Editor: I have been struck by some of the comments in letters to the editor opposing the county’s draft Affordable Housing Master Plan and Implementation Framework. A letter in the July 2 edition decries doing “radically more than our fair share,” which seems to be defined as more than what neighboring jurisdictions are doing. Yet, the writer doesn’t make clear why Arlington should be considered comparable to other jurisdictions.

The letter also assigns a $20,000 cost per year to students from families making less than an estimated $60,000 per year who move into new affordable units, ignoring data from recent affordable-housing projects that clearly show the overwhelming majority of families moving into those new units already live here and attend Arlington schools.

This kind of number crunching is not only misleading; sadly, it discriminates among students, assigning a cost to these students while seemingly ignoring the same cost of the children from families in single-family neighborhoods who are the primary source of our burgeoning school enrollment. It also treats our families, neighbors and co-workers as simply commodities to be assessed against bus stops, park space, school capacity and other physical needs.

I don’t understand this kind of calculation. Here’s what I do understand about Arlington’s affordability crisis:

* My daughter, a talented teacher, had to move away from Arlington, taking my granddaughters with her, because she couldn’t afford to pursue her profession and live here.

* Many young people in my Arlington faith community must move outside Arlington to find affordable housing, depriving us of their energy, ideas and civic contributions.

* Many older people who are still contributing to this county are being forced to move away from their faith community, family and friends because of high housing costs.

* The Arlington businesses that I frequent increasingly struggle with training workers who must live far away, only to lose them to jobs closer to home as those open up, putting strains on both cost and productivity.

* As I drive around the county that I have called home for 40 years, I struggle more and more with the traffic that results from growing numbers of people who can’t afford to live near their work traveling into Arlington.

The Affordable Housing Master Plan doesn’t attempt to redress the significant loss in market-rate units – 13,500 since 2000. It attempts to meet a need based on current conditions and expected employment, and the implementation framework makes clear that there is a myriad of ways to do that, none of which need to involve the undermining of single-family neighborhoods that opponents like to claim.

Arlington has employed the creativity and vision of its residents in the past to deploy innovative ways to make it, in the words of its vision statement, a diverse and inclusive, world-class urban community with secure, attractive residential and commercial neighborhoods where people unite to form a caring, learning, participating, sustainable community in which each person is important. We can do so again.

Pass the Affordable Housing Master Plan in September, and let’s get to work! Our economic sustainability and community depend on it.

Robert Buckman, Arlington

 

(2) comments

Dave Schutz

I had a letter printed in the July 2 Sun Gazette (“Housing Plan Has Makings of Another Streetcar Fiasco”) and now there is this response from Robert Buckman posted July 8 and printed (truncated) in the July 16 Sun Gazette (“County Housing Proposal Aims At Meeting Real Need”). Mr. Buckman says he does not understand why it should be a concern that Arlington spending on subsidized housing is three to five times as high, as a fraction of our budget, than is being spent in neighboring jurisdictions. I’d like to be helpful to him in understanding this - the Affordable Housing Master Plan calls for a very high level of spending on subsidizing housing in Arlington, a very substantial increase from the current level which is already a multiple of that being spent in neighboring jurisdictions. Unless its passage ends up being empty words, its recommendations will crowd out spending for parks, for schools, for police and fire services. Looking at the actions of our neighbors can help us think what’s plausible for us.

Arlington has had a very long holiday from reality. Other jurisdictions were not as well sited as we were to provide commercial space for businesses which needed to be accessible to the District, and the District itself had a (deserved) reputation as crime ridden and poorly governed. We had a spectacular planning staff, which worked to maximize our advantages, and the economic development group aggressively recruited new construction, which was filled quickly. Gone, all of it, as an advantage: the District has upped its game remarkably and is an attractive destination now. The Silver Line has made Tysons similarly attractive to Arlington. Other jurisdictions have seen the benefits Arlington has gotten from its planning and economic development efforts and have also upped their games, removing our advantage there. We were able to extract very large amounts of off budget money from developers in proffers, which the Board was able to spend on the care and stabling of its hobby horses, while spending ‘regular’ revenue on County services.

Mr Buckman further says “The letter also assigns a $20,000 cost per year to students from families making less than an estimated $60,000 per year who move into new affordable units, ignoring data from recent affordable-housing projects that clearly show the overwhelming majority of families moving into those new units already live here and attend Arlington schools.” This is an interesting claim, and has been made by a number of subsidized-housing backers in recent weeks (do these guys have meetings where their talking points are distributed?). To be persuasive, it would have to be backed up by research on the units from which people move to the subsidized units. My own suspicion is that, if the units people left were attractive to families with children before, they will be again, and that children of new tenants in the left-behind units will show up for enrollment. As we are regularly reminded, expensive housing is a huge regional problem, and if Arlington is offering thousands of new subsidized units - particularly after nearly all of our existing market-rate affordables are gone - we can expect to attract many families from outside the County. Thus big enrollment increases from subsidized units are almost certainly real now, and will surely be real in the future.

Buckman also invokes his daughter: “My daughter, a talented teacher, had to move away from Arlington, taking my granddaughters with her, because she couldn’t afford to pursue her profession and live here.” I don’t know his daughter or her situation, but in general teacher salaries put you in the middle-middle. Too much for a subsidy, not enough to pay a million for a house. There are no vine-covered cottages for $325,000 on a quarter acre in Arlington. I don’t know any scenario under which there will be any in future. There are some condominiums in that range: the people in my office who had kids and were looking for a place mostly wanted the quarter acre and bought further out so they could send their kids to the yard to play. Nothing in the Affordable Housing Master Plan is going to make Arlington work for middle income people who want their own yards.

I noted above that the Buckman letter as printed was truncated, and entitled “County Housing Proposal Aims At Meeting Real Need.” As posted, it was entitled “Time has come to pass Arlington housing plan” and had this ultimate exhortation: “Pass the Affordable Housing Master Plan in September, and let’s get to work! Our economic sustainability and community depend on it.” I guess that got lost in the print edition because the page was too full, but I’d like to offer a restatement: “Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada, who are long-time subsidized housing backers and who will never face the voters again, will still be on the Board in September. We’d better try and whoop it through then, rather than trust it to new Board members who have heard public concerns during the campaign!”

There’s a strong moral argument that prosperous Arlington should be doing its share for this regional problem. Pretending that we can maintain our competitiveness as a business and market rate residential destination while spending vastly more to subsidize housing than our neighbor jurisdictions, and using proffer money for it thus shielding our expenditures from comparison in the budget process with other County efforts, stacks the deck for a level of spending which will exceed voter toleration and our long term ability to pay.
Dave Schutz

Hawa C

Packing all of the "affordable housing" in south Arlington isn't wise. If the county board really want to balance out the county, they can add some affordable housing complexes in dominion hill and Ashton hill etc.. South Arlington schools are overcrowding adding more is not the solution.

This county is on a path to self destruction. Everyone who use to move to PG county are now moving here... I just can't wait to get out of here!

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