• Please Join the Arlington Greens on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016 at 7:30 pm at the Community Room of the Arlington County Fire Station 2 Ballston, 4805 Wilson Blvd Arlington, VA 22203

March 30, 2016

Raising $7 million more for Arlington housing grants through higher fees on developers

How to raise $7 million more for the county housing grants program through a higher developers’ fee

Under the 2005 Affordable Housing Ordinance, the county requires developers of new housing projects needing or requesting a zoning change for the project to provide that at least 5 percent of the additional apartments added as a result of the zoning change to be “affordable rental units” or to pay a fee. Unfortunately, this ordinance was not tightly written, and, for the most part, developers do not provide new affordable units on site, but rather pay a modest fee that amounts often to a portion of the actual cost of the new apartment. (for more information http://housing.arlingtonva.us/development/land-use-zoning-tools/)

The county board could increase the required fee under the ordinance much closer to actual costs of new apartments. This could generate an estimated $7 million more annually to the housing program. Developers exacerbate the problem of rising rents in our community by their activities, and it is fair to shift some of the tax burden of housing assistance programs to them rather than to only general taxpayers.

During 2005-October 2014, a total 295 additional units were approved under this ordinance, of which only 30 units were located in the new developments, whereas developers choose to pay a fee for the 265 units not provided in the new developments. (Source: Arlington County Affordable Housing Implementation Framework, Draft 2.1, Mar. 10, 2015, p. 9).

Thus, this ordinance applied to an average 30 new units per year. These fees yielded only $36.2 million during the 10 years or $3.6 million annually, the equivalent of $137,000 per new additional apartment. These funds were simply added to the AHIF.

This Affordable Housing Ordinance fee should be changed to increase the per unit fee from $137,000 to the developer’s actual cost per unit which currently is around $350,000 or more per unit. With a fee of at least $350,000 per unit for 30 units, the county would likely receive $10.5 million annually, an increase of $6.9 million a year from the current $3.6 million. This entire additional $6.9 million annually could be placed in the housing grants fund.

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Arlington Greens ask County Board to expand the living wage and housing grants

Affordable Housing,Events,Jobs — @ 10:09 am

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.

Marie Pellegrino (left) and Sandra Hernandez, co chairs Arlington Greens
(Marie Pellegrino, cochair on the left, with Sandra Hernandez, cochair on the right.)

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.

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March 4, 2016

Expanding the living wage in Arlington–a good approach to helping working people in Arlington

Development,Jobs — @ 1:02 pm

The Arlington County manager has proposed to the Arlington County Board as part of its annual budget adoption that it increase the living wage of $13.13 per hour (the minimum wage for county employees and for certain contractor employees working in a county building) to $14.50 an hour. At 40 hours per week for 52 weeks, such a wage yields $30,000 in gross income (before taxes).

The living wage is based on the federal poverty income needed for a single person to live slightly above the poverty level. In Arlington according to database from a MIT professor, a single person living in Arlington would need to spend $26,430 a year to live without public subsidies, mainly $14,000 for housing; $3,000 for food, $2,300 for medical, and $4,600 for transportation. http://livingwage.mit.edu/counties/51013
For a single parent with one child, living expenses in Arlington are much higher at $48,000 or $26 per hour (before taxes), as childcare would cost about $7,000 a year.

help wanted newspaper ad

Arlington Greens support the proposed increase in the rate of the living wage, but also believe the ordinance should be expanded to cover ALL contractor employees of Arlington County including healthcare aides, employees of nonprofits, and employees of private companies that receive tens of millions of dollars of local funds of economic development subsidies. Last November, for example, the county board gave $50 million in county funds to the Ballston shopping center developer to rebuild and develop a new shopping center that will employ hundreds of low paid retail clerical employees, food service workers and cleaning crews. Many of the low paid employees will then be eligible for a range of county safety net subsidies ranging from food assistance, free or reduced lunch for their children, and housing assistance.

The current Arlington county ordinance on the living wage does not require the payment of a living wage to organizations that contract with the county and provide these services outside a county-owned facility. Thus, most nonprofit organizations do not provide a living wage routinely. Employees of group homes that are privately operated are not routinely paid a living wage. Healthcare aides working in a disabled person’s home are not required to receive a living wage.

In essence, low wage employers shift their employment costs onto the public taxpayers by paying less than a minimum poverty income. Arlington County development funds that come from Arlington county residents should NOT be used to attract and keep low wage employers in Arlington. The county should require that companies getting these funds guarantee that all its employees receive at least a living wage.

