I’m pleased that Arlington County Board agreed to place the Green Party sponsored referendum to create a Housing Authority on the November ballot at its July 16 recessed meeting. This referendum is supported by a petition consisting of 2,845 signatures of Arlington voters, validated by the voter registrar on June 11, 2013. Nevertheless, I’m concerned about how the Board frames this issue.
§ 24.2-687 of Virginia Code directs a jurisdiction with a referendum on the ballot to disseminate literature at the polls providing a “neutral explanation” of what it means to the voters.
In 2008 in response to a similar referendum sponsored by the Arlington Green Party, the County Manager disseminated a flyer that was anything but neutral. Specifically it said: “A housing authority would only have access to the same tools and funding that the County currently uses.” It also stated: “The County Board would still be the primary source of funding, which comes from local taxes. An authority could also compete for the same grants that support the current housing program.”
Not only is this language non-neutral, it is false. Unlike the subsidies currently awarded by Arlington County to private housing corporations, a housing authority would get most of its funds not from the taxpayers but from HUD guaranteed bonds issued in private capital markets. If the bonds defaulted HUD would be liable, not county taxpayers as is currently the case. The authority would also qualify for HUD grants and loans not currently available to the county.
The County Manager also stated:
“A housing authority could directly operate or manage rental housing, which the County government currently cannot do and, even if it had the authority, would likely not do.”
In other words Arlington County might refuse to expand the pool of affordable housing even if it had the power to do so!
In light of county government’s obvious bias, I think Arlington voters ought to keep an open mind in considering how to vote on the question in November.