September 7, 2006, 7:30PM, Barcroft Community House, 800 S. Buchanan St.
Good evening. I would like to thank the Barcroft School and Civic League for organizing this candidates’ forum and for inviting me to participate. My name is Josh Ruebner and I am the Green Party candidate for Arlington County Board.
It is good to be here tonight with my neighbors from the Columbia Pike area. I have lived in the Arlington View neighborhood, just south of Columbia Pike near the intersection of Washington Blvd., for the past seven years. I am the secretary of the homeowners’ association of Carrington Village, a small townhouse community on 10th Street.
In my closing remarks, I will speak more about the future of Columbia Pike, but for the moment I would like to spend a few minutes talking about the fate of our neighbors from Buckingham Village because what happened to those residents is both an injustice in and of itself and because I believe that Buckingham Village is a template for what the County, under the leadership of Chris Zimmerman and the hegemony of the Democratic Party, plan to do with the remaining affordable housing and diversity of Columbia Pike as well.
This February, the residents of the previously 84 affordable apartment units at Buckingham Village II received eviction notices from the Paradigm Development Corporation, which will bulldoze the apartments in order to build luxury townhouses priced in the $700,000 range. Residents of Buckingham Villages I and III were also put on notice that their affordable apartments were next on the chopping block. In all, more than 1,200 hard-working residents of Arlington in 456 affordable apartments units stood to be tossed out of their homes for the simple crime of not earning enough money to satisfy the bottomless pockets of the developers who are ravaging Arlington’s stock of affordable housing and gentrifying our community into an exclusively upper-income one where only two types of people need apply: the wealthy and the super-wealthy.
For many affordable housing activists, the Buckingham Villages evictions were the straw that broke that camel’s back. Matthew 25, a faith-based group of Arlington affordable housing activists, collected more than 1,000 signatures from Arlington residents calling on the County Board to enact a moratorium on the destruction of affordable housing in Arlington until appropriate safeguards could be put in place.
A moratorium on the destruction of affordable housing is necessary because over the last five years we have lost almost 10,000 affordable housing units—more than 50% of our entire affordable housing stock. Chris Zimmerman will crow about the few committed affordable units that the County Board has managed to wrangle from the developers in exchange for bulldozing entire affordable housing complexes. However, let the facts speak for themselves. According to the County’s Annual Affordable Housing Targets Report for FY 2005, new committed affordable housing units accounted for only 6% of the total number of units granted to developers under site-plan projects. In 2005, only 6 entire committed affordable units were built for households with an income of 40% or less of the median income.
Rather than take the affordable housing activists seriously and work with the residents of Buckingham Village to retain their homes, County Board Member Barbara Favola told housing activists to “talk about something we can do” before the County Board cut a back-room deal with Paradigm to demolish more than 150 affordable housing units at Buckingham. The County Board then actually had the nerve to put out a self-congratulatory press release claiming that this was a big victory for affordable housing in Arlington!
Well, tonight I’m going to take up Barbara Favola’s challenge and talk about options that are at the disposal of the County and which Chris Zimmerman and the County Board have failed to consider. The City of Alexandria and Fairfax County both have public housing authorities. Why does Arlington rely on the private sector to build affordable housing? Fairfax County has a stronger inclusionary zoning policy than Arlington and offers housing assistance even to families that earn in excess of $100,000. Arlington offers only a homeowner tax rebate which doesn’t come close to even making up for the yearly increases in real estate tax assessments. Yesterday the Loudon County Board voted to cap development. So why does Arlington insist on gentrifying every last inch of available land
Alexandria, Fairfax, and Loudon are all part of the Commonwealth of Virginia and theoretically subject to the same Dillon Rule that the County Board hides behind to cover their pro-gentrification, anti-working class, anti-family agenda.
We need a change in direction. We need new leadership in this county. We need to exercise the policy options that we have available at our disposal to prevent the rest of the county from being gentrified. If you elect me to the County Board, I will provide our county with that leadership. 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.
What happened at Buckingham Villages is a prologue to what will happen all up and down Columbia Pike if we re-elect Chris Zimmerman. The blueprints are public and the gentrification plan is even funded at the expense of the taxpayer through the so-called “Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization”, a public-private partnership with the explicit goal of gentrifying Columbia Pike. 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.