Arlington to vote on a housing authority

Arlington County residents will vote once again this fall on whether to create a government housing authority to address the persistent problem of lack of affordable housing in one of the country’s most affluent areas.

A six-month petition drive by the local Green Party collected 2,845 signatures, or 2 percent of active voters, which is enough to start the process to get the question on the ballot, said Linda Lindberg, the county’s registrar of elections. It will be the third time Arlington voters have weighed in on the question. The last time they voted, in 2008, the request went down on a 2 to 1 vote, Lindberg said.

“The difference this time is that people have recognized this is a problem,” said Steve Davis, chairman of the Arlington Green Party. “The current policies haven’t worked. It’s time to try something different.”

Davis said that more than 14,000 families in Arlington needed affordable rental housing in 2010, according to the Virginia Tech Center for Housing Research, and the number of privately-owned, market-rate apartments affordable to those earning 60 percent or less of the median income dwindled from 20,000 in 2000 to 5,300 in 2011.

Currently, the county contracts with a number of nonprofit organizations to provide, refurbish or build affordable housing. The 2014 county budget provides about $57 million for all housing assistance.

The Greens say that creating a new government agency would make the county eligible for federal housing funds for which it does not quality, increase access to bond markets and federal housing tax credits and supply workforce housing to county employees like entry-level firefighters, police, teachers and nurses. They point to successes in Fairfax County and the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church, three of the 25 jurisdictions in Virginia that have government housing authorities.

“We think there’s a legitimate role for government intervention here, just to preserve the whole diversity of our community,” David said. “In our view, a housing authority would be more efficient than the current system.”

The County Board is required by law to pass the request on to the Circuit Court, which will put the referendum on the November ballot. Lindberg said the request is well within the Aug. 16 deadline to get a referendum on the ballot.

Patricia Sullivan seeks out news about Alexandria and Arlington County for the Washington Post.
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