Category: Housing

PRESS RELEASE: Candidate Responses to Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future Questionnaire

ASF QUESTIONS FOR ARLINGTON COUNTY BOARD NOVEMBER 3 ELECTION CANDIDATES, August 31, 2020.

Below are County Board Candidate Audrey Clement’s responses to an Arlingtonians For Our Sustainable Future (ASF) candidate questionnaire. These responses are also available on the ASF website.

Question 1 (two parts):
ASF KEY ISSUE: DEVELOPMENT
Cost-Benefit Analysis for New Development – Reflecting a key recommendation of the 2015 Community Facilities Study, our County Board in 2017 directed the Manager to study options for county performance of cost-benefit analyses for new site plan projects. Such analyses, done by many jurisdictions, quantify likely tax and revenue income generation per site plan, as well as potential incremental costs on nearby schools, parks, water/sewer and other community infrastructure. So far, the Arlington County Board appears to have done little or nothing to implement this recommendation. What would you do, if anything, to move forward on this directive?

Population Density – Our county board currently supports very high growth/density rates. (Estimated U.S. census growth from April 2010 to July 2019 was 14.0%. U.S. census density in 2010 was 8,309 people per square mile, the highest of any county in Virginia.) If you are elected, would you support growth/densification at the same, a greater, or lesser pace and why?

Answer(s) for Question #1: Cost-Benefit Analysis and Population Density

Cost-benefit analyses for new projects are routine for most local governments. Arlington County is an exception. Its site-plan impact analysis is perfunctory, at best. Two recent examples come to mind—both reviewed by Arlington’s Transportation Commission, of which I am a member: 1) the Key Bridge Marriott redevelopment site in Rosslyn and 2) and the plan to redevelop Shirlington Village.

Though I spoke in favor of the Marriott design on March 5, I objected that the traffic impacts of three other nearby redevelopment projects were excluded from the Marriott’s traffic impact analysis (TIA): Rosslyn Gateway, Rosslyn Plaza and the Ames Center at 1820 Fort Myer Drive.

These three developments could easily double the traffic at Lee Highway and Fort Myer Drive, an intersection that the TIA says is already congested. A traffic impact analysis that excludes the cumulative impact of all new sources of traffic isn’t real planning.

On July 2, I challenged staff’s claim that Shirlington Village could accommodate even more traffic than generated by its recommended redevelopment proposal — without bothering to prepare a TIA. Staff advised that GLUP studies don’t require TIAs and that a TIA would be produced during the site plan review process. This is why we see no discussion whatsoever of redevelopment impacts on schools, green space, historic structures or public safety in the 200-page Shirlington Village GLUP study. If the County routinely disregards or avoids performing impact and cost-benefit analyses during the initial GLUP planning process, then the cumulative impact of these projects is never quantified or addressed.

If elected, I will insist on impact and cost-benefit analyses for every major site-plan project as well as a study outlining the economic benefits of the 40% population increase that staff intends to effect over the next 25 years.

Question 2 (one part):
ASF Key Issue: DEVELOPMENT

Answers for Question #2: Covid-19 and Missing Middle Housing

Impact of Covid-19 on Missing Middle Policy – With Covid-19 showing few signs of significant decline either nationally or in many states, both anecdotal evidence and recent statistics reveal that people may once again be moving out of central cities and first-tier suburbs to outer suburbs and even rural areas—looking for more room for living and more accessible and abundant green space. At the same time, many employers with an Arlington or Metro area presence are reconsidering the need to have workers concentrated onsite in dense employment centers, facilitating even greater telework and materially reducing the need for home-to-office commuting. Many experts believe that these changes will endure well after the pandemic subsides.

Should the County plan to measure and factor in these apparent trends for Arlington as it pursues greater densification of housing at a time this concept may be losing favor locally and regionally? If not, why not?

