Dear Chair Dorsey and Members of the County Board:
We are writing on behalf of the Alliance for Housing Solutions Board of Directors and the undersigned organizations and individuals to provide comments on the Fiscal Year 2020 County Budget.
We would like to thank the County Manager and the County Board for your actions to help address longstanding needs related to affordable housing in the proposed budget, particularly:
advertising a higher tax rate to allow flexibility;
increasing the Maximum Allowable Rents for the Housing Grants program;
funding Housing Grants with ongoing funds and increasing ongoing funds for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF); and
funding additional staff for meeting the policy and planning needs related to affordable housing, especially the difficult task of moving forward on zoning reforms.
We are excited to learn more about the County’s new Housing Arlington initiative as it is rolled out over the next few weeks. We are hopeful that the initiative will bring new ideas, energy and resources to help move forward on the important issues highlighted in the Board’s March 19th resolution.
We are recommending further action on the following areas:
First, we believe the County should use a portion of the revenue made available by the higher advertised tax rate to follow through on our existing affordable housing commitments. This includes increasin allocations to the Affordable Housing Investment Fund to a level sufficient to meet the County’s Affordable Housing Master Plan affordable rental production goals, or approximately 600 new committed affordable units per year.
The total amount of funding projected by staff to be available for AHIF in FY 2020 is $23 million, including the $14.5 million new allocation proposed by the Manager and $8 million in developer contributions and loan repayments, providing loan funding for 266 units. Although this proposed AHIF allocation is a step in the right direction, for which we are grateful, it only provides funding for less than half of our annual goal. It is a challenging truth that we continue falling behind and that, as a result, the gap is widening. While we understand that the County’s resources are constrained, we ask that the County Board step up to the task and allocate additional funding in a courageous effort to reduce and eventually eliminate that gap.
As we mentioned at the recent Amazon hearing, we also believe the County should be prioritizing near-term increases in the AHIF and other potential financial tools rather than waiting until revenue from Amazon and other sources becomes available. The timing of affordable housing investment is key – waiting to invest in affordable housing puts our neighbors’ homes at risk.
Second, we strongly recommend that you ensure that the Housing Grants program’s rents do not fall behind again, by indexing the rents to a measure such as the HUD Fair Market Rents. An external benchmark will help keep the rents at a level that allows the program to function the way it is intended and remove uncertainty for program planners and participants. We also encourage the County to look into eliminating other disparities between the Housing Grants and Housing Choice Voucher programs in future budget cycles.
Third, we encourage the County to move forward expeditiously on planning and zoning reforms that can increase the supply and diversity of housing stock in Arlington. The new staff proposed for the Housing Arlington initiative is key to making progress on these kinds of initiatives. The County should focus on increasing the pace at which reforms are considered and implemented to help meet the pressing need for new housing supply in the region.
Fourth, the County should evaluate and adopt streamlined approaches to permitting and approvals and reducing costs for development projects, particularly those containing committed affordable units, as we described with our partners in the Fulfilling the Promise report. With the level of increased investment needed to meet our Affordable Housing Master Plan goals, it makes sense to be as efficient as possible in bringing projects to approval and completion.
Finally, we know that affordable housing is only successful when there is a well-functioning social safety net in place within the community. Arlington is fortunate to have a sophisticated ecosystem of housing and service providers working together to improve the lives of low-income and vulnerable households, but this system depends on adequate resources to perform as intended. To that end, we support the requests made by Arlington’s network of safety net nonprofits to help them do their work serving those most in need in our community.
Thank you for considering these comments, and for all the work you do.
Mary Margaret Whipple
(listed alphabetically by organization then individual last name)
AHC Inc.– Walter Webdale, President and CEO
Arlington Community Foundation – Jennifer Owens, President and CEO
Arlington Food Assistance Center – Charles Meng, Executive Director
Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing – Nina Janopaul, President and CEO
Arlington Thrive – Andrew Schneider, Executive Director
Friends of Guest House – Kari Galloway, Executive Director
Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia – Rev. Jon Smoot, Executive Director
Latino Economic Development Center – Karen Serfis, Program Manager Housing Counseling, VA
Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance – Michelle Krocker, Executive Director
Rock Spring Congregational United Church of Christ – Rev. Laura Martin, Associate Pastor
Tenant-Landlord Commission – Kellen MacBeth, Chair
Anne M. C. Hermann
Joan K. McDermott