In 2015 according to data of the Virginia Employment Commission, the average wage in the retail stores, entertainment, and food/hotel service in Arlington in 2015 was about $500 per week or $13 per hour, with many such employees making far less than $13 per hour or unable to work a full 40 hours a week. These three industries employed 27,000 people or 16 percent of total Arlington employment of 169,000. Thus, today about one out of every six employees working in Arlington are in a low wage industry. http://virginialmi.com/report_center/community_profiles/5104000013.pdf

Arlington County planning and community development staff have indicated in the past that every new high rise commercial office building in Arlington will generate over 50 low wage jobs that would entitle the employee to county subsidies, particularly housing assistance. The county’s economic development philosophy should be to discourage such low wage jobs and such associated development.

Arlington Greens have long supported the living wage which has been in effect in Arlington since about 2006. We support raising the living wage to at least $14.50 and support expanding its coverage to all employees of private contractors of the county government and to private employees of companies receiving large amounts of county development funds, such as at the Ballston Shopping Center.

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January 5, 2016

County Board overpaid more than twice the actual costs for the latest subsidized housing project on Columbia Pike

On December 12, 2015, the Arlington County Board approved giving about $19 million in local housing funds and up-zoning of a property to high-rise commercial development to create a new subsidized housing project with 173 apartments in two 7-story buildings on Columbia Pike. The county board approved this Arlington Presbyterian Church (APC) housing project despite evidence that the land cost was above other commercial sites, and the construction cost was more than double what an apartment should cost in the Washington, D.C. Metro area. A private nonprofit organization APAH and a pool of private investors and developers will build and own this project.

Then county board chairman Mary Hynes said during the board’s public discussion of the APC project that the $8.5 million cost of the) property was reasonable even though the county’s assessed tax value was half this amount $4.3 million. She said that a price of $5 million per acre is a reasonable for land already zoned for commercial use.
arl presbyterian church jan 16 pic3

Unfortunately, the county board paid a price of $7.1 million per acre. The property was not zoned for high-rise commercial use and thus worth far less. However, even using Ms. Hynes’ inflated price of $5 million/acre, the county should have only paid $6 million for the land, and thus overpaid $2.5 million or 42 percent.

The county staff report to the county board indicated APAH and the APC had privately and earlier agreed to the $8.5 million, and they asserted without proof that the commercial value of the property was really $10 million or about double the price of other commercial land in the county. Without substantiation of these ten million dollars, one can only conclude this is wishful thinking and hyperbole.

The county was NOT a party to the negotiation of this $8.5 million price, and had no assessment of the property’s value. The county was negligent in not obtaining its own independent assessment of the property as then zoned for residential and church use only.
APAH’s pool of private investors will actually own the project and land, and the county government did not become the legal owner of the property even though the count paid for the land. APAH and its investors are going to sell off residential lots behind the new buildings for single family homes. Some of this space is already used for a tot lot and for green space that will be lost. This land could have been kept for a small park and retaining green space for the neighborhood if the county government owned the property. With probably 300 tenants including children living in the new project, this park would have been used and sorely needed.
arl presbyterian church jan 16 pic3

The construction costs for the APC project are well above what industry sources indicate are multifamily apartment costs. A well known industry leader R.S. Means Company has estimated that hard construction cost of a new apartment in a 4-7 story building in the DC Metro region is between $172-200 per square foot. The cost per unit of the APC project was $395 per square foot. Thus, APC construction costs are twice what a new apartment should cost in the DC Metro area. Total hard construction costs for the APC project were about $41 million for 173 apartments or $237,000 per apartment which is roughly $395 per square foot for a 600-square foot apartment.
The combined over-costs for just land and hard construction costs (not even considering the other inflated costs) were about $22 million for a total project cost of $67 million.

Arlington Greens have asked the county board on several occasions to use competitive bidding to avoid overpaying for construction of new CAF projects such as these, but they always choose to use a sole source contractor. Other county construction projects are all bid and given to the low cost bidder. This is irresponsible stewardship of scarce county funds for housing assistance.

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December 9, 2015

Housing project proposed at Arlington Presbyterian Church site does not provide assistance for lower income renters

Statement to the Arlington County Board Dec. 9, 2015 on a proposal to provide $19 million in local funds to build at new apartment building at site of Arlington Presbyterian Church and to rezone the property to provide higher density (item 31 of the Arlington County Board’s meeting on Dec. 12, 2015:

Good afternoon, members of the Arlington County Board:

The Arlington Greens oppose the rezoning of the Arlington Presbyterian Church, and oppose approval of approximately $19 million in county housing assistance funds to build a new apartment complex at this site.