Whereas many U.S. economic sectors have contracted since the national pandemic emergency was declared in mid-March, the housing market has rebounded, with previously owned home sales increasing by almost 25% in July. Telework is the new normal for many American workers, who are seeking more space at home instead of easier commutes to the office. Rather than moving into city centers, people are seeking safe havens outside major urban corridors where land and housing costs tend to be lower. Telework will almost certainly continue to grow for the foreseeable future.

Most Metrorail lines are still operating well below capacity — even during rush hour. It’s doubtful that Metro itself can sustain current operations after congressional subsidies run out. Having relied on transit-oriented development to attract new residents, Arlington real estate developers and county government must adapt.

Under these conditions, more intense infill development fueled by the so-called Missing Middle upzoning proposal seems risky. Arlington County should acknowledge the speculative nature of the Missing Middle initiative, its inflationary impact on land values and assessments, its questionable benefits for the middle class, and the danger of displacing existing lower and fixed-income households — especially the nearly 17% of homeowners who spend less than $1,000 per month for housing.

Instead, Arlington should incentivize preservation of its existing low-density residential neighborhoods and older (a/k/a more affordable) homes as a hedge against an exodus to the far suburbs by middle-income families seeking better value for their hard-earned dollars and a place to work more safely from home.

Question 3 (one part):
ASF KEY ISSUE: ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP

Trees – Residential and commercial development are putting major stress on Arlington’s tree canopy, now hovering near 40%. What specific steps would you take to stabilize and expand Arlington’s tree canopy

Answers for Question #3: Tree Canopy

First, based on expert advice, I would be skeptical of claims that Arlington’s mature tree canopy is increasing. County Board members and staff argue just the opposite. Yet the County’s own numbers indicate that the amount of impervious surface has increased from 40% to 45% since 2001. The additional hardscape came from somewhere, and it’s likely from clearcutting and excavating residential lots. It is also estimated that the County itself permitted the removal of at least 1,000 trees in conjunction with construction on a handful of public sites between 2014 and 2020.

Next, I would acknowledge that the loss of tree canopy and related pervious green space amounts to a crisis, because the county is suffering increasingly frequent and severe floods. And its mature tree canopy is the first line of defense against flooding. The County’s latest 10-year CIP allocates $200 million for storm water mitigation (p.11), of which I estimate that $26 million is needed to mitigate runoff due to tree removal from public property. It is estimated that every 1% increase in impervious surfaces accounts for a 3.3% increase in annual flood magnitude.

To discourage the loss of mature trees on public and private land, I would advocate for stronger stormwater management regulations, as permitted by the State Water Control Board; close loopholes in the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act that permit the removal of large numbers of trees in riparian areas; and work to adopt stricter zoning and other regulations to reduce the growth of impervious surfaces.

Question 4 (two parts):
ASF KEY ISSUE: INFRASTRUCTURE

Stormwater Management – Severe flooding of July 2018 and July 2019 caused massive property and environmental damage; climate change will trigger more such events. What should we be doing to factor in the adverse consequences of climate change in Arlington’s stormwater management policies and capital projects, as well in private sector developments?

Schools and Transportation Needs – Planning and growth must also account for infrastructure needs of growing populations, whether schools, water, wastewater, fire/police systems, or transportation systems. Pre-Covid-19, schools and traffic had become major stressors for residents, yet the county takes ad hoc approaches, with school reshufflings and traffic jams increasing without meaningful steps to increase public transport use. Do you believe these are problems and what changes would you endorse?

Answers for Key Issue #4: Stormwater, Schools, Transportation Needs

It’s imperative that public officials acknowledge the connection between mature tree removal and flooding. Arlington Public Schools demolished a grove of mature trees near the new Reed school addition, a few feet from the epicenter of 2019 100-year flood — despite wide publicity. Because of school officials’ ignorance of basic hydrology and the willful ignorance of other officials, Arlington taxpayers will be paying $200 million over the next 10 years for stormwater mitigation. That high cost wasn’t inevitable.

