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March 12, 2015

County housing assistance funds—mostly subsidies for the affluent, and little for lower income

Affordable Housing — @ 1:38 pm

Much of Arlington County’s housing assistance is wasted or directed to high income persons, doing relatively little for the low income and those particularly in need of Arlington.

Arlington County resident can be proud that our county government spends over $36 million annually from its local tax revenues for housing assistance, but unfortunately a high amount is wasted or used to subsidize either developers or high income persons, and relatively little goes to help persons earning less than $40,000 a year. Arlington is the second most expensive rental area in the Washington, D.C. region, and the housing cost burden is greatest for persons earning under $40,000 a year. Housing assistance should go to help the lowest income persons before helping those making over $60,000.

The largest county housing assistance segment is called “AHIF” (Arlington Housing Investment Fund), and it mainly benefits persons earning generally between 60-percent and 80-percent of area median income (roughly $60,000 to $85,000 for a family of four). Most of the $13 million housing subsidies for AHIF actually go to developers and operators of these apartments rather to tenants in the form of dramatically lower rents.

According to data of the Virginia Tech Center for Housing Research, there were 21,800 rental households in 2012 in Arlington who faced a housing cost burden (spending more than 30 percent of their incomes for rent and housing expenses), about 20 percent of all Arlington households. About 70 percent of these households earn less than $50,000 a year. Meanwhile a high proportion of Arlington’s housing assistance goes to the 25 percent earning above $50,000 a year. www.housingvirginia.org

One Arlington housing assistance program is well targeted, administered, and benefits lower income tenants–the housing grants program or direct rental subsidy. Under this program about $8 million is spent annually to directly help about 1,200 low income households with a monthly housing grant of $400-500. Only persons earning less than about $32,000 a year for a single person and up to $46,000 for a family of our can benefit and in addition must be disabled, a senior citizen or a working family with a child.

Thus, AHIF, the largest county assistance program, does little to help lower income persons and mostly provides funds to developers and little for tenants in the form of sharply lower rents. However, the second largest program–housing grants program is well targeted and efficient.

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