Arlington County Budget Promotes Wants Not Needs

Comments At Arlington County Budget Hearing, April 2, 2024.

The County’s budget process is based on wants rather than needs. For example, at a County Board work session on 3/22/24, the County Manager announced: “”I brought in a budget that was balanced without a tax rate increase.”

So why is he proposing a 1.5 cent tax rate increase? He says it’s to fund key initiatives “[c]onsistent with the Board’s budget guidance (p. 7).” Of an estimated $13.5 million in additional taxes, the lion’s share goes to housing programs (pp. 1099-1100).

While the 2015 Affordable Housing Master Plan (AHMP) is given as justification for the bloated housing budget, its projections are obsolescent. The forecast that quantified future countywide housing demand was updated in a 2020 Needs Analysis produced by researchers at George Mason University. But the new forecast was based on the same set of outdated assumptions about housing preferences in Northern Virginia that existed pre-pandemic (p. 26).

There’s $3 million in the budget for housing grants and $1.4 million for eviction relief to compensate for the loss of federal COVID money. If COVID is over, where is the need to continue funding these programs at the same level? Why was $15 million sufficient for AHIF (Arlington Housing Investment Fund) in FY 2024, but $20 million is the new baseline going forward? Why has Barcroft Apartments debt service suddenly ballooned from $5.2 million to $7 million?

The budget doesn’t estimate the number of moderate income homeowners who will be driven out of the county due to the $500 minimum increase in their annual tax and fee burden. Nor does it explain why it’s equitable to put some residents out of their homes in order to provide housing for others.

No doubt the impetus for the bloated housing budget was provided by the Yimbys of NOVA who along with other gimme groups like VOICE—most of whose leadership lives outside the county–dominate the County’s annual budget charade.

After adoption of the County’s EHO ordinance in 2023 for which they had aggressively lobbied, these gimme groups acknowledged that Missing Middle is actually unaffordable to moderate income residents.

The Yimbys and VOICE then seized on taxpayer subsidized AHIF grants as the solution to their followers’ demand for affordable housing. County Board, ever mindful of the need to satisfice gimme groups, has obliged.

Among the problems with this squeaky wheel approach to spending is that taxpayers get gouged. It’s up and out for those who can’t afford it.