Charlie Clark reported (“Our Man in Arlington,” May 6) on the opening of the new 160-unit subsidized housing project in Arlington built on land previously used for an American Legion Post on Washington Boulevard. This $77 million project was financed mainly through public funds including $12 million from Arlington County, and an average unit cost nearly $500,000 each.
The American Legion group claims that this project will help vets and low-income renters, but only 18 units (11 percent of total) will possibly house the lowest income renters (earning under 30 percent area median income or $30,000 a year, including previously unhoused vets) and 28 units (18 percent) will go to high income renters making 80 percent AMI ($80,000 a year).
In addition, the Legion post was paid nearly $9 million for its land and got a large free office on-site. Pretty sweet deal for its charity for vets. How come the Legion post did not give away the land for free to help low income renters and vets?
This project is yet another example of waste of public funds in Arlington County’s failed housing program to enrich private individuals, builders, landowners, and organizations and does very little to help the most desperate and lowest income people in Arlington and does little or nothing to help vets. Homeless vets in Arlington today can get housed and their rents paid through funds provided by the Veterans Administration (VA) to the Arlington County Department of Human Services (DHS) which identifies and helps any homeless vet who will cooperate to get housed. There is no need to build a new apartment building to house homeless vets because there are ample resources to house them in existing units paid for by the VA, and well administered by DHS. This assumes the vet is able and wants to be housed.
It is very true today there are thousands of low-income rental households in Arlington who pay over 50 percent of incomes for rent and need desperately need housing assistance, but the most effective direct way to help them would be to give them a housing voucher to help pay some of their rents. Give each household $300 — $400 a month rental voucher and the renter pays the rest, no free ride but some real help.
Arlington County has its own housing voucher program) but limits it to only 1,200 desperately poor households most of whom are seniors or disabled people earning under $18,000 a year. The $77 million wasted on the Legion complex could have easily funded vouchers for all of the several thousand low-income renters in Arlington, and these include many low-income vets who are housed but struggling to pay monthly rent.
We cannot build our way out of homelessness and lack of affordable rental housing for low income people in Arlington or in Falls Church, but expanding a housing rental voucher program could mostly alleviate the worst problems.