As many of you know, Evergreene Homes demolished three historic Westover garden apartment buildings in 2013 to make way for luxury townhouses. Developers are at it again. Soon four more 8-10 unit apartment buildings will be demolished to make way for another clutch of million dollar town homes between 11th Street and 11th Road off Washington Boulevard. Continue reading
I support the recommendation of the Arlington County Civic Federation Revenues and Expenditures Committee to reduce the County’s FY 2017 real estate tax rate by 1 cent from 99.6 cents to 98.6 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Among the facts laid out in R&E’s resolution, are the following:
- Arlington homeowners have seen a 5-year total increase of over $1,000 per year in additional taxes and fees.
- Arlington County ranks 3rd in median property taxes out of 134 Virginia counties;
- To realize the same amount of real estate tax revenue as last year, the County would have to cut taxes by 2 cents instead of the 1 cent tax reduction that R&E proposes.
In addition, the regional comparison in the Revenues section of the Budget Book shows that Arlington has the highest tax and fee burden of any county in Northern Virginia except the City of Falls Church. (Book 116, Web 124).
While R&E is seeking tax relief on behalf of residential taxpayers, the effect of a tax rate reduction would fall equally on commercial taxpayers, because commercial enterprises still comprise almost half the real estate tax base.
The County Manager touts the reduction in the commercial vacancy rate by 1.6 percent in the past year, with a concomitant increase in real estate revenue of $5.4 million.
To accomplish this Arlington Economic Development (AED) hired 4 additional staff for its Business Investment Group (BIG) to retain and recruit new commercial tenants at a cost of about $500,000. The Budget Book reports the retention or addition of 5,000 jobs in 2015 half of which were attributable to the retention of one large employer, Corporate Executive Board (web 673).
But at more the 20 percent the commercial vacancy rate is still double the historic average. To attract more commercial tenants, the County Manager proposes $1.5 million in one-time grants for small startup companies. But that is just a drop in the bucket compared to what neighboring jurisdictions are spending.
For example, the County Manager’s Message to the County indicates that PG County has a $50 million incentive fund that awards $7-$11 million per year to small and medium businesses. DC awards $1 million modernization grants along with a tax rebate program that provides up to $5 million in total incentives per eligible business (Book 26, Web 34).
The only way Arlington can compete with those giveaways is to reduce the tax rate to keep its commercial tax base.
First, I want to applaud the County Manager for several initiatives outlined in his message to the County accompanying the FY17 proposed budget. Among them are plans to consolidate recreation programs and web based services offered by both the County and APS.
Also under consideration are plans to scrap parking stickers and manage real estate records in one place. This is all good, as consolidation of services is the most efficient and least disruptive way to reduce costs.
Another proposed initiative, providing so-called library pop-up space, doesn’t fit that category. It would cost $250,000 while providing only temporary benefits to a limited number of county residents to be paid for out of one time funds (book 12, web 20).
Don’t get me wrong, I am a vocal supporter of Arlington Library. As someone who regularly petitions outside Central Library, I am constantly amazed at the steady stream of residents from other jurisdictions who patronize the facility. My guess is that half the people who frequent Central Library are from out of the County. Ditto for Shirlington Library.
Demand for Arlington library services is strong and growing. But the way to meet the demand is not to add yet another particularized benefit. A much better approach is to expand branch library hours.
Four branch libraries, including Aurora Hills, Glencarlyn, Westover and Cherrydale, are closed on Sundays. I urge the Board to open them seven days a week in FY17 and keep them open the following year if demand warrants it.
Establishing a new library even a temporary one requires additional overhead in the form of rent and administration. Extending existing hours does not. It’s time for the County to treat its library system as the invaluable asset it is instead of a neglected, four eyed step child. Seeking to expand services on the cheap will cost more in the long run.
On October 2, 2015 months after Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) announced its decision to toll I-66 inside the Beltway, it published the results of a modeling study entitled: “I66 Multimodal Improvements: Future Conditions Traffic Technical Memorandum”, which assesses the impacts of tolling on I-66 and parallel arteries.
