoning, etc).

Single Form Based Code Policy
All Form Based Code projects throughout the County should include at least 10% affordable units (including those projects that have commercial spaces). Form Based Code projects could conversely represent an equal array of economic strata.

Cost-Saving Housing Options
The County should implement other housing programs that give priority to help Arlington residents who earn less than 40-percent of the area median income ($43,000 for a family of four or $30,100 for a single person).

The County Board should shift at least three-quarters of the (AHIF) funds that are being used today to finance the construction of new subsidized apartments, approximately $12 million to direct housing grants to low income residents. About $9 million of current AHIF funding could be diverted to housing grants, and another $10 million of new local tax revenue should come from raising fees on housing developers.

The County Board should broaden the use of grants which are twice as effective per dollar spent; they provide benefits to low income renters to use all over the County. By contrast, the AHIF fund mostly helps people earning 60-percent or higher AMI.

In examining the benefits of a one year housing grant of $1 million to spending that amount in AHIF, the difference is still large over 30 years. The ten CAF apartments yield $720,000 in lower rents. However, this economic value in 2015 (of such lower rents with regards to time and interest rates) falls to $480,000 ( present day “value”). This equates to a lump sum value in 2015 of receiving $24,000 a year in payments at a 3% interest rate over 30 years. By contrast, benefits of the housing grants are received in the first year; whereas, the benefits of lower rents in the CAFs accrue over 30 years.

Thus, expansion of the housing grants program could provide about double the benefits to renters than the same amount for new construction of subsidized apartments over 30 years. In the first year with a million dollars, housing grants help 167 households, versus only 10 households in CAFs. Housing grant-households are the lowest income persons in Arlington, and in addition must be a senior over 65, disabled or a working family with a child or children; thus, they are arguably the neediest group in our community. This group represents the most vulnerable segment of our population.

1.

Integrated and Inclusive Schools
Affordable Housing Projects should encourage ethnic and social diversity in Arlington Public Schools, as well as address the achievement gap between affluent and less affluent schools by creating more equitable housing distribution throughout the County.

Infrastructure, Services, Densification/Gentrification
There should be coordination of Affordable Housing projects with ALL Arlington Government entities (Schools, parks and recreation, transportation, libraries, etc). Every effort should be made to preserve intact neighborhoods, and avoid relaxed zoning that achieves “densification and gentrification” and displacement of those of moderate means.

When new projects are accepted, special accommodations should be made for those who are disabled, the poor, and the carless who depend on stores such as Food Star for affordable food and ethnic fare. A project such as the one proposed on the Pike near market rate affordable housing would leave many with nowhere to shop. The upscale offerings replacing Food Star would push those of moderate income to shop elsewhere, taking business away from Arlington County.

The County government should incentivize small businesses (particularly those offering cultural food and products) in efforts to maintain “mom and pop” entrepreneurship and international character.

Transit
The County should utilize the tried and tested Circulator Bus which could travel down Columbia Pike and up to the Pentagon or Pentagon City, for a dollar. This would prevent additional costs to road infrastructure and could be implemented immediately. The Circulator Bus could work in conjunction with other transit systems, while offering better alternatives to those of moderate and fixed means.

Strict Oversight
For new apartment buildings which were to include bonus density, 10 percent affordable units should be provided. Additionally, a new policy should require developers to pay mandatory fees that would cover the construction of new affordable units elsewhere, at the very least $250,000 per unit built, with the goal for developers to contribute about $10 million more annually to the housing program costs. This policy should cover all such new zoning-required apartments (up from 5 percent today).

Thank you very kindly for taking time to consider the Arlington Green Party’s analyses and solutions. We understand that there are many stake-holders in the Affordable Housing decision-making process. We thank you for providing us an opportunity to be part of this important process.

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