Affordable to Whom? Donald Trump?

Opponents of the Housing Authority Referendum promoted by the Arlington Green Party are at it again. This time it is Alliance for Housing Solutions (AHS) that says it’s for affordable housing. Affordable to whom? Donald Trump? AHS, which is sponsored by area developers and banks, has issued a Q&A explaining why a housing authority won’t solve the county’s housing crisis, but it raises more questions than it answers.

For example, if a housing authority is bad for Arlington, why is it good for all the other jurisdictions in Northern Va.? In fact the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority (FCRHA) has won accolades from HUD for good management. If Arlington doesn’t need a housing authority, why has the county has lost two thirds of its affordable housing since 2000?

Here are some of the factoids in AHS’ Q&A and my response to each:

Factoid 1. A housing authority would add another layer of government to the county.
Fact 1. A housing authority would utilize current County housing staff, consolidating their operations under one umbrella agency. A housing authority would create an unpaid citizens board appointed by County Board to run the authority. This is needed because right now developers call the shots, not citizens.

Factoid 2. Arlington has created more affordable units than any other county in Virginia.
Fact 2. Arlington has created more taxpayer subsidized housing than any other county in the state, because it has lost most of its affordable non-subsidized (a/k/a market rate) housing to redevelopment in the last ten years. In fact, the Virginia Tech Center for Housing Research reports that the demand for affordable units in Arlington is 14,000 right now.

Factoid 3. Many units have become unaffordable due to rent increases, which a housing authority would be powerless to stop.
Fact 3. A housing authority would issue tax exempt bonds to leverage more money to buy properties slated for conversion to luxury units. This would put a brake on rent increases and is a major reason why the developers who control County Board oppose it.

Factoiad 4. The County’s current practice of leasing land to non-profit housing corporations is more efficient than operating public housing itself.
Fact 4. If leasing land to non-profits to build affordable units were efficient, how come the per unit cost of the 122 “affordable” units at the new Arlington Mill complex was $250,000 or more than double the per unit cost of FCRHA public housing units?

Factoid 5. No new federal money would be available to a start up housing authority, because federal money goes to existing projects not new ones.
Fact 5. First, a housing authority has the power to build public housing, something the County can’t currently do. Once that housing is built, the County will qualify for some of the more than $2 billion HUD doles out to public housing projects every year. Second, in addition to qualifying for HUD funds, the housing authority would qualify for valuable HUD bond guarantees and low income tax credits that it does not currently qualify for.

Factoid 6. A housing authority would need a staff to purchase and manage properties, diverting funds that might be better spent on affordable units.
Fact 6. Arlington taxpayers currently subsidize the non-profits that provide limited affordable housing in the County. This subsidy pays the exorbitant $287,000 salary of Arlington Housing Corporation (AHC) CEO Walter Webdale and the $165,000 salary of Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) CEO Nina Janopaul. No wonder these housing honchos don’t want a housing authority that would put a ceiling on their salaries.

Factoid 7. A housing authority could lessen competition among housing non-profits bidding for work, resulting in waste and inefficiency.
Fact 7. The Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority (FCRHA) has been recognized by HUD as a model housing agency that now receives automatic low income tax credits due to its well run operation. There is no reason why Arlington’s housing authority cannot operate in the same manner.

Factoid 8. Arlington produces more committed affordable units (CAFs) per capita than either Fairfax or Aleandria.
Fact 8. Arlington’s approach to affordable housing is like a leaking bucket. The more units that are lost to gentrification as developers replace affordable housing with luxury units, the more County taxpayers pour into the Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF) to replace them. This isn’t a sign that the system is working. It’s proof that it’s failing. What Arlington needs is a housing authority that can bid on complexes slated for redevelopment and keep their rents affordable.

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