Based on the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) TDM Version 2.3, Build 57 regional model, the report indicates that while traffic volume in the a.m. and p.m. peak [traditional] direction will not change much either on I-66 or parallel arteries, non-peak [reverse commute] direction traffic will divert onto parallel roadways. Traffic operations at key locations along Routes 50 and 29 will be degraded as a result. Continue reading
As an Independent Candidate for Arlington County Board. I’ve spoken to hundreds of voters, taxpayers, and residents on the campaign trail.
Many have related to me their frustration with the fact that Arlington County staff frequently withhold critical documents, data, and information, or delay posting critical information till the day before the next Board or Commission meeting. Continue reading
I’m Audrey Clement, Independent Candidate for Arlington County Board. I’ve spoken with thousands of voters, taxpayers and residents while campaigning for County Board this year. One thing is clear from these conversations; Arlington has nearly run out of public open space to keep pace with our population growth.
We have to go back to the future and do what our parents and grandparents did 50 years ago: Buy land for new regional parks, outdoor recreation and playing fields.
Upon election to the Arlington County Board, I will work with our state legislators, neighboring local governments, developers and planners to acquire land and property inside the beltway to be used for multijurisdictional public open space as well as for sports and outdoor recreation.
This would supplement the ongoing acquisition of small parcels of land in Arlington to expand our parks, as opportunities arise.
Relying solely on park and recreation land acquisition within the County isn’t meeting our needs today and surely won’t meet the needs of the burgeoning population for which the county must plan. Clearly, we can’t go on packing more people and vehicles into residential communities where neighborhood parks are overwhelmed by the heavy traffic and use of a growing population.
We need 21st-century solutions to resolve problems resulting from decades of inadequate planning (or no planning). Please help me by voting for Audrey Clement on November 3rd. For details, visit my website—audreyclement.com—to review my platform and agenda to keep our community a sustainable and enjoyable place to live, work and play.
The Arlington Affordable Housing Master Plan (AHMP) has admirable goals, principal among them that: “Arlington County shall have an adequate supply of housing available to meet community needs.”
The question is whether constructing 15,800 CAFs in the next 25 years is feasible and affordable. If not, then the plan should be scrapped.
AHMP is predicated on the assumption that densification reduces housing costs. Yet long time civic activist Suzanne Sundburg has demonstrated that densification has just the opposite effect.
Pointing to the fact that the 3,000 CAFs constructed in the past decade have not met the loss of more than 13,000 market rate affordable units since 2000, she described the situation in a recent letter to County Board with the following analogy.
“No matter how fast a dog runs, it can’t catch its own tail. And using “bonus” and other density to add CAFs works the same way. More density 1) inflates land values, 2) raises housing prices, and 3) destroys MARKs at a faster rate than CAFs can be added. Doing more of the same on a larger scale and expecting a different result isn’t a ‘plan’ but it is a good definiton for ‘insanity.’”
So much for feasibility. Then there is the question of cost. While the plan itself provides no cost estimate, you can guesstimate the annual cost using some available numbers:
• new CAF construction—$58.2 million per year, discounted to reflect the payback of existing CAF construction loans
(632 units per year x $100,000 per unit less $5 million per year AHIF loan payback);
• average annual rent subsidy for new CAF residents–$17.3 million
(632 units added annually x $7,000 average subsidy x .30 proportion subsidized*325)/25 ;
• annual school subsidy–$21.3 million
($20,000 per student x 1,064 new students per year,
472 CAF units for new county residents per year and CAF student generation factor of .8;
8,569 new market rate units and market rate student generation factor of .08, i.e. 472*.8+8569*.08=1064 );
• School construction outlay for one 725 seat elementary school per year–$50 million;
The total–$146.8 million per year exclusive of transportation and other impacts–is simply unaffordable. The fact that the County is trying to sell this plan without a price tag should send a message to the voters—Caveat Emptor–let the buyer beware!
Voters should instead lobby for Sundburg’s recommended solution to the housing crisis:
1. Stop building CAFs. Private developers can build units more cheaply than can the county, so limit new construction to onsite affordable units in market-rate developments.
Using the RSMeans online QuickCost Estimator tool, the cost in Arlington to construct a 6-story, 180,000 square foot apartment building with 200 units ranges from $24 million to $30 million, or $135,00 to $170,000 per unit.
