Public Housing Authority Proposed for Arlington

By Daniela Deane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Green Party is pushing for the creation of a public housing authority in Arlington, saying that the agency could help create more affordable housing in the county.

A housing authority would allow the county to own and operate affordable dwellings, proponents said. Currently, lower-cost housing is created mostly through county grants to nonprofit organizations or through negotiations with developers, using various incentives to persuade them to set aside part of their market-rate housing projects.

The proposal would have to be approved by county voters.

"We're starting to organize in earnest around this issue now," said Green Party member Joshua F. Ruebner, who ran for a seat on the Arlington County Board in Tuesday's election. "We have a year to organize support for it. It's our next big fight."

Ruebner concedes that it won't be an easy battle. Several nonprofit organizations working for more affordable housing in the county say privately that the present system works. They say they are concerned that a housing authority, such as those in Fairfax County and Alexandria, would only add bureaucracy without benefits.

But Ruebner said the party is committed to the cause because Arlington desperately needs "additional public policy tools . . . to create more affordable housing."

"We need governments to get involved to produce projects on a large enough scale to make a significant impact," he said.

Ruebner said Arlington has lost more than half of its affordable housing since 2000, so "clearly the efforts made haven't met the enormity of the crisis."

The Green Party has collected enough signatures for a countywide referendum next November asking voters: Should Arlington activate a public housing and redevelopment authority? If voters approve the measure, the County Board will be required to implement it.

It's a controversial proposal, one that even housing advocates have trouble supporting.

"Our position is, it's unnecessary," said Nina Janopaul, executive director of the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, a nonprofit housing provider that works exclusively in Arlington. "A housing authority will only add bureaucracy and can add unnecessary costs. It'll be another layer."

Janopaul said she has worked in communities with public housing authorities. "Almost anything a housing authority can do can be done with the nonprofit sector and working with the tools Arlington County already has in its tool kit."

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