County leaders continue to have a hard time defining the term and convincing many in the public to buy in, but Arlington’s new-for-2021 board chairman has affirmed his intention to move forward with “missing-middle” housing initiatives.
“The status quo on housing is not sustainable,” Matt de Ferranti said in remarks Jan. 4 after he was unanimously confirmed by his colleagues to serve as board chair for the coming year.
The position traditionally rotates among members on a calendar-year basis.
“Without changes in our housing supply, the 60 percent of Arlington residents who currently rent cannot realistically save up to buy,” de Ferranti said. “We risk becoming as unaffordable as San Francisco.”
By de Ferranti’s definition, “missing middle” means duplexes, townhomes, low-rise apartments and “modest mid-rises” located near major population corridors in Arlington. But critics worry such phraseology is a fig leaf for the effective abolition of single-family zoning throughout the county.
Critics also take aim at the contention that more housing will bring down prices, and argue county officials – who have embarked on one of their patented community processes to study the issue – are purposely avoiding the impacts of increased density on community infrastructure.
“Increased density will result in more demand for schools,” said Chip Watkins, a missing-middle skeptic, in a recent letter to the editor. “Yet the County Board and staff steadfastly refuse to discuss the need for more schools (not to mention the cost and where they would be built) until after the pending study determines that more dense housing is needed, without any explanation as to why Arlington – already the most densely populated county in Northern Virginia – must accommodate additional people who want to move to the area.”
De Ferranti, however, said in remarks that he expected any zoning changes would provide the ability for Arlington to “grow in a thoughtful, managed way.”
De Ferranti, an attorney, was elected to the County Board in 2018, defeating independent John Vihstadt. Had things turned out differently, he likely would have been vice chair for 2021 under Erik Gutshall. Gutshall died last spring, the first incumbent board member to die since Charles Monroe in 2003.
County Board members did not appoint a vice chair to take the place of Gutshall, but de Ferranti was seen as the odds-on likely board chair for this year.
Like all five board members, he is a Democrat.
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