Greater Transparency from Arlington County Government Needed

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

PRESS RELEASE: County Board Candidate Audrey Clement Seeks To Add Regional Park, Outdoor Recreational and Playing Field Resources

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.

 

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Affordable Housing Master Plan Is Unaffordable

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,
Assuming:
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.

VDOT Must Sway Opponents of Tolling I-66

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

Keep the Bus and Toll the Road

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?
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Affordable Housing Master Plan Wildly Unrealistic

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

County Board To Trade Rosslyn Park for New Fire Station

It was recently revealed that County Board has agreed to trade county parkland to developer Penzance in exchange for a fire station to be incorporated as part of a mixed use office development at the WRAPS site in West Rosslyn. This deal was done in a secret Letter of Intent (LOI) in January 2013, the existence of which WRAPS itself had been ignorant till a couple of months ago. Continue reading

The Cost of Gentrification

Arlington’s Affordable Housing Task Force has reported that 13,000 affordable units in Arlington County were lost between 2000 and 2013. At that rate the remaining stock of market rate affordable housing will be gone by 2020.

What the task force hasn’t reported is the dollar cost of luxury style densification on other county residents in the form of unmet infrastructure needs.

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Wilson School to be Bulldozed to Make Way for Development

On April 18 Arlington County Board voted overwhelming to demolish historic Wilson School to make way for development at the WRAPS site in West Rosslyn over the objections of the Rosslyn civic leaders and the Arlington Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board (AHALRB).

Advocates of restoring the historic Wilson School were told that preservation must make way for other more important uses, among them an office building, a mega school, a fire station and a park.

According to preservationists restoring Wilson School would actually expand green space by eliminating the superstructure built around the original building, reducing its footprint by two thirds.

Citing Barrett Branch Library in Old Town Alexandria where an historic 1937 building was expanded with a new addition in 1995, preservationists indicated that a new high school and the Wilson School on the WRAPS site are not mutually exclusive.

Since a fire station and the Wilson School currently co-exist on the site, there is no reason why a rebuilt fire station could not co-exist with a restored school.

The only use that cannot accommodate the school is the high rise mixed use complex to be constructed by Penzance. County Board acceded to the deal in a secret Letter of Intent (LOI) in January 2013, the existence of which WRAPS itself had been ignorant till now.

Not only was this deal undertaken in a non-transparent manner, it is also imprudent. Consider that at 23 percent Arlington’s office vacancy rate is at an all time high. The Washington Business Journal reports a Rosslyn vacancy rate of 30.8 percent, with more than 2.7 million square feet of empty office space including a 35-story trophy office building at 1812 Moore Street that remains vacant a year and a half after construction.

Across the street from 1812 Moore two new office towers are going up that will glut Rosslyn with empty office space for years to come. No developer in his right mind would contemplate let alone construct office space in Rosslyn at the present time.

County Board can’t tell developers what to do. But it could exercise its power of site plan review to deny a permit that will trade irreplaceable county parkland for a high rise development of questionable value to taxpayers both residential and commercial. County Board would have done Penzance a favor by refusing to sell it the county owned land it needs to further this speculative, imprudent and unwise business venture.

The decision to scrap Wilson School sealed the Penzance deal since preservation of the school interfered with Penzance’s plans for the site. There is poetic justice here because the state of the office market in Rosslyn right now is so dire that any new office building will be hard to rent, and that might prove to be an albatross around the developer’s neck.

WRAPS Process Is Short Sighted

County Board member John Vihstadt questioned the priorities of the WRAPS planning process for west Rosslyn at the February 21 County Board meeting. He said:

“The [WRAPS] charge also very clearly specified that the desire is to accommodate: a new school, new affordable housing, a new fire station, private redevelopment and green space . . . and we may be faced with the issue ‘something’s got to give’.”
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