Rather we favor using the $19 million for $200 per month housing rental vouchers for the 7,000 needy Arlington families needing housing assistance across the entire county. We believe low income housing should be widely spread out across the county and not concentrated within one small area along western Columbia Pike, and housing grants to 7,000 households located across the entire county are the best and lowest cost way to do so.

arl presbyterian church jan 16 pic1

It is worthwhile to look at affordable housing projects costs in surrounding jurisdictions or in other locations in our county so that you have some sort of basis to compare the nearly $20 million requested for the project at the Arlington Presbyterian Church. This way, the County has leverage against any bids proposed by developers, and can drive down these excessive construction costs.
This plan would cost the County nearly $400,000 per affordable unit. This excessively high cost means fewer desperately needy families could be served. Please postpone any consideration until you have evaluated alternatives–such as providing direct housing grants or building a totally different project with a different developer at a much lower cost.

The new proposed apartments serve middle class renters and not the low income in Arlington
The proposed high-rise project at the Arlington Presbyterian Church at 3507 Columbia Pike will have two new buildings with 173 apartments, all of which are to be “affordable rentals” to households earning at least 60 percent of the area median income (AMI) (around $60,000 for a family of three persons).

Unfortunately for nearly all such Arlington subsidized projects, only 5 percent of the units will be affordable to truly low income Arlington families, i.e. those making 40 percent or less AMI (generally making $15,000 to $39,000 a year) and those who most desperately need housing assistance in Arlington today. The lucky few renters in the new project will probably get a de facto rent subsidy of $200 a month below comparable rents along the Pike.
house_sketch

These new apartments will each cost $393,000, and the county will provide $105,000 per unit in its local AHIF funds ($18.2 million), and then another $0.7 million from a Pike transit fund. This is not the best use of $19 million in local housing funds–it wastes far too much on bricks and cement, and does too little to lower rents and to broadly help lower income renters across all of Arlington.

Better housing assistance approach for the $19 million in county funds
Alternatively with the $19 million, the county could help ALL of the approximately 7,000 cost-burdened low income households in the entire county for one year each with a $200 monthly housing grant. The recently adopted Affordable Housing Master Plan identified 7,000 such households needing housing assistance. It is far better to help 7,000 households than just 173.

Excessive land costs for the project
We also have concerns about excessive costs in this project. The Presbyterian Church members are getting $8.5 million from the county for the land. The church is actually contributing nothing for this affordable housing project and walking away with over $8 million.

The county is paying twice the current commercial assessed value of the property which is $4.3 million. Why is the county paying twice the commercial value? Who negotiated this price—the county government or APAH and the church, and why should the public pay twice the commercial value? You are asked in this proposal to rezone this property from residential use to high-density commercial, and then implicitly the church owners reap this windfall profit in the form of the $8.5 million payout from the county.
Too many subsidized apartments in west Columbia Pike area and too few in north Arlington
Since the county has to purchase the land at such a high cost ($50,000 land charge per unit), there is no advantage economically to locating these 177 apartments at this site. Why not build the next subsidized apartment complex on the 5-acre county owned Edison Street site adjacent to the Virginia Hospital Center or on the 13 acres on the North Quincy Street site across from W-L High School? Why are you concentrating most of the new subsidized apartments built in the county in the past five years in the western Columbia Pike area? We need subsidized housing in North Arlington as well.

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October 13, 2015

AGP Statement on development plans for Wilson School/Rosslyn Highlands Park

AGP Statement on development plans for Wilson School/Rosslyn Highlands Park

wilson school photo2

The Arlington Greens approved the following position on the development plans for the Wilson School and Rosslyn Highlands Park area at its October 1st meeting.

The Arlington Green Party condemns both the process and results of recent government decision-making concerning the public land around the Wilson School and Rosslyn Highlands Park

Process: Final decisions were made during secret negotiations* between government and developers long before the public process began. Because the outcome was predetermined, the public process disregarded longtime local community requests in framing a draft proposal**, and disregarded local community responses to the draft proposal. Secret agreements and ignored input; that’s not consistent with the way government should function in a democracy.

Outcome: The Wilson school area is the only substantial family recreation area within easy walking distance of the nearby neighborhoods***. No urban planner would recommend intense development of the site. And yet that is what will happen. The historic elementary school will be torn down and replaced by a much larger structure. Parking lots and small fields and one story buildings will be replaced with skyscrapers. Greenspace in the heart of a city will be paved over, parkland will be given over to development, and families will have reduced playspace – these are astonishingly bad outcomes.

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*Secret negotiations and disregard for local community input
See letter from Friends of Rosslyn Highlands Park dated June 16, 2014.

http://arlington.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=2&event_id=784&meta_id=132793

also: Personal Communication with Katie Elmore and Stan Karson, local civic association designees to the Western Rosslyn Area Planning Study (WRAPS) process.

**Long time Community desire to save green space and historic space
-Many presentations to the APS and County Boards by Mark Antell and Stan Karson, local civic association contacts for Wilson School for over a decade.
-Arlington County Civic Federation resolution recommending preservation of the Wilson School Playfields, endorsed 2007 and reaffirmed in 2014.
-Historic Architecture and Landmark Review Board recommendations in 2007 and 2014 that Wilson School be designated an historic site.

