September 5, 2006, 7:00PM, Hazel Conference Center, Virginia Hospital Center
Good evening. I want to thank the Arlington County Civic Federation for organizing and inviting me to this forum. My name is Josh Ruebner and I am the Green Party candidate for Arlington County Board.
I have lived in Arlington for the past nine years and love our community for its economic and ethnic diversity. I value living in a community where many languages are spoken and I can interact with people of different backgrounds—the diversity of Arlington enriches our community and is our greatest asset.
I am running for County Board to protect what little remains of our community’s diversity, which has been under relentless attack by developers, working hand-in-glove with the County Board, to gentrify Arlington into an exclusively upper-income community. The deliberate policies of the County Board to hyper-develop our community have had tragic, but predictable, results.
Developers have knocked down affordable apartments and modest homes to build luxury condos and McMansions, which are out of reach for all but Arlington’s most wealthy.
Between 2000 and 2005, we lost almost 10,000 affordable housing units—more than 50% of our affordable housing stock. People eligible for Section 8 housing vouchers now must wait five or more years for housing. The Arlington Housing Corporation reports that 5,000 people are on the waiting list for affordable housing.
Arlington’s hyper-development also has made it difficult for working-class homeowners to pay their ballooning real estate tax, which has increased by more than 100% over the past six years.
This gentrification has made Arlington a less diverse place, economically and ethnically. Since 2000, nearly 20% of Arlington’s Latino population has been forced from the county due to the lack of affordable housing; some African-American homeowners in neighborhoods such as Nauck are being forced to sell and move from the county due to exploding real estate taxes. Arlington is now the 6th wealthiest county in the nation for its size in terms of median income. Increasingly it is becoming home to two types of people: the wealthy and the super-wealthy, and everyone else is getting squeezed out.
Even Chris Zimmerman admits that the gentrification pursued by the county under his leadership has been a disaster. Referring to the trickle of affordable housing units coming on-line versus the flood of affordable housing being destroyed, he confesses that “We’re bailing out the water but it’s coming in even faster”.
I am tired of watching Chris Zimmerman and other Democrats shed crocodile tears over the loss of affordable housing, shrug their shoulders and claim that there is nothing they can do, hide behind the threat of a lawsuit from developers, and take protective cover under the excuse of the Dillon Rule.
If Chris Zimmerman isn’t willing to take on the developers, let someone else. If he isn’t willing to press Richmond for the authority we need to enact real affordable housing guidelines, let someone else. If my opponent won’t enact an inclusionary zoning code and force developers to build more affordable housing units, similar to what Fairfax County is doing, let someone else.
That someone else is me. Thank you very much.
Ladies and gentleman, you have heard tonight starkly different visions for Arlington’s future. Re-elect Chris Zimmerman and continue the Democratic Party’s hegemony over county politics and in a few more years Arlington will be completely empty of the economic and ethnic diversity that the County Board claims to value. Arlington’s transformation into an exclusively upper-income community will be complete.
To glimpse a view into the future of what the Democratic Party would like to do with the remaining diversity of Arlington, just take a look at what is occurring with tax-payer dollars under the guise of the so-called “Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization”, a public-private partnership with the explicit goal of gentrifying Columbia Pike—my neighborhood of seven years. In order to have a say in the gentrification of Columbia Pike, the lower-income and working-class people of Columbia Pike must pay membership dues to an organization that is trying to drive them out of their homes! This is not what democracy looks like.
CPRO’s list of sustaining members reads like a who’s who list of Arlington’s developers and one searches in vain on its website for any mention of affordable housing units being brought on-line among the hundreds of new units in the process of being built.
The county appropriates $65,000 yearly to fund CPRO—more than half of its budget. It is not too late to put an end to this public welfare project for developers. County money should be going towards assisting lower-income and working-class individuals and families to remain in Arlington, not towards driving them out of the county.
Elect me to the County Board and I will put an end to the hyper-development and gentrification agenda of the Democratic Party to protect what remains of Arlington’s diversity. Thank you very much.