September 2, 2015    
About this edition . . .
On September 19, the Arlington County Board will vote on adopting the proposed Affordable Housing Master Plan (AHMP) and its accompanying Implementation Framework (IF).

We need
you---to support the AHMP and IF and to encourage others to do so.

This edition of Housing Intelligence provides answers to six key questions people may have about the AHMP. It also offers you tips and resources for starting conversations with others.

What is the Affordable Housing Master Plan? What comes next?

The AHMP updates long-term affordable housing policy goals and objectives for Arlington. When adopted, it becomes part of the County's Comprehensive Plan---
complementing goals and policies for land use, transportation, economic development, and other components---all required by the Code of Virginia. The AHMP will be implemented over the next 20 years or so.

At this September meeting, the County Board will also be asked to accept the "Implementation Framework" (IF) as guidance to County staff. The IF describes existing and potential tools that can be used to achieve the AHMP. New or revised tools will require additional research, development, and deliberation---and opportunity for public input.

Link to the most up-to-date versions of these documents here. 
What? and What next? are important questions given confusion and misunderstanding about what each document does---and doesn't do. The AHMP is a policy document---not a master plan for where affordable units will be placed or how much money will be spent.

How did the AHMP come about?

Over 3 years, a working group of 18 community members---representing a variety of perspectives---worked with County staff, analyzing data and developing recommendations for policy and strategy.

Over that period, multiple surveys, focus groups, public forums, email updates, and printed documents provided residents with information and opportunities for input. The current drafts of both the AHMP and IF have been revised to address community concerns.

Why do we need to update our housing plan? 

It's been 15 years since Arlington's last comprehensive look at housing need, and a lot has changed--- 
  • Rents and housing prices have doubled---or worse---and wages have not kept up. Middle-class households are now being squeezed.
  • We've lost about 13,500 formerly "affordable" units to rent increases or redevelopment, reducing the choices and overwhelming the housing budgets for lower-wage households.
  • Arlington's large Boomer cohort wants to age in community, adding demand for flexible housing choices near transit and services.
  • Arlington's large Millennial population---much less car-dependent---also increases demand for housing and transit flexibility.
  • Arlington's greater affluence means intentional housing policy is needed to retain socioeconomic diversity.
  • Arlington increasingly competes across the region and beyond to attract and retain the businesses that fuel our economy---businesses which need a stable workforce in comfortable proximity to work.
The Affordable Housing Study process produced a comprehensive needs analysis which describes these trends more fully and provided the foundation for the Plan's updated goals.

What's in the AHMP besides preserving and developing affordable rentals?

The Plan contains multiple objectives, including to---
  • produce and preserve affordable ownership housing
  • enable aging in the community
  • enable persons with disabilities to live as independently as possible
  • prevent and end homelessness
  • ensure fair and safe housing
  • support tenants facing relocation

Who supports the AHMP? Why should I?
A broad cross-section of the community, including groups such as---
  • Doorways for Women and Families and A-SPAN, which rely on an adequate supply of affordable units to help their clients transition from shelter
  • The Commission on Aging, because the AHMP calls for innovative housing options connected to services, providing options for seniors who want to age in their community
  • Faith communities, including VOICE, because the AHMP is essential to helping Arlington remain true to its vision of being a diverse, inclusive community
  • The Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Commission,
    which recognize that a range of housing types and prices for the workforce is essential to attracting and retaining businesses that power our economy
For decades, Arlington has been a diverse and welcoming community, providing job and housing opportunity for lower-wage workers and immigrants---and good schools for their children.

We also have a rich history of integrating housing into a "smart growth" strategy. This has produced award-winning affordable housing site plans and best practices that are cited nationwide---practices that have helped grow our economy and commercial tax base.

We're overdue to begin the next chapter on housing. The AHMP provides the foundation to do so.

I've heard that there's some opposition to the AHMP. What are the issues?

Pushback against the AHMP mostly focuses on three areas of concern:
  • cost
  • geographic distribution of affordable housing
  • impact of affordable housing on schools
Cost concerns may be rooted in misunderstanding of the County's role and the purpose of the Plan.

First, some assume that the County is bearing the entire cost of creating a committed-affordable unit (CAF). Arlington does not have public housing. Instead, it employs a public--private partnership to provide CAFs. The major County contribution is in the form of loan from a revolving loan fund: each $1 loaned typically leverages $3--4 more from other, non-County funding sources. (See AHS's one-pager illustrating this partnership and leveraging process.)

Second, some believe that adopting the AHMP commits the County to spend a certain amount of money (usually expressed in the hundreds of millions of dollars). It does not. The AHMP is only a policy document, and the amount of County funds to be spent on housing in a given year will continue to be determined through the annual budget process. In fact, the AHMP expressly reserves the right to revise housing supply goals in light of local economic (and other) conditions.

Geographic distribution has been a stated goal for the County for the past 15 years.

To date, half of the affordable units created with County assistance are located north of Route 50. However, a high number of CAFs are located in a few areas, and few, if any, CAFs are located in others.

The AHMP contains a commitment to make use of financing and land-use tools to encourage better distribution, along with area targets. It also proposes to explore---through the IF---new housing design models and medium-density definitions that will create opportunity for more affordable units in additional transit areas, such as the Lee Highway corridor.

Concerns have been raised about the impact of affordable housing on Arlington's public schools.

The impact of affordable housing---whether we are talking about students from CAFs or students from lower-cost private-market rental housing---has not been studied at the local level. National research suggests that affordable housing like that provided in Arlington gives students the opportunity to access high-quality schools and the stability to remain in those same schools.

Locally, concerns have been raised about several South Arlington schools that have a high percentage of students in the free- and reduced-lunch program. These schools receive extra resources from multiple sources. Several after-school academic enrichment programs are offered---some on CAF properties---and students who participate in them show marked gains in performance. However, there are not enough slots in these programs for all students who would like to enroll in them.

School performance issues are complex. In recent years, Arlington County schools with a high concentration of low-income students have seen marked improvement on the State-administered achievement tests (SOLs). Students in various demographic subgroups score similarly County-wide. And, of course, Arlington provides quality education in all of its schools. 

How you can help:
Encourage support of the AHMP---
and clear up questions/misperceptions  

First, use the Forward email link just below this email to share it with others.

Then, to help you take every opportunity to clear up misconceptions and encourage support of the Affordable Housing Master Plan, link to a set of printable tips we've compiled for those conversations.

You may also want to look at---
  • our 2015 "JACKtalk" on Communicating about Affordable Housing
  • Just the Facts, a concise, image-filled backgrounder on affordable housing that AHS prepared for supporters and advocates
  • two videos, produced by VOICE, that tell the stories of people who live in affordable housing and how important that housing is to our community.