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NAACP voices concern, questions legality of changes to Arlington 'Missing Middle' proposal

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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The debate over 'Missing Middle' housing in Arlington is now prompting some strong words from the NAACP's Arlington Branch.

In a letter sent last week to the Arlington County Board Chair, NAACP leaders wrote that they were "stunned and deeply disappointed" by recent changes made to the county's 'Missing Middle' housing proposal.

Their letter cites the county board's January 25 decision to "advertise" public hearings related to proposed changes to the county's land use and zoning rules. The NAACP says those proposed changes "would legalize some forms of missing middle housing, but only after striking any option for dwellings of more than six homes and adding an option to limit dwellings of more than four homes to large lots."

The NAACP letter states that the organization "fiercely opposes these restrictions":

The Board’s removal of options for eight-plexes will result in fewer attainable homes and unequal housing opportunities in the same neighborhoods from which people of color have long been historically excluded.

As 7News has reported, Arlington County's Missing Middle Housing Study began in 2020, "to explore how new housing types could address Arlington’s shortfall in housing supply". The county is looking at ways to help bridge the gap between apartments and single-family homes, a gap that is often referred to as 'Missing Middle' housing.

7News spoke to NAACP Arlington Branch President Michael Hemminger and NAACP Arlington Branch Housing Committee Chair Bryan Coleman about their concerns on Monday.

"We are outraged. We are really, really upset about some of the conversations that have happened in the county board room over the last couple of weeks," NAACP Arlington Branch President Michael Hemminger told 7News. "The chopping of [seven-plex and eight-plex] options will make housing no longer attainable to Black and Brown people."

Hemminger said the 'Missing Middle' proposal now on the table does little to address what he calls Arlington's "long history of exclusionary zoning."

SEE ALSO: Arlington Co. board moves closer to final 'Missing Middle' decision, now expected in March

"It goes back almost 80 years," Hemminger said. "We've seen the effects that single-family zoning has had in Arlington for almost a century. Black people have been by effect excluded and for us to continue another century and say single-family homes and missing middle homes are only for white people -- we will continue to vehemently oppose any action that doesn't right the wrongs of the past."

Hemminger and Coleman also believe the current 'Missing Middle' proposal could violate federal and state fair housing laws.

"The Fair Housing Act specifically passed in 1968 to address the housing imbalances across the country, and so the approach taken was to make sure localities were operating in good faith with the federal law," said Coleman. "And so as we look at how the county has engaged in this process and what they've put forth in their proposal, it seems to us outside the spirit of the Fair Housing Act."

7News then asked whether NAACP's Arlington Branch intends to take legal action against Arlington County.

"I'm careful to comment on a pending legal matter but we do, based off our own research and our own internal conversations, we do feel like the county is trending in a very dangerous direction toward violating the Fair Housing Act," Hemminger said. "That law prohibits localities from discriminating on intent and impact."

7News reached out to Arlington County for a response, including a request for interviews with county leaders. County staff said that since county board members are still reviewing the NAACP's letter, they are not currently doing interviews, and instead provided a written statement from the county board chair.

“The Arlington County Board received the NAACP’s letter late last week. At this time, the Board is reviewing the letter and is deliberating a response. We appreciate the feedback we’ve received from stakeholders and residents on this important topic and will strive to be as responsive as our capacity allows," said the emailed statement from Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey.

To learn more about the proposed zoning ordinance and general land use plan amendments related to Arlington County's Missing Middle Housing Study, click here. If adopted, Arlington County has said the amendments would expand housing options in portions of the county that currently only allow single-detached homes.

To learn more about the Missing Middle Housing Study, click here.

Nearly 200 community members spoke out on both sides of the debate during a series of county board meetings in January, and a final decision from the county board is not expected until March. NAACP leaders said they will continue to voice their concerns between now and then and hope to engage individual board members in continued discussions.

"Arlington County's mission statement is to be a diverse, world-class community, and we are calling on the county board to live up to its mission statement," Hemminger said.

During a January 25 meeting, Board Chair Dorsey indicated some of the changes made to the advertised 'Missing Middle' proposal disappointed him.

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"I will vote to move this forward because obviously I believe, and have long believed, in looking at the way we do residential zoning and not being as exclusionary as we have been," Dorsey said on January 25. "However, I do so deeply disappointed in the advertised ordinance that will go out, because I believe we have repeated some of those arbitrary decisions by constricting the advertisement."

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