Affordable housing is a top priority for Arlingtonians, who have seen rents and housing prices climb higher each year with the encroachment of high-rise developments.
High prices have cut into the availability of low-cost housing in the county. But with single family homes in relatively short supply, even middle class families have found the county out of their reach.
According to government definitions, affordable housing is a home or apartment available to a family making 60 percent or less of the area median income. In Arlington, that means an apartment or a house affordable to a family of four making $54,000 or less a year.
The county has responded by increasing demands and incentives for developers to create affordable housing, asking for more low-cost apartments in new buildings. At the same time, the county manages an Affordable Housing Investment Fund, offering construction assistance to area non-profits interested in saving older, low-cost buildings in the county.
Last year, the county adopted new goals covering how many new apartments they hoped to create each year. Under Virginia law, however, local governments have limited powers to force such construction. Before approving the new goals, County Board members agreed: they were letting developers know what they wanted, not forcing them to build it.
According to Charles Rinker, co-coordinator of Buyer's and Renter's Arlington Voice, BRAVO, a tenant's rights group, the county's real estate market is driving many of its low-income residents out and landlords are contributing to the problem by raising rents through renovations.
"To a large extent, costs are going up because Arlington has been so successful as a community and because of our location, our proximity to the District," Rinker explained. "Because of that, rental prices and prices for buying a home have gone sky high. So many people are just being priced out of the market."
Rinker added that "Many of our garden apartment buildings, for instance, are old and in need of renovation but the people who live in them get displaced because they can't afford the after-renovation price increases."
The Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, APAH, a non-profit housing development group, is working on several projects to create more low-cost housing units throughout the county. In conjunction with a local Baptist church, APAH plans to create one such development near the Clarendon Metro station. Douglas Peterson, APAH's executive director, said the rising costs are creating unexpected side effects. Teachers are finding it difficult to live near their schools and only about 11 percent of the county's firefighters can afford to live near their fire stations.
"Arlington is losing its diversity by losing its mixed-income housing," Peterson said. "It is becoming increasingly stratified, with only high-income developments being established."
Despite the housing crisis, Peterson said the county board is making every effort to find progressive solutions.
"Arlington is light years ahead of other municipalities in terms of producing affordable housing and 10 years from now, when costs are even higher, I think people will look back at the efforts they made and realize they had the right idea with many of the things they've put forward."