Category: Housing

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…)

Arlington’s Housing Conservation District: A Cruel Joke

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on March 17,2018.

On December 16, 2017 Arlington County Board adopted a Housing Conservation District (HCD) zoning overlay that effectively declared a moratorium on demolition of garden apartments in Westover and elsewhere in the County until a policy could be worked out providing landlords with incentives to preserve the buildings rather than demolish them.

In February tenants of 5709 and 5715 10th Road North located in the HCD learned from County officials that the moratorium did not spare them from eviction. They all must get out as per notices received from the landlord on January 31, 2018. (more…)

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