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Arlington County Board takes in public opinion on affordable housing strategy

Arlington neighbors are divided on the county's approach to increasing housing supply in hopes to improve affordability. (7News)
Arlington neighbors are divided on the county's approach to increasing housing supply in hopes to improve affordability. (7News)
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With the Arlington County Board progressing with their plans to update the land use code in an effort to increase the supply of homes and improve affordability, residents who support and oppose their approach filled the meeting room Saturday to have their voices heard.

Saturday's meeting is the latest step in the board's Missing Middle Housing Study. This started in 2020 with the goal of increasing the number of townhomes and multi-family homes, known as middle housing. These options are placed in between apartments and single family homes and are considered a more affordable option for home ownership.

However, current land code rules have prohibited these kinds of homes to be built in neighborhoods zoned for single family homes, which is why they're considered the "missing middle."

The county has written up amendments to the current land use ordinance to allow townhomes or multi-family homes with a maximum of eight units to be built in areas currently only zoned for single family homes.

This issue and the county's approach to addressing it has been the source of sharp divisiveness between neighbors in favor of the county's approach to increasing this type of housing and those who believe a land use code update will not fix the problem, but instead hurt the character of certain neighborhoods.

Almost 200 people signed up to speak at Saturday's meeting, which was a welcome site for Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey.

"We're going to make it easier for people over the next couple of months to actually know what is a true option versus a possibility that could never occur," Dorsey said.

According to the county's study, the median cost of single family homes reached $1.067 million. The median cost of a townhouse hit $899,000.

A Northern Virginia Association of Realtors study found the average price of 4-bedroom single family home climbed to $1.14 million in 2022, up from $1.06 million in 2021. Meanwhile, the average cost of 4-bedroom townhomes hit $773,546 in 2022, which was up from $720,998 the year before.

Anne Bodine, who is opposed to Arlington's missing middle approach, said she does not believe this will help people making below the area's median income.

READ ALSO: Arlington County to hear community input on housing availability, affordability

"They fall between $40,000 and $20,000 below the lowest missing middle prices. They're being left out in this plan," Bodine said. "We have a large deficit of about 9,000 apartments for families at that level. The lowest missing middle apartment is going to require a salary of over $100,000, and that's coming in over 100 % of area median income."

The county's study concedes the minimum annual income for someone to afford the new homes created by the proposed land use code changes would be $108,000.

However, the study also estimates the proposed amendments could add 94-to-108 new middle housing options in Arlington, bringing in 1,500 people over the next ten years.

Jane Green, who supports the county's approach to missing middle, said Arlington needs to start somewhere and just increase housing supply to even begin to improve affordability.

"New construction is more expensive. That's just the fact of how new things are built. But we have lost this inventory for decades because it's been illegal, so we have to start somewhere to allow that inventory, that type of home - smaller duplexes, town homes. We have to start allowing it so it can be there," Green said. "Over time, we'll have a larger stock of smaller multi-family homes in all neighborhoods that will start easing the housing burden, the housing crisis, in Arlington."

Right now, Arlington County is still in the process of gathering public opinion on the proposed amendments to current land use rules.

Opponents have raised concerns over parking in communities where new middle housing options may be built.

"If you go to an 8-plex, and you have eight on-site spots, that would crowd the house too much. The county has proposed reducing it by half, the on-site parking, and that's got a lot of people upset because they're saying there's going to be a lot of spillover on the streets," Bodine said.

In the meantime, supporters have also pointed out the historical significance of changing the land use policies.

RELATED: Amazon pledges $30 million for affordable housing in Arlington as it seeks to expand HQ2

"It ends exclusionary zoning, so it ends 100-year rules that have restricted the types of homes that could be built on a majority of Arlington land that were instituted to further racial segregation," Green said. "Arlington's housing market is not working with the current restrictions in so many neighborhoods, and we need to have new options."

Right now, board members said they're focused on making sure the public knows what proposed amendments would even do if they're approved.

"We're very much open to that engagement, but we hope it will be quite informed by having a clear understanding of what the potential options and trade-offs are," Dorsey said.

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Dorsey said he expects the board to vote on proposed amendments to the land use code in their March meeting.

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