WORKING TOWARDS HOUSING AFFORDABILITY
- Ensure a multifaceted approach to housing affordability through devices like our Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF), subordinate financing, Tenant Grants and Vouchers, Housing Conservation Districts, Accessory Dwelling Units, “Tiny” Houses, “Micro” Rental Units, and new private sector solutions
- Implement reforms to make affordable housing preservation and development more competitive and less expensive, saving tax dollars and increasing supply, via streamlining and reducing development conditions, property tax relief and more
- Promote greater geographic distribution of affordable units to avoid over-concentration and economic segregation
I am committed to affordable housing opportunities for both renters and homeowners, as evidenced by my years of service on the County’s Housing and Planning Commissions and as a Board member of the nonprofit Community Residences, Inc. These experiences have underscored that our housing affordability challenges defy easy answers and require a thoughtful and multi-pronged approach, which has been a central focus of my County Board efforts.
Since supporting the unanimous adoption of Arlington’s ambitious Affordable Housing Master Plan (AHMP) in 2015, I have advocated and supported many steps to implement this vision. In 2017 alone, my Board colleagues and I voted to support the addition and/or preservation of roughly 600 units for low- and moderate-income households. But we continue to lose ground to market forces and there are areas where I believe we can do better.
At my urging, the AHMP strengthened goals and incentives for greater geographic distribution of affordable housing units throughout the County, and I was especially pleased to push for the successful rescue and rehabilitation of 68 garden apartment units in the Westover community just blocks from my house. I successfully advocated for a competitive bidding process for Arlington’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF), called the Notice of Funds Availability (NOFA). The NOFA has brought clarity to how the County allocates limited AHIF dollars, incentivizes applicants to propose affordable development in underserved areas, and intends to spur greater competition for quality projects.
Since AHIF funding, which already comprises roughly 5% of our General Fund budget, is finite, we must be more resourceful in working towards housing affordability. To this end, I supported the Board’s adoption of reduced parking guidelines for new residential developments in the Metro corridors, and I’ve pressed County staff to be creative in examining the feasibility of certain strategies for reducing development costs and expanding housing resources. Potential tools include streamlining and reducing site plan and use permit conditions, waiving or reducing certain fees, modernizing the development process for smaller sites and offering property tax abatements or exemptions for affordable housing construction and preservation. Potential new funding sources include the new Federal Opportunity Zones legislation, increased dedicated recordation tax and special purpose bonds.
The County is crafting a proposal with my full support to loosen restrictions on the ability of non-conforming duplex owners to renovate and expand their properties (thus discouraging tear-downs). So called “tiny” houses, “micro” rental units, English basements, cooperatives and co-living deserve a fresh look. The Board is also poised to take new measures to expand affordable homeownership opportunities through certain income guideline adjustments.
Housing Conservation Districts and Accessory Dwelling Units
Two new affordable housing vehicles hold promise, as well. I’m optimistic about the new Housing Conservation Districts, which would provide economic incentives for owners of aging garden apartments to renovate and even add additional units rather than bulldoze them for market rate townhomes. But if we are going to impose new development constraints on private property owners, rehabilitation incentives should be available at the same time any restrictions are imposed—not many months later.
I supported many of the changes imbedded in our new Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) ordinance, including removal of limits on ADU’s within a home’s own footprint. But I did not think it was right to allow an unlimited number of existing garages up to literally one foot from the property line of a neighbor’s home to be converted to ADU’s with the consequent potential for noise, lights and activity 24/7. Next, we need to examine the potential environmental and aesthetic impacts of allowing free-standing backyard ADU’s as is now being considered by County staff under the ordinance’s second phase.
Finally, sound housing policy is not just about housing production and preservation. Also key are:
- ensuring equal housing access through effective enforcement of Arlington’s Human Rights ordinance, the Fair Housing Act and other laws,
- the expanded utilization of housing grants and vouchers to directly assist renters of modest means, as well as tenant relocation and displacement assistance, supportive and transitional housing for special populations and homeless services and prevention,
- enabling Arlingtonians to age in place through our just-updated seniors and disabled real estate property tax relief program with related supportive services, and
- ensuring that our assisted housing efforts contribute to fiscal and environmental sustainability through rigorous property code enforcement, physical inspections, financial monitoring and environmental standards.