Majority Oppose Arlington's Missing Middle Housing Decision In Survey

ARLINGTON, VA — The Arlington County Board unanimously passed its Missing Middle Housing plan last week, with board members portraying the vote to eliminate single-family zoning as crucial to putting the county on the path toward more options for attainable and equitable housing.

The unanimous vote by Arlington’s leaders in support of Missing Middle contrasts with the opposition to the plan among many county residents. In his statement after voting to approve the plan, board member Matt de Ferranti noted a significant majority of the emails the board received were against the Missing Middle proposal, as was a large citizen’s petition submitted to the board.

A survey of Patch readers conducted after the county board’s March 22 vote found that nearly 63 percent of respondents did not agree with the board’s decision to approve the Missing Middle Housing plan.

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And among the 942 responses to the Patch survey, 65 percent said they do not believe the board’s decision to eliminate single-family zoning will create more affordable housing in Arlington County.

“They led us to believe it would provide more affordable housing. It’s quite clear it will not. We need a plan that will,” a Patch reader said in a comment included with their survey response.

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Patch’s non-scientific online opinion survey on the county board’s Missing Middle decision was open from Thursday, March 23 through Saturday, March 25.

While 62.8 percent of respondents said they did not agree with the board’s approval of Missing Middle, 32.3 percent said they agreed with the decision and 4.9 percent were unsure.

A reader who agreed with the board’s approval of Missing Middle commented: “You can’t credibly claim to be progressive and care about housing and then just say ‘no’ to practical policy solutions that will have an impact on housing supply and options.”

On whether eliminating single-family zoning will lead to more affordable housing, 26.1 percent said it will and 9 percent said they were unsure.

“The only clear winners of this whole debacle are the developers. They’ll keep laughing all the way to the bank as housing prices in Arlington soar even higher,” another Patch reader said.

Among the nearly 950 responses, an overwhelming majority — 76.3 percent — said they support efforts by Arlington County to create more affordable housing. Only 15.6 percent of respondents said they do not support such efforts, while 8.1 percent were unsure of the county’s work to create more affordable housing.

“The MM plan was an ill-conceived attempt to do good. It will not provide affordable housing, since these units will be on the free market and will go up with the market,” a respondent commented. “Proponents of MM have misled the public and more importantly, they have misled people by making them believe this is affordable housing. It isn’t.”

A Missing Middle supporter said long-time Arlington residents should recognize that the county has changed since they first purchased their homes.

“Policies like MM will ensure that Arlington is a great place to live in the 21st century,” the respondent said. “Change is difficult, but if we want to live in a vibrant community, we need more policies like Missing Middle, and we need to welcome all residents of Arlington regardless of their social standing, race, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation.”

Democratic Primary for Arlington County Board

On June 20, Arlington will hold a Democratic primary for county board. The top two finishers in the primary will run in the November general election as the Democratic nominees.

The candidates are vying to fill the two spots currently held by Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey and board member Katie Cristol, two Democrats who chose not to seek third terms in office. Dorsey and Cristol strongly supported eliminating single-family zoning as part of the county’s Missing Middle Housing plan.

Audrey Clement, who opposed the Missing Middle plan in her run for county board in 2022, is once again running for Arlington County Board in 2023 as an independent. No Republicans have yet to announce plans to run for the two seats opening on the county board.

While the county board voted to pass the Missing Middle Housing plan in a 5-0 vote on March 22, support for the plan among the six candidates on the ballot in the Democratic primary election is not unanimous. Four candidates — Maureen Coffey, Jonathan Dromgoole, Julius D. “JD” Spain Sr. and G.O. “Tony” Weaver — support the Missing Middle plan, while two candidates — Susan Cunningham and Natalie Roy — oppose it.

The Patch survey asked readers which candidates in the June 20 Arlington Democratic primary election for county board they would vote for as their top two choices. The two candidates who oppose the Missing Middle Housing plan received the most support in the survey.

Roy, who opposes Missing Middle, came in first among Patch readers, getting selected by 416 respondents, representing 44.2 percent of the 942 responses to the survey.

Cunningham, who also opposes Missing Middle, was selected by 286 respondents, coming in second among Patch readers, with 30.4 percent of responses to the survey.

The candidates who support Missing Middle came in third through sixth in the Patch survey. Coffey was picked by 286 respondents, or 19.9 percent of responses. Spain was next, selected by 164 respondents, or 17.4 percent of responses. Weaver received 76 picks (8.1 percent), while Dromgoole was picked by 32 of respondents (3.4 percent).

Thirty-three percent of respondents picked “other” in the survey.

Arlingtonians React to Missing Middle Approval

In comments on the Missing Middle survey, one survey respondent said, “I want to vote out every County Board member that voted for this ill-informed missing middle program.”

Another respondent said Arlington County “manipulated the entire process.”

“Using racism as a means to pass Missing Middle is a shameful way to govern,” the reader said. “It seems this is a resume builder for the County Board and staff and has nothing to do with the taxpayers of Arlington County. The County Board should be ashamed of themselves for the way they govern.”

A Missing Middle opponent said the process represents “the intentional killing of The Arlington Way by an extremist faction that was not interested in compromise or consensus at all.”

“It overthrows all Arlington planning since Metro arrived,” the reader said. “It will produce on-street parking chaos on our narrow streets. Most importantly, it will not work. The law of supply and demand will prevail, as it always does, and this plan will not do what its radical sponsors claim it will do.”

A Missing Middle supporter said the plan was never about affordable housing.

“This was about adding choices in housing, choices that buyers were asking for but were missing from this market — homes with a smaller footprint — in areas where swaths of land exist,” the reader said. “By framing these survey questions to be around affordable housing, Patch as a media medium is only perpetuating the misconceptions on the topic. If you are opposing the changes, better to be transparent in your commentary rather than using the survey as a means to sway people.”

After they approved the Missing Middle Housing plan on March 22, the individual members of the Arlington County Board offered their thoughts on why they voted in favor of the plan.

Board member Matt de Ferranti, for example, said approval of Missing Middle will move the county forward on its goal of “incentivizing affordable homeownership.”

“Ultimately, the goal of flexibility and the specific need to economically and, yes, racially better integrate our neighborhoods as well as the environmental climate benefits of this policy with respect to those three types of units make this the right thing to do,” de Ferranti said, in reference to multi-unit buildings with four, five and six dwellings built on single-family lots.

Missing Middle “is a critical step forward in providing greater access to housing choices that I believe will be more affordable,” de Ferranti said.

Another respondent said they wished the county board had been more permissive and eliminated parking requirements for new types of housing in single-family neighborhoods. They also want to see a general relaxing of “zoning stringency in order to allow things like live-works and corner stores in residential neighborhoods.”

A reader from South Arlington said their area of the county already has too much traffic and congestion from other construction projects. “There is much more space in North Arlington to put these multifamily properties, so I am wondering where these properties are supposed to be located,” the reader said.

Another respondent said they’re not sure if Missing Middle will add more affordable housing in the near future. “But it’s really the only option if we want affordable housing 20-plus years in the future,” the reader said.

“I personally think all new single-family homes over a certain size (say, 3,000 square feet) should be required to be constructed in a way that can be easily converted to multi-unit at a later date,” the reader said. “It is getting ridiculous seeing these 5,000 square-foot new builds that sit for sale, vacant for months and months. There simply aren’t enough people who can actually afford that.”

RELATED: Missing Middle Housing Proposal Approved By Arlington County Board

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