2024-05-23 3:37 PM

Memorial Day 2024 Issue!

Our Man in Arlington

One casualty of the Missing Middle housing controversy: A rupture between the Arlington County Civic Federation and the local branch of the NAACP.

As planned for six months, the century-plus-old discussion group comprising delegates from neighborhood associations on March 14 finally approved (by a 75-32 vote with eight abstentions) its statement criticizing—harshly, in the eyes of some—the responsiveness of our county government on multiple fronts.

“It appears to many residents that the current community engagement methods are unevenly applied or have fundamentally changed and no longer consistently includes critical engagement principles and features, and where far-reaching decisions may be made without incorporating substantive resident input or broad community consensus,” reads a series of “whereas” bullet points in the 2,000-word document with 109 footnotes giving examples. Many feel the elected board and county manager “frequently dismiss concerns of individuals, civic groups, civic associations, multi-family residence associations, [and the civic federation] which historically have played an integral role in the county’s decision-making processes.” Also, officials frequently deploy outside consultants for a process that “from the perspective of many affected residents, lack transparency and seem to be designed to reach a single, predetermined conclusion.” The drafters laid out complaints that the county ignores information requests and relies on faulty surveys.

The Arlington branch of the 100-plus-year-old NAACP, represented by Bryan Coleman—an advocate of Missing Middle rezoning to permit more multi-family housing types — had pressed for “an actionable document – not simply a litany of complaints and grievances.”

The NAACP version, shorter at 500 words and 15 footnotes, was intended to be less polarizing and less insulting to government officials. “CivFed must decide whether it wants to be merely expressive, or effective. The current draft resolution suffers from fatal defects that make it highly unlikely to prompt meaningful engagement or change from the county,” said the NAACP. In particular, “the draft channels grievances from a select few, relies on assumptions that county officials and staff do not share, and levies accusations that are unfair or unfounded. The core goal of this alternative is not to complain, but rather to convince.”

But after the federation version passed, the civil rights group, which had joined only in 2020, announced that the two groups were no longer aligned.

Civic Federation president John Ford told me the federation was disappointed. “CivFed and NAACP continue to share many goals, and the many associations and warm, respectful relationships we have built with our NAACP colleagues will endure,” he said. “We hope they may seek to rejoin us in the future.”

In another indicator that the Missing Middle debate was intertwined with the federation vote to “restore public confidence” was the derision it prompted from YIMBYs of NoVa, a key advocate with many renters for the zoning changes. “Our local government always has room to improve its civic engagement and public accountability, although YIMBYs of Northern Virginia noted the poorly thought-out clauses of the resolution itself,” read its statement. The accompanying appendix, it continued, has typos and misstates YIMBY’s name, “appears to be little more than a 100-page laundry list of personal attacks, vague accusations of dismissiveness by county staff and board members, unfounded insinuations of conflicts of interest by Advisory Group appointees.” Spokeswoman Jane Green added that “60 percent of Arlingtonians are renters. That is not a special interest group.”

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Arlington lost a key housing activist on March 4 with the passing of Margaret “Midge” Wholey. The longtime Democratic leader, along with her husband, former county board leader Joe Wholey, was among four couples who founded the not-for-profit Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing in 1993.

Mrs. Wholey, a public health nurse raised in Connecticut, came to Virginia a civil rights activist who participated in 1960s grape boycotts to aid farmworkers, housing of Vietnam war protesters, and picketing the then-segregated Arlington Hospital. Joe Wholey, a professor of public administration who was on the county board from 1971-78, survives her.

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