The Arlington County Board Saturday approved new guidelines that will cut housing grants to low-income recipients by 5 percent, increase the age requirement for those eligible to receive the benefits from 55 to 62 years old, and give priority for housing to residents leaving homeless shelters and transitional programs.
The board's action came after its decision this spring to add $876,023 to its housing grants fund for the coming fiscal year -- for a total of $3.3 million in rental assistance available to the county's low income and elderly residents. County officials said that in order to eliminate a waiting list for the grant program and reach more needy residents, the county needed to cut back benefits while adding more money to the program.
Demand for the program has grown in recent years as property values and rents in Arlington have skyrocketed. The average price for a one-bedroom apartment in Arlington is $1,210 a month and climbing.
"We are trying hard to allocate dollars in a way that is meaningful, understanding we will not have an unlimited amount of money," said County Board Chairwoman Barbara A. Favola (D). "We need to determine how much money and how effectively we can target it to solve the problem of homelessness."
Some local housing advocates argued that the 5 percent cut would hurt working families who were already struggling to make ends meet.
"It's come to a crisis point because of rising rents and the outside pressures of affordable housing being torn down," said Kristin Carbone, program manager of BRAVO (Buyers and Renters Arlington Voice). "I think you should fully fund this program."
The 5 percent reduction will affect 670 households, county officials said. A family currently receiving an $800-a-month rental grant will receive $760 under the new guidelines; a family with an $80 grant will receive $76.
Housing advocates had also hoped to add a provision to the guidelines that would give priority to the county's low-income residents who are squeezed from their affordable apartments by upscale redevelopment, an increasing reality in the county.
The county has lost more than 5,000 units of what were previously considered affordable apartments in recent years.
Residents of the Colonies of Arlington Apartments, for example, recently organized a protest against their landlord, who they say has been evicting residents from affordable apartments that will be turned into pricey $1,400-a-month rentals.
County Manager Ron Carlee told the board that although a financial analysis still needs to be done, the county has the flexibility to "adjust around crises of displacement" to help needy residents the next time a modest apartment complex is lost to luxury redevelopment.
"We have to do a financial analysis to see how much we can afford and for how many," Carlee said.