***Wilson School / Rosslyn Highlands Park the only substantial recreation area within easy walking distance of the surrounding neighborhoods. Look at the map.

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October 6, 2015

Arlington Greens Celebrate End-of-Summer Picnic, Sept. 20 at Potomac Overlook Park

Events,green meetings — @ 4:43 pm

Arlington Greens gathered at Potomac Overlook Regional Park on Sunday, September 20 to celebrate their second annual end-of-summer picnic. About two dozen people gathered and listened once again to Arlington local rock and roll band, Still Standing, play 60s and 70s rock and roll and rhythm and blues. New members and two county board members attended and welcomed the last day of the Summer of 2015.agp picnic2 2015

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October 3, 2015

Arlington Greens Vote Not to Endorse Any County Board Candidate in November 2015 Election

Arlington Greens Vote Not to Endorse Any County Board Candidate in November Election

The Arlington Greens voted at their October 1st meeting not to endorse any candidates for the Arlington County Board election in November; there are two seats open on the Board this year. Co-chair Sandra Hernandez said, “After carefully considering and debating an endorsement, the Greens voted not to endorse either candidate in 2015 for County Board.”

vote1

There are four candidates on the ballot for the two open seats–two Democrats and two Independents. In 2014, the Greens endorsed John Vihstadt, who ran as an independent. He was elected the first non-Democrat to a County Board board seat in Arlington in over 15 years. Arlington Greens have nominated or endorsed a county board candidate every year since 2006.

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September 29, 2015

County Board Affordable Housing Master Plan—Likely Annual Cost of $17 Million to $51 million, depending greatly on type of program

County Board Affordable Housing Master Plan—Initial Annual Cost of $17 Million to $51 million, depending on type of program

The Arlington County Board adopted on September 19, 2015 the Affordable Housing Master Plan (AHMP) that has useful data and some broad goals. Unfortunately, there was no cost or budget information on how these optimistic goals can be achieved in Arlington over the next 25 years, and nothing on how these funds can be raised or considering alternative ways to achieve the same goal. http://newsroom.arlingtonva.us/release/county-board-adopts-first-affordable-housing-master-plan/
Below is an effort to provide costs and compare two ways of providing these benefits.

The plan’s primary goal is to have a supply in Arlington of 22,800 affordable units by 2040, a rise of about 16,000 units from the current supply of 7,000 committed subsidized units (CAFS). This is an annual goal of adding 640 CAFs over 25 years. Today, an average CAF rents for about $200 per month below comparable private market rents. Another way to effectively add 16,000 affordable units in Arlington would be to provide 16,000 housing vouchers on existing private rental units.

Cost of building or adding 16,000 CAFs
Based on cost data over the past two years, the county affordable housing investment fund (AHIF) has supplied $80,000 per new CAF; thus $51 million of AHIF funding is needed annually to add 640 CAFs. Over the past 14 years, the county added 250 CAFs annually. Since the county now contributes about $12 million for AHIF, another roughly $40 million is needed annually for AHIF. However as housing construction costs rise as they have over the past five years, the required AHIF contribution will have to increase as well.

Most of this additional funding will have to come from local tax sources or developer contributions (that only amounted to $3 million annually over the past decade). Some funds will come from re-payment of prior AHIF loans, but in most cases AHIF loans are for 30 years, and repayments are likely to fund only a small portion of the annual $51 million required. Over the 25 years, the budget cost will be $1.3 billion (current dollars). AHIF funds must continue indefinitely or the CAFs will cease to exist.
Cost of providing housing vouchers for 16,000 households within 25 years

An alternative way to obtain the same effect would be to provide 16,000 housing vouchers. A housing voucher for $200 per month would cost $2,400 per year per household, and the one year cost of 675 new vouchers is $1.6 million. In 2040, 16,000 vouchers would cost thus $38 million. This is still $13 million less per a one year cost of building new 640 CAFs. Vouchers are provided during the entire 25 years, unlike building new CAFs which will only fully appear 25 years from now and provide little housing relief in the next ten years.

Over the full 25 years voucher costs are half those building 16,000 new CAFs. The number of vouchers to meet the full needs of all households earning less than 60-percent AMI is 7,000 in 2016, and then rises by 640 annually reaching 16,000 by 2040. The cost to provide $200 per month vouchers during 2016-40 is $687 million, only half of the cost of providing the $1.3 billion to build 16,000 CAFs.

Vouchers provide about 43 percent more benefits to renters during the 25 years than slowly building new CAF units.
Measured in benefits over the 25 years, vouchers provide 287,000 household-years versus only 200,000 household-years for the CAFs. Vouchers also go to much lower income renters than those in a CAF who are predominantly at the 60-percent AMI.

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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.

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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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