Arlington County officials hope to forge an agreement with real estate developers on affordable housing to keep the matter out of the hands of the state's General Assembly, officials said.
Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette (D) said the two sides could have an agreement as early as Wednesday, the next scheduled meeting of a housing roundtable that Fisette convened this summer to examine how much local developers should be expected to contribute to the county's stock of affordable housing.
"I think we have very significantly narrowed the differences," Fisette said. "We've got a framework for a resolution."
Roundtable members and others said that the group is examining whether developers of large-scale commercial projects should make cash contributions to the county's affordable housing fund in exchange for the county's allowing them to build office complexes that are taller than present regulations allow. They have not yet agreed on the size of contributions that would be required.
Mark Ingrao, vice president of governmental affairs for the developers' Apartment and Office Building Association, said that a small group of developers had been meeting with County Manager Ron Carlee over the last several weeks trying to reach an agreement before Wednesday's meeting. He declined to discuss specifics, but said he expected that a compromise would be reached.
"We're still trying to work that out," Ingrao said.
The county's policy on affordable housing was thrown into chaos in December when an Arlington Circuit Court judge struck down as illegal the county's plan asking developers to earmark 10 percent of floor space in projects built near Metro stations for affordable housing, and for cash contributions from commercial developers.
Then, in February, county officials were able to forestall -- after a flurry of last-minute negotiations -- state legislation that would have further limited their power to ask for contributions to affordable housing.
County officials and housing activists fear that if the county is unable to reach an agreement with developers soon, the General Assembly could revisit the matter early next year. That would mean "dire consequences" for the county's affordable housing program, Fisette said.
Arlington officials recently briefed a Virginia Housing Commission working group on the progress of the negotiations. The county had agreed to brief the commission on its progress as part of the deal it cut in February to avoid the limitations proposed by Sen. William C. Mims (R-Loudoun).
"We want Arlington and its business community to come to a mutually agreeable resolution on this, and I sincerely hope that happens," said Mims, chairman of the working group.
The matter takes center stage as county officials and housing activists warn that the rapid shrinkage of the stock of affordable housing in the county has reached a crisis level as garden apartments are torn down to make way for luxury developments. The county has lost more than 50 percent of its market-rate affordable housing since 2000, a number that Fisette calls "staggering."
At a County Board meeting earlier this month, about a dozen tenants and activists from BRAVO (Buyers and Renters Arlington Voice) showed up to call attention to the plight, waving placards that read "We Don't Need Luxury, Just Housing."
Housing activists said that they fear that the county will not be able to reach an acceptable compromise with the developers before the General Assembly convenes on Jan. 10.
"The threat is that some of the developers may go to the General Assembly and use their clout there," said Charles Rinker, the president of Arlington New Directions Coalition, a housing advocacy group. "It seems there is a reason to try and compromise here on something that makes sense. The crisis in affordable housing is horrendous. It is really a catastrophe."