Housing Agency Returns to Ballot

Voters in Arlington County will get another chance to decide whether to establish a local housing authority.
A government agency would help address the dwindling supply of affordable housing in the affluent county, say members of the Green Party of Arlington County, who collected the 2,845 signatures required to get the question on the ballot for the November election.
“The cost of renting here costs more than anywhere else” in the area, said Green Party leader John Reeder.“The county needs to be doing something to help the people,” he added.
A 2008 referendum to establish a housing authority in the county went down to defeat. Yet Reeder and other supporters say that development pressures and displacement of low-wage workers have continued since then.
And some research appears to support their position. The 20,000 private market-rate apartments that were available in Arlington in 2000 to people earning 60 percent or less of the median area income, slid to 5,300 by 2011, according to the Virginia Tech Center for Housing Research.
Reeder and other Green Party leaders argue that a county housing agency would bring new focus to the job of preserving and creating affordable housing-and would be eligible to garner funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to support such efforts.
But Arlington County Board members and affordable housing nonprofit directors oppose the idea of the county housing authority. County Board Vice Chair Jay Fisette said the agency is not needed because Arlington already has one of the best affordable housing programs in the country.
“I have no doubt that this community I live in does more to support and fund affordable housing than any other locality in Virginia,” said Fisette in a telephone interview. He noted that Arlington allocates five percent of its budget to this cause.
“The investment we make dwarfs other localities,” said Fisette, who like other opponents of the referendum, argued that rather than providing new tools or making new funds available, a housing authority would add another administrative cost to the county budget.
Arlington County has more than 6,000 units of affordable housing, which makes up 14-15 percent of its housing stock, said board member Christopher Zimmerman. In addition, the county has a revolving fund to supplement the supply and requires developers to provide affordable housing in many new projects.
Nina Janopaul, president and CEO of Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, dismissed the idea of a county housing authority getting funding from an overstretched HUD. She said the nation as a whole already has a $25 billion backlog of unfunded public housing needs.
“In this context,” Janopaul said, “I see virtually no chance that a new Arlington County public housing authority could access new funding from HUD.”
Walter Webdale, president and CEO of Arlington County’s AHD Inc., which also deals with affordable housing, agreed, saying the idea is outdated.
“It was a wonderful idea 30 years ago, but as of now HUD doesn’t have any new money to fund a housing authority,” Webdale said.
The county board plans to discuss the measure at either its July 13 or July 16 meeting. It must discuss the issue 90 days before the election, Board spokesperson Diana Sun said.

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