Friday, October 4, 2019
Alexandria and Arlington are often in competition with each other. Like antagonistic siblings, they often fight for dominance. Now Amazon may have changed that, a least a little bit.
During a rare joint session this week, members of the Alexandria City Council and the Arlington County Board came together to brainstorm about how they plan to handle soaring property values and the crush of new people. One potential solution now under discussion on both sides of Four Mile Run: a community development corporation.
“It’s an independent organization, so it’s not a government body,” noted Arlington County Board Chairman Christian Dorsey during the joint meeting. “It can also set up financial institutions that support its efforts.”
A memorandum from the two neighboring jurisdictions noted that a new community development corporation could be set up as a 501(c). Arlington and Alexandria could also work together to set up a community development finance institution that could complement the corporation. The memo points out that a key goal would be to address “the concerns of the most vulnerable.”
How will Alexandria and Arlington change over the next 18 months? Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol says that’s what keeps her up at night, the nagging concern that the Amazon Effect might displace longtime community members who can no longer afford monthly rent or annual property taxes as price listings skyrocket.
“We really lack the policy tools to prevent speculation and gouging,” she said. “This is an area I don’t think anybody is thinking about: How do we help our folks across jurisdictions in this incredibly urgent period?”
She called for temporary measures and information sharing to help people threatened with displacement stay close to Arlington and Alexandria while policy efforts are ramping up. That effort would come at a time when Alexandria has already lost 88 percent of its affordable housing since 2000, according to city officials — a thorny issue before Amazon complicated the real estate market.
“Most of the loss can be attributed to rents escalating out of the affordable range,” explained Housing Director Helen McIlvaine.
Elected officials from Arlington and Alexandria love to one-up each other. They’re always in search of a clever anecdote to illustrate superiority or a killer stat to demonstrate dominance.
Take, for example, the cultural significance of “Arlington: The Rap.” That was the 2009 viral video that celebrated Arlington’s bourgeois ways and brown flipflops. For a while it seemed like Arlington was on top, and then Alexandria stole the National Science Foundation.
Now Amazon has forced the truce of Four Mile Run. It’s a detente of sorts, although some of that old-time tribal politics remains. Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz made a point of noting the Arlington Fire Department’s new chief is from Alexandria.
“Your old fire chief lives in Alexandria,” Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson responded.
“That’s why he’s the old fire chief,” Schwartz shot back.