Nor was permitting the demolition of a 100-foot state champion Dawn Redwood in North Arlington in 2018 located in a resource protection area defined by Little Pimmit Run. The County’s approval of the related subdivision not only violated the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act (CBPA), it also compromised stormwater management for the entire neighborhood. If elected, I plan to enforce CBPA, not look for loopholes to circumvent it.

On transportation needs, educating public officials is also central. County officials argue that traffic congestion isn’t an issue because VDOT traffic data indicate that annual average daily traffic (AADT) has decreased on Arlington’s arterials. This may be true, but VDOT traffic counts don’t measure congestion on neighborhood streets. And levels of service at key intersections has worsened.

As a Transportation Commission member, I can attest to the fact that staff routinely present Transportation Impact Analyses (TIAs) that deny or discount impacts from major developments — even to the point of justifying more traffic, because existing congestion is already so bad more traffic won’t hurt. The County also refuses to factor in the traffic impacts of projects in the development pipeline that have not yet been approved.

Arlington County did well to reduce the minimum parking requirements for developments along the R-B corridor. It must also produce TIAs that factor in the likely traffic impacts of pipeline developments.

Question 5 (one part):
ASF Key Issue: DIVERSITY

Housing Affordability – The county is losing demographic and economic diversity as a consequence of economic and development trends of the past two decades. ASF believes that key zoning decisions of past boards, and plans for denser zoning known as Missing Middle Housing, will only exacerbate these trends. How would you propose to address this challenge during your term in office?

Answers for Question #4: Housing Affordability and Diversity

The County acknowledges that its housing policy has gentrified low-income people out of the County. Yet they disclaim responsibility for the elimination of two thirds of the County’s market-rate affordable rental units over the past 20 years, since it was done by right. Yet on April 30, 2020, the County Board adopted a budget that includes elimination of a tax incentive for landlords who renovate their properties. Instead, Arlington County under the rubric of “Missing Middle” is promoting the myth that densifying Arlington’s residential neighborhoods through upzoning will provide more affordable housing.

The Myth of Missing Middle was challenged by a July, 2020 analysis of the consequences of duplex development on single-family home sites by Wharton professor Jon Huntley, who demonstrated that Arlington property values are already so high that duplex ownership will remain beyond the reach of a household earning 100% of area median income (AMI) in most neighborhoods. This is because new duplexes, which are central to Missing Middle, will compete on price with new single-family homes, which typically start at $1 million and above. Thus, they will be unaffordable to median income earners, who can afford to pay no more than $525,000 for housing.

Instead of Missing Middle densification, I propose to restore and promote the tax incentive for the renovation of privately owned apartment buildings. Not only will this bring a lot of dilapidated buildings up to code, it will do so at a price that is affordable to both landlords and moderate-income tenants.

Arlington Think Tank Says “Missing Middle” Housing Is Unaffordable

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, July 18, 2020.

The following are excerpts from a July 15 statement issued by Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future (ASF) on the cost of so-called missing middle housing.

Arlington County’s “Housing Arlington” Missing Middle initiative — launched in December 2019 — is premised on the assumption that increasing the supply of housing even in an elastic/high demand market will provide significantly more affordable housing.

In particular, proponents of this initiative have speculated that Missing Middle housing “types” would be affordable for those at or near Arlington’s Area Median Income (AMI) of about $120,000 a year. By rezoning districts that are now limited to detached single-family homes (SFHs) to allow for duplex, triplex or townhouse development, as the country is strongly hinting, more homes might indeed be built — but at great cost in new services, infrastructure, traffic/transportation, school seats, environmental impact and park demand.

