Both major parties are no doubt satisfied at the outcome of the Arlington County Housing Authority referendum, which was defeated a couple of weeks ago due to a sustained disinformation campaign supported by County Board and its allies in the housing community, some of whom are bankrolled by the very developers who have placed much of the rental housing in this county beyond reach. Voters were essentially told “If it ain’t broke why fix it?”
Yet the need for such an authority was brought home to me on Election Day itself, when within little more than twenty-four hours, three WWII vintage apartment buildings in Westover were razed to the ground to make way for a luxury town house community billed as Westover Place. At the obscene starting price of $800,000, these units are affordable to no one in the vicinity and off limits to almost everyone in the county.
When I complained to Chris Zimmerman at the polls about the subjection of yet another Arlington community to the wrecking ball, he insisted that a housing authority could have done nothing to stop it as the development is by right, and the owner can do anything he/she wants with the property short of asking for a zoning exception.
Yet in the same breath Zimmerman acknowledged that a housing authority does have the power to condemn, a right that he says it would never exercise. That’s interesting, as this rundown trio of rat and bed bug infested buildings was probably still structurally sound and therefore ripe for condemnation, acquisition and renovation.
That County Board would never exercise a right to do what communities across the nation have been doing since the New Deal suggests to me that the real reason why a housing authority wouldn’t work in this county is because County Board doesn’t want it to, and that’s because it conflates the public interest with the interest of the developers who control it.