Why a Housing Authority?

Unlike the City of Alexandria and Fairfax County, Arlington has no public housing authority. A housing authority has unique powers under Virginia law to help preserve affordable housing for residents of Arlington County. We urge all Arlington voters to vote to allow the creation of a housing authority on the November ballot. Here are reasons why:

1. Preserve Existing Affordable Units
A redevelopment and housing authority can directly preserve and own apartments and land in Arlington to preserve for current and future low income residents, the elderly, the young, public employees, disabled people among others. About 60 percent of the 20,000 affordable rental units then in Arlington in 2000 have disappeared-victims to condo conversion, demolition and gentrification. Just to recover these almost 12,000 apartments is a huge task currently unmet by the county.

2. Ensure Housing for Public Employees
The authority can own and operate housing for Arlington public employees–teachers, policemen, and fireman–who could then live in our community, and help retain and recruit employees for expensive Arlington. Now, just 10% of firefighters, 25% of police and about 45% of teachers live in Arlington. The school board, fire and police departments can’t own and operate housing on their own under Va. Law – an authority can.

3. Be a Vehicle for Self-Sustained Financing
The authority can easily and efficiently issue long-term tax-exempt bonds to finance the acquisition of low-income housing, which can then be paid off over time through rents paid by the tenants. The county recently cut $6 million in funding from its FY 2008 operating budget which would have built group homes for frail elderly and mentally challenged, which could have been funded through long-term bonds repaid over time.

4. Act as a Land Trust
The authority will act as a land trust to keep land and apartment buildings from being developed, preserving the historical integrity and green space around the older garden apartment buildings now threatened with development. There are potential income, estate, and property tax benefits for land donations to a public trust.

5. Operate Subsidized Housing Units
The authority can directly receive Federal Government funding to build and operate subsidized housing and receive rent subsidies.

6. Streamline the County’S Response to Low Income Housing Crisis
The housing authority provides an open, public, process that involves citizens right from the beginning, and that will prevent decisions to develop properties from being made before there is citizen input, and that will reduce waste and duplication in Arlington’s scattered housing programs. The authority would become the central coordinating group of the county government’s response to the low-income housing crisis. County staffs’ and citizens’ expertise on housing is now scattered among different departments and commissions, such as the housing commission, tenant-landlord commission, planning commission, community development block grant commission, and Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB). The housing authority will be run by one voluntary citizen board of directors appointed by the county board, and supported by existing professional county staff now spread out in many different departments and working at cross purposes.

7. Protect Renters
A housing authority can require developers to sell threatened rental apartment complexes to it for preservation instead of demolishing and gentrifying the buildings and evicting renters from Arlington. It would have the power to condemn and take property from landowners who are going to demolish and evict, or who are operating slum apartments.

8. Finance Non-Profits that Operate Affordable Housing
An authority can directly operate and finance apartment units too large for the small existing nonprofit housing providers in Arlington, or provide financing to existing non-profit organizations to operate housing its behalf.

9. Facilitate Cooperation Among Groups Providing Affordable Housing
A housing authority reduces needless duplication among existing non-profit housing organizations in Arlington that end up competing for a small, inadequate funding. The authority sets priorities, and provides the funding in a comprehensive way for all types of low income housing in the county rather in the uncoordinated way the half dozen small non-profits now operate. A public authority could insure and preserve affordable housing throughout the County, and avoid potential clustering of properties by non-profits acting alone in certain neighborhoods.

10. Advocate for Affordable Housing
Operate a housing authority as an public advocate to insure that the long term capital needs for preserving land and rental housing in Arlington are placed squarely in the middle of other county government capital projects, such as building new schools, recreation facilities, and libraries. The county government currently has virtually no funds to acquire and preserve existing rental housing.

Please email donrouse06@comcast.net if you would like to endorse the referendum and our call to action.