The single most important thing that can be done in Arlington County to preserve affordable rental and single-family housing is to activate our Redevelopment and Housing Authority, by voting "Yes" in a referendum on the Nov. 2 ballot. This is in no way an effort to create public housing in Arlington.
Arlington needs a way to finance rehabilitation of our existing housing -- to maintain affordable housing for people who already live or work in Arlington, which has seen 30 percent of its moderately priced garden apartments disappear to conversion or demolition in the last 10 years.
Because of federal cutbacks, two of the three recent small projects undertaken by the Arlington Housing Corporation (which has endorsed the establishment of a housing authority) and the Colonial Village Commons Cooperative would not be possible today. There will be no new Section 8 allocations to Arlington despite the long waiting list of residents. Arlington's existing housing programs cannot alleviate our housing crisis.
The county board's housing advisory committee (which endorses the establishment of a housing authority) first recommended the creation of a county financing agency for housing in 1981. For the past two years, the board's legislative package has included legislation permitting Arlington's existing Industrial Development Authority to issue bonds for low- and moderate-income housing. But other legislators around the state have pointed out that the Virginia Code provides for a Redevelopment and Housing Authority to accomplish these housing goals. Twenty-eight jurisdictions in Virginia have such authorities.
What about financing powers? For the rehabilitation of a small apartment building, for example, the authority could borrow at tax-exempt rates from local lenders, then lend the money to the apartment owner who would repay the bank; it could turn to the bond market for larger projects. The Arlington government would be in no way obligated on any bonds issued by the authority, and its bond rating could not be affected by authority's projects.
Other beneficiaries are the commercial lending institutions, apartment owners and contractors, all of whom are experiencing difficult times in the current recession.
Opponents of this proposal have tried to scare residents with the specter of public housing; their newsletter is headed, "Public Housing Scam Looms." No one is advocating public housing development. It is clearly not desired by Arlington's residents, and even if the county board and the authority wanted to institute public housing, federal funds for such housing have been virtually eliminated.
Tight county board control of the authority's activities would be achieved in the following ways: 1) the board would appoint the commissioners to run the authority and they could be removed for cause; 2) the board would enter into a contract with the authority outlining desired restrictions, such as project-by-project board approval, the ability of the board to end authority activity by vetoing additional projects, and public hearings; and 3) the authority, by statute, could not purchase land nor acquire it by eminent domain without specific board approval. State law also authorizes the liquidation of any housing project no longer needed.
The cost of the authority would be nominal, because the current housing staff should serve as its staff.
Arlington urgently needs the tools state law provides to facilitate rehabilitation and preservation of the existing housing stock. The financing provided by a redevelopment and housing authority would allow Arlington to do on a larger scale the types of rehabilitation that the county started on a limited basis in the past.
A "Yes" vote for the housing authority is a vote to preserve affordable housing so our county doesn't become a place in which only the rich can afford to live.