This assumption is challenged by a July, 2020 analysis of the consequences of duplex development on SFH sites by Dr. Jon Huntley, a senior economist and Kody Carmody, a communications specialist, both employed at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

Huntley and Carmody show that Arlington property and land values are so high that duplex ownership will remain beyond the means of a household earning 100% of area median income (AMI) in all but a few neighborhoods. In order to make them attractive for builders, new duplexes will need to compete on price with new SFHs, which typically start at $1 million and above in all areas of the county. Thus they will be unaffordable to median income earners, who can afford to pay no more than $525,000 for housing. So much for affordable Missing Middle housing.

County to Eliminate Tax Exemption for Apartment Renovations

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, March 21, 2020

Buried in the County Manager’s proposed FY21 budget is a proposal to repeal the partial tax incentive for renovating multi-family properties. Yes, you heard me. After all the song and dance about affordable housing, the County Manager wants to scrap the one program in the County’s arsenal of housing tools that actually delivers affordable housing. He wants to transfer the revenue stream of additional taxes to the County’s so-called affordable housing programs. Here’s the proposal:

“The Proposed Budget recommends repealing Partial Exemption for Certain Rehabilitated Residential Real Estate. At this time the Manager is recommending that the exemption for owners/developers of multi-family properties be discontinued and that the County Board should consider investing in the County’s affordable housing programs instead of providing tax abatements to renovated properties. Repeal of the ordinance will not impact the FY 2021 Budget. Current applications will be allowed to continue to utilize the tax exemption. It is estimated that the collection of otherwise foregone revenue will not be realized until FY 2022 or FY 2023. This is due to the normal delay which occurs from the filing of the application, construction and rehabilitation, and the ultimate assessment and billing for the approved exemption.”

Budget Book 87-97

This initiative is directly contrary to several goals outlined in the Affordable Housing Master Plan, among them to:

“1.2.1 Incentivize the production of moderately-priced ownership housing through land use and zoning policy.

“1.2.2 Encourage production and preservation of family-sized (e.g. 3+bedroom) moderately-priced ownership units.”

It’s also fiscally irresponsible. At $400,000 and up, the cost of construction of a so-called committed affordable unit (CAF) exceeds that of a luxury condo. Renovation of an existing market rate unit might cost $200,000 or less. Housing non-profits like APAH will tell you that the loans they get from the County to build CAFs are all paid back in the form of rent. What they don’t tell you is that these rents are heavily subsidized by taxpayers. So whereas tenants make out like bandits, the taxpayer is gouged.

Scrapping the tax incentive to renovate market rate units belies the County’s commitment to affordable housing and is unfair to taxpayers.

Misconceptions About “Missing Middle” Housing

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, February 22, 2020

On February 6, housing planner Russell Schroeder outlined the Housing Division’s “Missing Middle” housing study to the Transportation Commission. According to the study’s framework document, one of the goals is to arrive at “a shared definition for the term ‘missing middle housing’ for Arlington”.

The Transportation Commission, which embraced the plan, conceded that missing middle does not mean affordable housing. Indeed, ARLnow quoted Commissioner Kristin Calkins, who said: “The point of the Missing Middle Study is not to create affordable housing, but is to create housing for different needs.”

Commissioner James Lantelme said the purpose of Missing Middle is to further densify the County in order to reduce suburban sprawl and provide people who can afford to do so the opportunity to live here–in other words, to promote “Smart Growth”.

There was no concern expressed about the impacts of densification on County residents, including increased congestion, overcrowded schools, loss of green space and tree canopy and attendant runoff and flooding. To housing advocates like AHC who believe that Missing Middle will provide affordable housing, civic activist Suzanne Sundburg has this to say:

So all these folks who claim to support increasing the number of “people of color” and/or “affordability” are being intellectually dishonest. Increased density inflates land values. And inflated land values drive up assessments, which, in turn, drive up the tax burden. That increased tax burden falls heaviest on fixed- and low-income households . . . which often comprise people of color, seniors and the disabled. These developer welfare upzoning/densification programs increase the cost of housing for all Arlingtonians, and result in the displacement of the very people that they and the county claim they want to “help.”

