Arlington housing is expensive, with median house prices recently topping $750,000, nearly three times the national median. The county has issued a call for ideas, and there are several ways to improve the situation.
Ahead of Metro’s arrival in the 1970s, county planners adopted a “bull’s-eye” zoning approach, with denser development around the stations from Rosslyn to Ballston. This led to the familiar high-rise apartments that line some of the county’s arterial roads.
Due in part to this high-rise construction (also permitted around the Pentagon City and Crystal City stops), housing affordability in Arlington isn’t as bad as in some high-income counties. Our median rent is 28 percent of the median income, compared to 53 percent for San Francisco and 44 percent for Suffolk County, which includes Boston.
But today, many of the sites zoned for high-rise construction already have been developed. Policymakers can make room for new construction – which will increase housing supply and ease prices – in two ways:
• First, while the bull’s-eye plan calls for dense development within one-quarter mile of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor stations, some strict single-family zoning remains in place within this distance of Courthouse, Clarendon, Virginia Square and Ballston. Allowing more than just suburban-style homes in these areas, and expanding the approach to the East Falls Church station, would open up housing in neighborhoods which, in many ways, already are urban in character.
• Second, Arlington suffers from “missing middle” housing – a lack of options between single-family houses and large apartment buildings, options that would allow multiple households to share expensive land without the high construction costs of high-rises. Several localities – from Houston to Palisades Park (N.J.) – demonstrate the potential for missing-middle construction.
Arlington policymakers have showed leadership on housing. The next step is to open up more opportunities for high-rise and missing-middle construction.
Hamilton is a senior research fellow and director of the Urbanity Project at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. She submitted a comment to Arlington County’s recent Call for Ideas on expanding access to affordable housing in Arlington.
[Sun Gazette Newspapers provides content to, but otherwise is unaffiliated with, InsideNoVa or Rappahannock Media LLC.]