Housing Study Meeting Notes from 3/28/15

Arlington Affordable Housing Study

Community Forum – March 28, 2015

Prepared by Sarah McKinley, Columbia Heights Civic Association

Major conclusions:

  • Arlington County is seeking comment on its Affordable Housing Master Plan and the Housing Implementation Framework.
  • 53% of Arlingtonians are renters, but it’s getting more expensive. Only one in five Arlington employees actually live here. Only 25% of County Government workers live here and only45% of APS staff live here.  
  • Currently we have 17,000 households at or below 60% AMI, but only 9,500 units available for this group.  Some families are doubling up, living in substandard housing (off the books) or spending 50% or more on housing.
  • About 15 cents of every dollar spent on affordable housing comes from developers.  The County leverages this money to create more units than would be required if the developer put in units themselves.
  • Some residents argued that housing policy was driving school policy, resulting in lower test results in South Arlington schools.  They worried that clustering affordable housing in transit corridors like Columbia Pike would, over the next 30 years, create a permanent underclass that would be poorly educated and trapped in poverty.  They argued for economic integration throughout the County and cited Montgomery County, Maryland, as a model. They also requested that the Affordable Housing group petition Arlington County to add the analysis of housing policy on public school systems as a mandate for the group.

Presenting the Master Plan and Implementation Framework

        Arlington County Chair Mary Hynes opened the Community Forum for Affordable Housing, a half-day meeting that attracted at least 150 people.  Board Member Walter Tejada was also in attendance.  She stressed that if Arlington cannot maintain or develop affordable housing we will fail our county’s goal to be a diverse urban community.  The state requires that every community have an affordable housing plan.  The county Board has reviewed the two documents released by the committee and is asking for community input on key issues:

  • Does the plan sufficiently target our needs?  Older plans didn’t look at the mix of housing needed.
  • What about geographic distribution?  The county began by focusing on quadrants, and now focuses on affordable housing in multi-modal corridors.  This version looks at ways to add affordability in single family neighborhoods and allowing residents to age in place.
  • Currently the units that are committed affordable (CAFs) have no requirement that residents live in Arlington.  Should this remain the same?
  • Middle income residents want to buy homes.  What can Arlington do?
  • Accessory Dwelling Ordinance—should the existing rules be changed/relaxed to allow more accessory dwellings, and if so, how should the rules be changed?

Housing affordability is a key component of sustainability, said Hynes.  If we want to attract businesses, they want a range of workers. Having appropriate housing will allow Arlington to compete in the region.

        Dr. Leonard Hamlin, the Affordable Housing Study Working Group Chair, discussed the process to produce the reports, which included 20 formal meetings and over 40 subcommittee meetings.  He stressed that the Implementation Framework, which works out the details of the plan, is in draft stage only, and the present meeting was geared primarily to elicit comments from the public.

        Dr. Lisa Sturtevant, with the Center for Housing Policy, presented information about population, income distribution and types of employment.  The entire discussion was based on citizens earning a percentage of the Average Median Income for the area.  AMI is now figured as a family of four making about $102,000 a year.  The data also presumes that the household spends only 30% of its income on housing.  The following chart is a breakdown:

        0-30% AMI        –         the disabled, seniors on fixed incomes, and low-wage earners

                4-person up to $32K        –                 $0 – $820 a month for housing

                1-person up to $23 K                 $0 – $575 a month for housing

        30-60% AMI                Also low-wage earners, bus drivers, retail workers

                4-person $32 – $66 K                $820 – $1640 a month for housing

                1-person $23 – $46 K                $575 – $1150 a month for housing

        60-80% AMI                1-2 workers per household in entry level, non-profit or gov’t.

                4-person $66 – $87 K                $1640 – $2185 a month for housing

                1-person $46 – $61 K                $1150 – $1530 a month for housing

        80-100% AMI        1-2 workers per family, also in entry or mid-level positions

                4-person $87 – $109 K                $2185 – $2725 a month for housing

                1-person $61 K – $77 K                $1530 – $1915 a month for housing

        Dr. Sturtevant reported that 53% of households in Arlington are renters.  Single family detached dwellings represent about 26%  (28,400) of the housing stock in Arlington; apartments represent about 42% (44,850) of the housing stock; single family attached represent about 10% (11,000); and condos represent 22% (23,755).  In the last few years 16,000 multi-family units have been added.  At the same time we lost 13,500 Market-Affordable Units (MARKS).  

        Currently we have 17,000 households who are at the 60% AMI level or below, but only 9,500 units available for this group.  How are they doing it?  Families are doubling up, are living in substandard housing (off the books), or are spending 50-60% of their income on housing (rather than 30%).  

        The middle income folks (those at the 80%-120% AMI level, are being squeezed out of home ownership.  Right now condos are more affordable for those below 120% AMI.  But forecasted growth in employment shows that the greatest growth will be in lower-wage positions.  Average wages will be cut in half, from $90 K to $45 K.  In addition, the county is projecting an additional 30,500 households by 2040:

        30% AMI – 3,700 additional households

        60% AMI – 3,700 additional households

        80% AMI – 3,000 additional households

        100% AMI – 2,400 additional households

        120% AMI – 3,100 additional households

        The rest of the additional households are above 120% AMI

        Russell Danao-Schroeder, with the Arlington County Housing Division, discussed strategies to meet Arlington’s goals, which was to achieve 17.7% of the housing stock for 60% AMI level or below by 2040.  The County projects that 2,700 CAF units would preserve the current economic diversity of households.  Right now most of the market affordable units tend to be located south of Lee Highway, and mostly along transit corridors, Rossyln-Ballston and Columbia Pike.  The goal is to encourage CAF rental units along or near current transit corridors.  However, the County’s map includes Lee Highway as one of these corridors.

