Co-chair Marie Pellegrino spoke on March 29 to the Arlington County Board public hearing on the fiscal year 2017 budget for Arlington County and urged the board to expand the living wage for current county and county contractor employees to $14.50 per hour, and for the board to more than double the number of housing grants provided to low income renters.
Dear Members of the County Board:
We are here tonight to present the views of the Arlington Greens on the FY2017 budget. Thank you for your work to make our community a better place for all.
We support two items in the budget—a higher living wage for county and contractor employees and more affordable housing funds for housing grants. We ask you to expand the scope of the living wage ordinance, and to more than double the number of housing grants from today’s 1,300 low-income households to closer to 3,000.
The county manager recommends, and we support raising the living wage from $13.13 to $14.50 per hour for all county employees and for those few covered private contractor employees. A living wage ensures that an employee does not have to turn to the county and our community to live above poverty. We Greens want all Arlington employees to earn at least a living wage and live above poverty.
Please expand the scope of the living wage ordinance to require ALL contractors with the county no matter where their employees work in Arlington to pay them a living age. The current ordinance only covers contract employees physically working in a county facility. Many, un-covered contractor employees are low-paid healthcare aides, employees of group homes and other nonprofits, or employees of for-profit companies.
We would also like you to require private companies and developers that receive substantial direct subsidies from the county, such as the $55 million of county funds you gave last year to Forrest City Realty the billion-dollar developer/owner of Ballston Shopping Center, to pay a living wage to its employees.
We support doubling the 2017 budget for housing grants from $9 million to $18 million. Housing grants are the county’s single most effective housing assistance program, and help seniors, disabled adults, and families with a child. An average household gets about $500 a month, and earns well under $30,000 a year (less than 30% of the area median income (AMI).
Another $9 million could fund 1,800 households each with a $400 monthly housing grant. To get this $9 million, you could shift some of the current housing funds from less effective housing assistance programs, such as the AHIF. And, you could triple the current developers’ tax to raise another $6-7 million a year (see addendum). Developers pay a very low county fee when they choose not to provide at least 5% affordable apartments in new complexes and this fee should be raised.
It is far more effective to give tenants a grant, and let them rent their own apartment or share housing in Arlington than building just a few more expensive subsidized apartments. Only current county residents get a grant, whereas new subsidized apartments must be rented to anyone who applies. Housing grant recipients can live anywhere in north or south Arlington rather than only in subsidized apartments built mostly along western Columbia Pike.