Jun 28, 2022, 16:21 PM
NVAR supports efforts by Arlington County to explore how new housing types could help address Arlington’s shortfall in housing supply and gaps in housing choices. We are concerned however that the study and the resulting draft framework will not deliver the desired outcomes. It requires a hard look at homeownership opportunities, including county programs to incentivize and encourage ownership, as well as the creation of housing types most likely to lead to ownership.
Northern Virginia, the DC Metro Area and nearly every area of the United States face a severe and worsening housing affordability crisis. The two most recent economic shocks, the Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic, profoundly exacerbated housing affordability across the country and Northern Virginia is a victim of its own economic development success with companies like Amazon headquartering in our region. It is now more important than ever to take decisive action to support housing supply and affordability.
To that end, Arlington County launched the missing middle housing study in the Fall of 2020 to explore how new housing types could help address Arlington’s shortfall in housing supply and gaps in housing choices. “Missing middle” is a commonly used term that refers to the range of housing types that fit between single-family detached homes and mid-to-high-rise apartment buildings.
In May 2022, County staff released the Phase 2 Analysis and Draft Framework, detailing the results of the nearly two-year study period with draft policy recommendations.
Since the beginning of the study period, NVAR has served as a Community Partner to the Missing Middle Housing Study, helping to disseminate information to and provide feedback opportunities for Realtors®. The NVAR Public Policy Committee and NVAR Government Affairs staff met with Arlington County Board Members and Housing Arlington Staff throughout this study process to share ideas and concerns with the County as they look to consider an historic change in Arlington’s zoning.
The Phase 2 Draft Framework includes recommendations such as allowing by-right development of townhouses and buildings with 2-8 housing units (duplexes, triplexes, etc) in zoning districts currently limited to single-household development and reducing parking requirements, while maintaining the same design standards as required for single family homes (height, setbacks, lot coverage).
As Realtors® we are concerned that the study does not consider homeownership as a goal for the missing middle framework. Arlington’s own Affordable Housing Master Plan calls on the County to incentivize the production of moderately-priced ownership housing through land use and zoning policy and encourages production and preservation of family-sized (e.g. 3+bedroom) moderately-priced ownership units. Yet the published results of the framework failed to examine if the proposed housing types were more likely to be developed as rental housing or ownership opportunities.
We also have concerns about the impacts on quality of life and the marketability of homes resulting from changes in off-street parking requirements. With the plan calling for a 50% reduction in the required off-street parking for missing middle units county-wide, the proposal has the potential to further exacerbate parking issues in residential areas. Not all Arlington neighborhoods have the community infrastructure and access to transit to support a car-free lifestyle for incoming residents.
Finally, we are concerned that a zoning change of this magnitude should deliver significant results for housing supply and affordability, but without additional policy changes this plan will not. The consultant’s study projects the redevelopment of just 20 lots per year. With most of these redevelopments likely on the lower end of unit density through townhomes, duplexes and triplexes, it is possible the proposal creates as few as 40-60 new housing units with costs still pushing toward and over $1 million per home.
In July the Arlington County Board plans to hold a work session with Housing staff to review community feedback and potentially recommend a refined policy framework to move the study into Phase 3. Phase 3, which is scheduled for the summer and fall of 2022, will include consideration of Zoning Ordinance amendments to enable more housing choice, other policy recommendations such as General Land Use Plan (GLUP) amendments, and recommend opportunities for areas of future study.
The opportunity for future study is now. NVAR strongly supports the intent of this effort and the goals of the missing middle housing study, but it is important that Arlington County recommends a zoning reform measure that creates more diverse and equitable homeownership options.