‘This is a big deal’: Arlington’s plan to bring more affordable housing to the county moves ahead

Arlington County, Virginia, could soon see more multifamily homes popping up in areas where only single families have stood for generations. On Wednesday, the board voted to pass the “Missing Middle” plan, which came from a county order looking into how to add more moderately priced homes in the area.

The board voted 5-0 in favor of the plan.

It kicks in starting in July and will allow 58 permits each year to be handed out in the county for housing such as townhomes, a duplex and other six-unit residential buildings to go up on sites that are currently zoned for single-family detached homes. The annual cap of 58 permits will end in 2028.

The proposal has been a controversial one in the county, resulting in more than 200 people signing up to be a part of a public comment session last Saturday. With so many speakers, an extra session had to be held on Tuesday to make sure everyone who signed up could be heard.

“This is a big deal,” Arlington Board Chairman Christian Dorsey said.

Supporters of the plan, including the board members, said the zoning changes would bring in more options for families who can’t afford single-family homes, which on average go for more than a million dollars in the county.

Currently, options are slim for moderately priced homes since 75% of residential land is zoned for single-family homes only according to the county.

Board member Katie Cristol said the changes will in many cases help government workers who are priced out of the housing market because she claimed the average price of a home in the county was nine times the salary of a first step GS-15 government worker last year.

“All of those young and not so young adults who have testified over the past few days that they don’t have a future in Arlington without zoning reform, they are not entitled newcomers who expect special treatment, nor do they have an unrealistic idea about the purchasing power that should be associated with their salaries. Rather they are the exact echo of the generations that built Arlington and who are now shut out for this community,” said Cristol.

Board member Matt de Ferranti also explained why he supports the county board’s move to zone for more affordable housing.

“My vote in favor of moving forward is my strong support for an Arlington that is welcoming in its people, diverse in its communities and with opportunities for people from any and all walks of life,” de Ferranti said.

Those others in support also said it would do away with current government policies they claim discriminate against people of color.

“This does stand as a significant advancement toward dismantling government-imposed barriers that are not serving a public purpose, and that are limiting our ability to fully realize our vision that’s based on inclusion and expanding opportunity,” Dorsey said.

Opponents, many of whom are single-family homeowners, expressed concerns ranging from increased traffic in neighborhoods, to strains on schools and infrastructure. Some also claimed the plan puts developers and people who don’t live in the county first, over current residents.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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