Suzanne Sundburg

Upzoning the Arlington Way

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, December 14, 2019

The Arlington Connection recently ran a story on upzoning the Arlington way. It went like this. A large lot on North River Street in Chain Bridge Forest was recently sold by the estate of its former owner to a developer. He leveled the home and all 200 trees on it to make way for 4 new McMansions.

At a recent County Board meeting Christian Dorsey informed one of the impacted neighbors that the County Board couldn’t do anything about it. Appeals to the County Manager’s office, CPHD and the Zoning Administrator likewise fell on deaf ears. The reason is by right development according to Libby Garvey, who commented on “the need to examine regs that can discourage such projects.”

But that’s not likely to happen when the County Board votes to upzone residential neighborhoods. Then the plight of Chain Bridge Forest will play out across the County. Housing advocates like Affordable Housing Solutions are cheering the developers on, because they  naïvely believe that upzoning will produce affordable housing. That’s delusional. Upzoning will simply replace each million dollar tear down with 4 equally unaffordable pre-fabs.

A recent Sun Gazette editorial opined that upzoning will pit single family homeowners against recently “woke” voters who own no property and have no interest in preserving single family neighborhoods. Their votes will be bought by outside money from the likes of George Soros, who recently purchased the election of the County’s new Commonwealth Attorney.

 “Woke” voters are no doubt easily led. But their votes won’t be needed once existing owners realize that they can make a killing by selling to a developer, who will then cannibalize their property and immiserate their neighbors.

Detached ADUs Will Upzone Arlington Neighborhoods

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, 5/18/19

Here is Suzanne Sundburg’s take on detached affordable dwelling units (ADUs).

“This is the first step to eliminate single-family zoning. Any land use attorney worth his/her salt should easily be able to get a judge to determine that properties with independent/ detached accessory dwellings are 2-family lots, which does not meet the standard for single-family zoning, as staff contends. I do believe staff understands this weakness and these changes are part of a deliberate strategy to eliminate many restrictions in the remaining low-density areas, which also happen to be where most of our dwindling mature tree canopy remains.

“This is not about affordable housing; this is about enabling developers and builders to line their pockets by opening up more buildable lots that heretofore have been beyond reach. Don’t take my word for it.

“Here’s what the Federal Reserve has to say about upzoning in existing low-density neighborhoods in a 2018 study highlighted in Forbes magazine:

“The Fed report suggests that housing will be much the same:

The implication of this finding is that even if a city were able to ease some supply constraints to achieve a marginal increase in its housing stock, the city will not experience a meaningful reduction in rental burdens.

Add 5% more housing to the most expensive neighborhoods and the rents would drop only by 0.5%.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/eriksherman/2018/08/03/additional-building-wont-make-city-housing-more-affordable-says-fed-study/#16c6e4f1218b

“The inflation of land values is easily predictable, as is the increase in real estate taxes. Staff and board members will finally be able to force older, long-time homeowners off of their properties while trying to shield themselves from blame for their continued economic cleansing of Arlington. The truly poor (who haven’t be able to wrangle a subsidy) have been forced out. Now it’s middle-class’s turn.

“This is what you get when you permit developers and real estate interests to control public policy from the shadows.”

Rosslyn Affordable Apartments To Be Recycled Into Luxury Condos

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, 4/23/19.

I’m concerned about the lack of specificity of the proposed Best Western site plan. On the one hand, staff says the developer might replace the rental units in the building to be demolished at 1523 Fairfax Drive with new rental units on site. Or he might provide a cash payment to the County to purchase replacement rental units elsewhere.

So which is it? How can County Board make an informed decision about the project without knowing exactly what is going to replace the Ellis Arms Apartments—one of the few remaining market rate affordable apartment buildings in the County?

