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.

Most alarming is a 59.1 percent reduction in the PAYG capital budget, including $1.6 million for street paving (book 66, web 74). While an $11 million bond issue is supposed to cover paving costs later on this year (web 18), Arlington streets are already sub-par.

With a permanent funding source having been secured, the County’s Sacred Cow, Arlington Housing Investment Fund (AHIF), dodges the bullet. Thenceforth 49 percent of the AHIF budget will be funded by increased utility taxes (book 11, web 19).

AHIF is untouchable, but the housing it provides is anything but affordable. Consider that AHIF funds have been leveraged to subsidize 249 new apartment units at Queen’s Court in West Rosslyn. The 90 units under construction right now will cost over $39 million to build or approximately $433,000 per unit.

That’s the cost of 90 luxury condominiums on the open market, and it’s typical of how AHIF is being used. In May, 2017 County Board signed off on an AHIF deal for 173 units at Gilliam Place on the Pike for a total cost of $60.8 million or $351,000 per unit.

In April, 2016 it approved another AHIF deal for 229 units at Columbia Hills on the Pike for $88.8 million or $388,000 per unit.

The tax gouging doesn’t end with AHIF. Because the so-called committed affordable (CAF) units it subsidizes will be unaffordable to many low income tenants, taxpayers will have to subsidize the rent in perpetuity through housing grants.

Meanwhile County Board is sitting on its hands as the remainder of the genuinely affordable garden apartments in Westover are demolished. In fact the County Attorney recently ruled that two Westover apartment buildings must go down, because the County approved luxury town homes for the site just one day before County Board imposed a moratorium on demolitions last December. There goes affordable housing and street maintenance to boot.