What We Heard: Priorities, Concerns and Ideas

October 9, 2019 PROGRAM NEWS:

Feedback from approximately 100 in-person participants and 450 online participants was collected during the Housing Arlington kick-off process in May 2019. Overall, there was support – and concerns – for housing affordability, the range of housing that’s available in Arlington, and the infrastructure and school implications of increasing housing production.

Who we heard from:

More homeowners than renters. More than 100 people participated in the May 29 event. About 33% were homeowners and 41% were renters (the rest didn’t say one way or another). Among the 447 respondents to the online survey, 82% were homeowners and 18% were renters. According to the most recent Census data, 43% of Arlington households are homeowners. Thus, while the community meeting may have had participants that reflected the homeowner-renter split in the County, the survey respondents were disproportionately homeowners.

A range of neighborhoods. A total of 48 civic associations was represented by respondents to the online survey. The largest number of respondents was from Donaldson Run (27 respondents or 11.4%), followed by Bluemont (17 or 7.2%), Alcova Heights and Columbia Heights (each with 13 or 5.5%), and Barcroft and Claremont (each with 12 or 5.1%).

A few non-residents. Eleven respondents to the online survey were not Arlington residents but most lived close to Arlington (e.g. Fairfax, Alexandria and DC) and suggested interest in living in the County.

Priorities, Concerns, and Ideas

Increasing the supply of housing units and broadening the types of housing: Just over half of online respondents said that increasing the overall housing supply in the County is important, whereas nearly all of the in-person participants said the same.

“The only way to solve our problem is to increase the supply of housing (except single family homes). The policy mechanisms for doing this are debatable, but the core idea is not.”

Many online respondents – about 30% – raised concerns that increasing the supply wouldn’t make a substantial difference in housing affordability but would come at accost to roads, schools and services.

As with increasing housing supply, there was a similar breakdown in how online and in-person respondents ranked the importance of creating a greater variety of housing choices in Arlington, with more than half of online respondents and all in-person respondents supporting a wider variety of housing types.

“We need to let people build mid-rises and high-rises in the incredibly valuable places within 1/2 mile or so from the Metro that are currently only zoned for SFH.”

However, the 24% of online respondents who didn’t think greater variety was important highlighted concerns about their personal investments in single family homes and taxes.

“Missing middle housing is a result of Arlington’s increasingly high taxes. Reduce taxes on working families, allow the housing market to respond, and families will be better able to afford the types of housing they need and want.”

Affordability, aging and place and quality of life: Many residents are concerned about affordability, both on the rental and homeownership side, particularly about the ability to move out of rental housing and into homeownership in Arlington. These concerns are true even among those who are considering condominiums, rather than single-family homes. There was also notable concern among those looking to move-up—that is, move into a larger home—within the County.

“The costs of housing are increased and unreachable for two working parents with two kids at home. Owning a home is really only a dream in the area. I am moving 40 miles away because I can afford a home in that area but not here.”

While support for more housing options was not universal, there was a general agreement among survey respondents and participants in the community meeting that it was getting more and more challenging for people with lower and moderate incomes to find housing they could afford in Arlington.

“Rising living costs are making it hard for me to plan for my future. My rent this year increased over 30%, but I don’t have the means to purchase housing in this area as housing costs are also so high. I would not qualify for low-income assistance, but also think we need to have protections on yearly rent increases. My rent is rising much faster than my income, and I am continuously worse off every year.”

Community members expressed this challenge in different ways. Some were concerned with young adults not being able to live in Arlington. Others were concerned about teachers, firefighters, police officers and other local government workers not being able to live in the community in which they worked. Still others were focused on the ability to downsize and remain in Arlington as they aged.

“Rising property values and the commensurate rising tax bills may make it more difficult to remain in Arlington once I retire and am on a fixed income.”

“I have three sons in college who would like to return to Arlington but know they won’t be able to unless they live with me. They will have modest student loan debt, but even so the entry cost for an apartment rental is too high.”

While there were different opinions on specific housing types, where different housing should be located and how the County could promote a variety of housing options, there was a lot of consensus that new housing types—beyond single-family homes and high-rise apartments and condos—was one
important part of making Arlington more affordable.

Infrastructure, traffic, and schools: Schools, lack of open space and traffic congestion were top concerns when considering the impact of new housing on public facilities and infrastructure, particularly the school system. Many of those who indicated that they strongly supported expanding the housing supply in Arlington County said that evaluating the impacts of new housing development was important to ensure that the County was sufficiently planning to accommodate new residents while maintaining the County’s high quality of life.

“We are concerned about overcrowding in neighborhoods that will strain resources for schools and transportation. Packing existing neighborhoods with multi-family units will adversely affect the quality of life for existing residents.”

Location, location, location: Location matters when it comes to affordable housing. Many of those who responded online clearly noted that even as you supported the development and preservation of affordable housing in the County, County needs to consider where that housing was being built. Some expressed concerns that lower-income families were being concentrated in certain areas of the County.

Others focused on the importance of locating affordable housing in areas well served by transit, including both Metrorail and bus. Still others wanted to highlight the importance of weighing existing housing and existing neighborhood character when approving new affordable housing projects.

Bringing new partners to the table: Respondents said that the private sector needs to be more involved. In several different parts of the online survey, as well as in the community meeting discussions, community members emphasized that there was a greater role for the private sector to play in meeting housing needs in Arlington County. There was fairly strong support for partnerships on housing issues with civic and nonprofit institutions, but there was also a recognition that the County could partner more with the private sector, employers and the private developer community. Areas of opportunity included using privately-owned land for affordable housing, additional employee housing assistance from employers and contributions from developers to support affordable housing production.

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