Also the staff report itself is unclear on the legality of replacing rental units with condo units under the County’s Special Affordable Housing Protection District (SAHPD) policy, which governs this property. According to the report:

. . . the SAHPD designation is intended to replace the existing affordability levels of the property being demolished. The inclusion of up to 80% AMI condominiums would not replace the up to 60% AMI existing affordable rental units at the Ellis Arms (p. 21).

Staff Report, Item 41, 4/23/19

An agent for the developer stated upfront at the April 4 Transportation Commission hearing on this matter that Ellis Arms is going to be replaced with condos not rental units.

The developer himself has no illusions. He thinks he’s fulfilled his end of the bargain by making a generous affordable housing contribution. It’s not his problem if the stock of affordable housing in the County is further reduced in the process.

The fact that staff continue to equivocate about the disposition of Ellis Arms suggests to me that the County is acting duplicitously to cover its own tracks. It doesn’t want to let on that this project violates both the spirit of the Affordable Housing Master Plan (AHMP) and the intent of the SAHPD. So it’s fostering an illusion that affordable housing might be saved.

PRESS RELEASE: What’s Not To Like About Amazon in Arlington, Part 4

The Arlington Chamber of Commerce recently urged its members to support the deal that will install Amazon’s second headquarters in Crystal City in return for $750 million in state cash incentives–plus many other freebies from the state and county.

Also “expressing full support for a County agreement with Amazon” was the Crystal City Crystal City Citizen Review Council (CCCRC) which ruled that concerns about the impacts of HQ2 on housing and schools must be subordinated to reducing the office vacancy rate.

According to the Sun Gazette, opposition to the deal has been limited to a “largely left-wing contingent” that has nevertheless given the Chamber of Commerce a lot of heartburn.

Will someone please tell the Chamber of Commerce not to worry? Amazon HQ2 is a done deal. County Board has openly admitted that it had no input on the Governor’s secret negotiations with Amazon last year. And–unlike self respecting New York state elected officials who resented being side lined by their governor in negotiations with Amazon—County Board is serving as a rubber stamp for HQ2 right now.

Also you don’t have to be a leftist not to like the deal. All you have to do is earn less than $150,000 per year—the average wage of an Amazon hire at HQ2. To see the inflationary impact of HQ2 hires on housing prices, go to the federal government’s benchmark housing price (HP) index.

The HP index shows that over the past five years, when Amazon completed its conquest of the e-commerce market, King County, Washington (Amazon’s current location) registered three times the housing price inflation as Arlington.

What that means is that once Amazon comes to town, a lot of tenants are going to be looking for cheaper digs, and a lot of fixed income single family homeowners will have no option but to sell or face foreclosure.

Historic Designation for Westover Put On Hold

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on May 19, 2018.

I am speaking on my own behalf as a Westover resident and one of at least two dozen tenants who were recently evicted from two garden apartments on 10th Road to make way for more luxury townhouse development.

On May 16, 2018 in response to a petition submitted by Arlington resident John Reeder in June, 2016, the Arlington Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board (AHALRB) met to decide whether to grant local historic designation for greater Westover garden apartments. Despite majority support for historic designation and two years to consider Reeder’s petition, the Board adopted a motion put by the chair to defer a decision on advice of County staff.

While this decision is disappointing, it is not surprising as Arlington’s historic footprint has all but disappeared. In historic Jamestown, Charlottesville, Georgetown, and DC whole neighborhoods are off limits to redevelopment. Even Donald Trump got into the act, undertaking a masterful renovation of DC’s historic Old Postal Pavilion in 2016. Not so Arlington. (more…)

Arlington Housing Investment Fund Trumps Other Vital Programs

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on April 3,2018.

The County Manager’s proposed budget calls for closing a $20.5 million gap with $9.3 million in expenditure reductions, $6.6 million in increased taxes and fees, and $3.9 million in savings.

While I applaud the move to streamline operations, this budget lays an ax to a whole slew of County programs, some of which are critical to County operations. (more…)

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