By contrast Arlington CAFs’ recent per-unit construction costs have ranged from over $250,000 (Arlington Mill) to over $270,000 (The Springs), without land acquisition costs. According to GMU’s 2014 Assessment of Arlington’s affordable housing program and policies, the CAF financing gap is increasing. The average estimated cost of $85,000–$100,000 per unit—the amount that we must finance using local dollars—will only grow larger based on the AHMP’s focus on producing units at 60% AMI, a higher percentage of family-size units, and locating CAFs in more expensive areas like the R-B corridor.
2. Redirect AHIF dollars to purchase the few remaining MARKs. According to the recent Development Forum presentation (see slide 28), there were only 3,437 MARKs left countywide (as of 2013) that are affordable to households earning less than 60% AMI. This would give us a better chance of preserving what remains and protect those already living in Arlington. Pursuing an unachievable target (adding 12,363 new CAFs) to make up for historic losses means that we are much more likely to lose all the remaining MARK housing. Focus limited resources on what can actually be saved and those who are actually living here right now rather than the many who want to move here.
3. Reallocate AHIF funds to expand housing grants, because unlike CAF rentals, housing grants can be targeted to current Arlington residents (with stronger oversight than is permitted/required under the HUD Section 8/Housing Choice Voucher program). Currently, 80% of housing grant funds are used to subsidize the rent of very low income elderly, disabled and families who live in Arlington. These CAF residents pay 40% of their income (if they have any) for housing. Shifting the use of taxpayer funds from construction to rent subsidies could enable Arlington to provide more support to those in greatest need who are already living in our community today.
4. Encourage developer construction of on-site affordable units rather than off-site construction or contributions to AHIF— to guarantee a more equitable geographic distribution of units. Rather than concentrating affordable units in certain buildings or areas through AHIF-funded construction of new CAFs, this method guarantees that new CAFs will be dispersed amongst all the new buildings coming online countywide—and at an overall lower cost per unit.
5. Broaden the focus of housing efforts to include a greater emphasis on aging-in-place/supportive housing. Return the real estate tax deferral/relief program for the elderly and disabled to the Commissioner of the Revenue, who will expand the program to a greater number of eligible seniors.
Include more strategies to address supportive or group housing for those residents with severe mental or physical impairment, including the increasing number of autistic children who will not be able to live independently once they reach adulthood.
6. Perform a comprehensive fiscal impact analysis of the plan including its impact on schools (e.g. the students generated by all the market-rate housing needed to produce/preserve affordable units). Failing to provide realistic cost projections (with the exception of general fund revenue needed for AHIF) borders on malfeasance and is hardly a recipe for success, if the true goal is preserving affordable housing.
7. Acquire more public land to meet the needs of a growing population. Parkland isn’t a luxury but a necessity. Without it we are building slums not communities.
In sum the AHMP is a political ploy to make people feel good as they are being recycled out of the county. It solves a political problem by papering over the gentrification that continues apace.
I’m persuaded that Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is genuinely interested in addressing concerns about the traffic impact of tolling I-66, which I support. Nevertheless I’m concerned that VDOT has not responded effectively to the concerns raised. For example, Delegate Jim LeMunyon recently trashed VDOT’s plans to toll I-66 inside the Beltway. Continue reading
I am delighted at VDOT’s decision to toll I-66 inside the Beltway and to investigate the impact of tolling and other Transportation Demand Management (TDM) measures to mitigate congestion before undertaking any further widening of the roadway. This makes good sense from both a traffic engineering and financial standpoint. If improved mass transit options together with tolling reduce congestion what’s the point of spending millions of dollars that VDOT could use better elsewhere in Northern Virginia?
According to Arlington’s Affordable Housing Task force, the county’s affordable housing shortage has reached crisis proportions with 7,000 households in need of rent relief and many more forecast. The solution according to the Affordable Housing Master Plan (AHMP) is to construct 15,800 units by 2040. This will be accomplished by awarding developers bonus density in return for setting aside a percentage of new apartments as committed affordable units (CAFs). Continue reading