2024-06-23 1:39 AM

Our Man in Arlington

As the county board revs up for a March 18 final vote on Missing Middle housing rezoning, an array of recent developments have drawn notice from backers and opponents.

Arlington’s NAACP protested the board’s removal of the option of allowing seven-eight-plex structures countywide from the Request to Advertise approved Jan. 25, citing possible violation of the Fair Housing Act.

Arlington’s examination of solutions to the attainable housing shortage drew national attention in the D.C. Commercial Observer for Feb. 13. It quoted Brookings Institution housing specialist Jenny Schuetz remarking that “this whole discussion has gotten very dramatic,” and “very out of character because Arlington is a nice, well-bred middle class.” Her own view is in favor. “Opponents act like the world is coming to an end, almost regardless of what is proposed,” she said.

Critics in Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future and Arlingtonians for Upzoning Transparency can take heart from a reversal in Gainesville, Fla. After lame-duck city commissioners last August approved similar rezoning to allow more housing types, a newly elected board voted this month to cancel it, as reported by Bloomberg Feb. 2.

Longtime Arlington scribe Scott McCaffrey — now editing the new GazetteLeader — on Feb. 9 wrote that the Missing Middle plan had been tactically renamed “Expanded Housing Options” as shown in a “test drive” by Christian Dorsey. Not really, county spokeswoman Erika Moore told me. “Missing Middle is still the name of the study that has been going on since 2019. Expanded Housing Option development is the phrase being used in the draft Zoning Ordinance language to describe proposed additional housing types that would be allowed if approved by the board.”

There is a new take on the under-explored theme of perceived threats to social status—cultural and psychological forces that influence behavior in a policy debate intertwined with the American Dream. During a recent community conversation, a homeowner said Missing Middle units would “punish me for my success.”

Supporters in the national movement for rezoning consult Connecticut journalist Lisa Prevost’s 2013 book “Snob Zones: Fear, Prejudice, and Real Estate,” and YIMBYs of NoVA recently posted a favorable analysis of Arlington from the National Association of Realtors.

But the most recent entry on the status question comes from witty author Chuck Thompson, whose latest book is “The Status Revolution: The Improbable Story of How the Lowbrow Became the Highbrow.” He spoke to me from Portland, Ore.—considered a model for Missing Middle policy—to explain that our understanding of human fixation on status has evolved since the 1950s heyday of best-selling author Vance Packard’s “The Status Seekers.”

Today status-consciousness is recognized as a “measurable biological function” rather than “a malign thing, a social problem or a personal or moral failing.” Yet attitudes toward the “things we need—a home, a vehicle, a job—are changing” and form part of the debates over housing, Thompson said. But people are less likely to view status as a “zero-sum game” in which one’s gain is another’s loss.

Thompson is not a fan of Portland’s loosened zoning. “I have some sympathy for the NIMBYs” who bought into single-family neighborhoods and spent money on their home. But the real problem, he says, is “too many people.”  

Thompson also sympathizes with today’s young people who face a steepening climb to the middle class. The homeowners in rezoned neighborhoods, though it “might feel a little weird at first, are going to get used to it,” he added. “It’s where society’s going.”

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Vandals in my neighborhood?

On a recent morning walk I counted not one but three downed sidewalk traffic signs. The upended poles included a yield sign at Sycamore and Langston Blvd., a signal light near bus lanes at the East Falls Church Metro, and a traffic lane indicator sign at N. Tuckahoe St. and Langston.

I sent word to Arlington police, but they said they received no petty crime reports. So I sent photos to the police and to Environmental Services. The next day the flattened signs were removed. Were all three by the same perp?

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Supporters in the national movement for rezoning consult Connecticut journalist Lisa Prevost’s 2013 book “Snob Zones: Fear, Prejudice, and Real Estate,” and YIMBYs of No VA (planning a Feb. 25 rally) recently posted a favorable analysis of Arlington from the National Association of Realtors.

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