Is the Arlington County government’s “Public Lands for Public Good” process a case of outsiders’ hijacking a community process and trying to elbow their way into the county, pushing longtime residents out in the process?
That’s one of the conclusions, or at least suggestions, in a sometimes scathing dissection of the government’s proposal to increase the stock of affordable housing, a response submitted by the revenues-and-expenditures committee of the Arlington County Civic Federation.
The eight-page, single-spaced critique was requested by the Civic Federation’s leadership, and will be part of what is likely to be a contentious discussion of the housing proposal in November.
In its critique, committee members take aim at the county government’s response to Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE), which in recent years has pressed Arlington officials to use publicly owned land for the construction of housing for low-income residents.
Acknowledging that the regional shortage of housing for those with low incomes is well-documented, the revenues-and-expenditures committee suggested that Arlington couldn’t, and shouldn’t, try to solve all the region’s problems on its own – and that others should not ask it to.
“It is inappropriate for the county to allow non-residents to drive significant policy-making decisions that pertain solely to Arlington,” the committee said. “The county appears to be placing greater weight on the desires of non-residents who wish to move to Arlington ahead of the needs and wishes of its own citizens.”
The document smacks around the county government’s affordable-housing efforts and other public-policy initiatives on several fronts:
• Despite increasing housing funds nearly 60 percent over the course of eight years, affordable-housing stock continues to decline. “The ongoing loss of affordable housing has little to do with our spending,” the committee says.
• The critique suggests the school system has no one to blame but its own leadership for the current school-capacity crisis, as the School Board approved construction of schools that were not big enough for projected enrollment. And it suggests the County Board is derelict in not asking developers for contributions to support school construction while it seeks funds for everything from utility undergrounding to public art.
• Voters who supported recreation bonds to purchase open space and develop parks never expected some of those spaces to be turned over for schools and housing, the group said.
• The county government asked for just $55 million in bond funds for parkland and open-space acquisition over the 20 years beginning in 1995, the same amount the county government spent on housing initiatives in a single year (fiscal 2014).
• The increasing tax burden on homeowners is likely to push out older residents, and the county has no comprehensive effort in the works to house disabled residents who are being forced out of state-run residential facilities under court order, the committee says.
The revenues-and-expenditures committee may be the most conservative bastion of the Civic Federation, and its membership often tangles with the county government over spending issues, so the broadside against the county government may not be entirely unexpected.
The committee’s comments will not be debated or voted on by the entire Civic Federation membership, but at the organization’s Nov. 11 meeting, recommendations from four other committees on the Public Lands for Public Good initiative will be considered.
In order to avoid what could be parliamentary chaos, Civic Federation president Michael McMenamin is hoping to convene a summit of the leaders of those committees in coming weeks, in an effort to find common ground that can be passed on to the rank-and-file for a vote.