Today one in five of private and public sector workers live in Arlington.  That includes only 25% of Arlington County government workers and 45% of APS employees.  About 75% of CAF residents were living or working in Arlington prior to move-in.  Should Arlington County residents receive a preference for committed affordable housing?  Should people who work in Arlington receive a preference for committed affordable housing?

For every $1 of funding for CAF housing in Arlington, 23 cents comes from the general fund, 45cents comes from repayment of previous loans and 15 cents comes from developer contributions.  Developers have a choice.  When they develop new property they can either create one on-site committed affordable unit (CAF) (available for 30 years) or they can give the county money, which results in 3.2 CAFs that are available for 60 years.  He argues that receiving money from the developers is a better deal for the County.  From 2010-2014 the County has financed 1,654 CAF units.  About 30% of CAF residents have some kind of rental assistance, while about 80% of all rental assistance recipients live in CAFs.

Another goal is to create 2,700 new units for home ownership for the 80-120% AMI residents.  Sustainability requires proximity to transit.  Energy and water efficiency efforts also have to be met, along with the General Land Use Plan (GLUP).  How much could they afford to spend on purchasing housing?

4 person house – $87K to $132 K        – $310K to $471 K for home purchase price

3 person house – $79K to $118 K – $282K to $421 K for home purchase price

2 person house – $70K to $98K – $250K to $650 K for home purchase price

1 person house – $61K to $92K – $218K to $328K for home purchase price

In 2013 only 32.4% of home sales were affordable for those under the 120% AMI level.  


Community Discussion Sessions

The large group split into six separate discussion groups that focused on five questions.   This report focuses on the discussion in the session that I attended.  

A lot of participants talked about the rising cost of housing.  Although condos are considered the most affordable units for middle-income residents, some people can’t buy them and afford the monthly condo fees.  Even in South Arlington, new condo units are priced out of the market for these residents, now being sold beginning in the $500 K range.  Others complained that low-income residents were being forced out on the street by developers, sometimes multiple times, and forced to move out of Arlington.  Others pointed out that it was also becoming harder for those in the 80-100% AMI range to afford to live here.  It was pointed out that the emphasis on the 60% AMI and below was to acknowledge their more desperate plight.

One major theme that emerged was the impact of housing policy on local schools.  They argued that emphasizing affordable housing along urban corridors (specifically, along Columbia Pike) concentrates lower-income students in South Arlington.  The result is a dramatic rise in the percentage of subsidized school lunches in certain schools.  Several participants cited studies showing that a percentage of 20% or higher of subsidized lunches was statistically correlated with dramatically lower test scores in those schools.  There are virtually no subsidized lunches in far Northern Arlington Schools, while some South Arlington Schools are approaching the 50% level of subsidized lunches.

They cited a Century Foundation Report by Heather Schwartz entitled “Housing Policy is School Policy: Economically Integrative housing Promotes Academic Success in Montgomery County, Maryland.”  By siting most new affordable housing along Columbia Pike, they argued that the policy itself would, over the next 30 years, create a permanent underachieving underclass.  One participant gave anecdotal evidence of two middle-class families who chose to sell their homes in South Arlington and move to Fairfax because of the low test scores in the local grade schools.  

The counter argument is that economically integrating the schools indicates that test scores of children from higher-income families did not suffer, while the test scores of children from economically disadvantaged families rose dramatically with different expectations and experiences.  In short, all boats were raised.  They challenged the Housing Study group to petition Arlington County to widen the mandate for the group to allow them to consider the impacts of the housing master plan on school districts.

So how would we achieve economic integration?  These citizens argue that Arlington should study policy that was implemented in Montgomery County for insight.  They also suggested that we could create additional corridors in Arlington for development, including Lee Highway and Washington Boulevard, to distribute CAF units throughout the north and south Arlington schools.  

Another discussion focused on the county’s plan to allow for duplex or triplex units in traditional single-family neighborhoods.  These plans would allow the development of houses that have the same architectural look as a large single-family residence, but allow for separate households on different floors.  These kinds of units are more common in communities on the East Coast.  This would require a change in zoning, but would potentially create more affordable housing for middle income residents without any financial support from the County. It would also create greater economic integration in the County.

Another change would be a more liberal policy for accessible dwellings, which would allow senior citizens already residing in single-family homes to create living space for singles or families.  The additional income from these units could help them to continue living in their current homes.  One participant reported that his neighbor was being forced to sell his home because he could no longer afford to pay taxes, even though he had applied for tax relief.


Affordable Housing Master Plan:


Affordable Housing Implementation Framework:


March 28 Plenary Presentation:


March 28 Breakout Session Materials:


Can Housing Policy be Good Education Policy? By Heather Schwartz


Housing Policy is School Policy: Economically Integrative Housing Promotes Academic Success in Montgomery County, Maryland, by Heather Schwartz


Finding Common Ground: Coordinating Housing and Education policy to Promote Integration, by the Poverty & Race Research Action Council