‘We have a Maserati housing market’: Arlington leaders debate affordable housing plan

The debate over zoning law reforms in Arlington, Virginia, is heating up, as the county board moves closer to making an ultimate decision over the future of housing for a vast majority of the area.

Saturday saw more than 160 residents come to the county council meeting to voice their opposition and support for the “Missing Middle Housing” plan. The proposed plans would change most single-family housing plots to allow for construction of duplexes, triplexes and other multifamily buildings.

There are a variety of different options that the county council has when voting on the amended zoning. Options include limiting dwelling to six or eight units, whether to require parking for each development, or putting a cap on how many multifamily buildings can be made in an area.

The plan aims to create more affordable housing for middle-class incomes in the red-hot Arlington real estate market. An equity analysis performed by the county said the expanded housing option could be attainable to households that earn less than $100,000.

But some residents disputed that finding.

“There is no shortage of people to live in Arlington, why would ‘Missing Middle’ make it more affordable? It would open up more units to the wealthy at the front of the line to get in. If so, the plan should be called an increased density plan, not a plan to improve affordability, equity or inclusion,” said Brian Casabianca, who spoke on behalf of a group of economists who live in Arlington.

Opponents pointed to the cost of construction and high density of apartment complexes and developers maximizing return on the land as other reasons that prices will continue to stay high in Arlington County.

“We have a Maserati housing market. Some people seem to think ‘Missing Middle’ will produce more Mazdas not Maseratis. It won’t do that. You may get compact Maseratis; you may get rental Maseratis; but you will not change the basic nature of the housing market,” Richard Engal told the county board.

Proponents of the zoning changes disagreed, saying eventually housing prices will come down.

“With this proposal, you have the opportunity to improve housing and environmental outcomes by easing rules that govern and constrain over 70% of land in Arlington rules,” said Michael Falkenheim. “If we make it easier for people to build more homes in Arlington, people have an easier time finding and keeping homes in Arlington.”

Dan Alban, an attorney, said he lives in a 40-year-old townhome that he purchased in 2009.

“I think that’s an important point for the board to consider when it’s considering the ‘Missing Middle’ housing proposal. Yes, some of the new housing that will be built will be quite expensive; but over time, that housing will become affordable; and housing that exists now will become more affordable in comparison,” Alban said.

Others said the housing density needed to change out of environmental concerns.

Laura Watchman said more and more people have moved from the county and commute there for jobs, and “forcing those people to move farther out takes a toll on our climate.”

Others, such as Jared Dorsey, appealed to the heart and said the county should welcome more neighbors.

“We can add more homes and welcome more neighbors without lifting a finger or spending a dime. All we have to do is simply let our neighbors’ homes get built. We could do so much more. We should do no less,” Dorsey said.

After hours of resident testimony, the board recessed and will hear more feedback Tuesday. Members will likely vote on whether to hold or advertise public hearings on the change for March. They could have a final vote on zoning ordinance shake-up later that month.

Editor’s Note: This story is updated to reflect the correct spelling of attorney Dan Alban’s name. 

Luke Lukert

Since joining WTOP Luke Lukert has held just about every job in the newsroom from producer to web writer and now he works as a full-time reporter. He is an avid fan of UGA football. Go Dawgs!

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