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May 22, 2020

Arlington County Not Meeting Needs of Tenants in Pandemic—Thousands of renters headed for eviction and hunger

Affordable Housing,hunger — @ 4:15 pm

The Arlington County Board is not meeting the needs of Arlington tenants who lost jobs owing pandemic closings, and who now may lose their apartments if the county does not provide far more tenant assistance in the form of rent vouchers.  The county board so far has approved less than $2 million in federal and local funds for immediate rent relief, and at most approved another $2.7 million after July 1 even though the rental relief needs likely exceed $20 million.  A rich community like Arlington and a county budget of over $1.5 billion should be able to adequately fund rent relief and food assistance.

In March, the Arlington Greens petitioned the county board to use local tax dollars to provide $10 million for rent vouchers and food gift cards for tenants who have lost their jobs owing to Covid.  Greens then expanded the request to $22 million in April as the Covid worsened.  Greens pointed out that based on national unemployment data as many as 8,000 Arlington households may be unable to pay their rents.

On May 19, the county accepted $21 million in federal funds for Covid, but would only agree to spend $1 million to immediately help households with a $1,500 per month housing voucher for three months.  This amount will only help 220 households with a $4,500 housing voucher, far less than 10 percent of the need.

Social assistance agencies told the county government recently that at least 3,500 tenant households in Arlington have been unable to fully pay their rent in the past few months.  To provide a $4,500 housing voucher to each household to partially pay 3 months of back rent would cost about $16 million.   The number of households needing rental assistance will only rise as the pandemic lasts, and more households use up their savings so it is not unreasonable that 5,000 to 8,000 households will need rental assistance to avoid eviction.

Where could the county government quickly find $16 million in housing assistance funds without raising taxes?   The county board continues to fund  $18 million in construction costs to build new subsidized apartments in FY 2021 which have yet to approved or begun.  The county board should use this $18 million to fund housing vouchers for the 3,500 and rising households in Arlington who will face eviction shortly.

In addition to rental assistance, many households need food, and the Arlington food bank and church pantries are overwhelmed with tens of thousands of people asking for food.  A typical Arlington two-person household would likely need to spend at least $100 per week for food or $400 per month.   To meet half of the food needs of 5,000 households, would cost $3 million for 3 months.   The county has yet to provide even $1 million more in food aid.

The county government wastes far too many dollars on unneeded vanity projects including lavish subsidies to developers and business, and expensive new and often unneeded buildings.   The county can certainly find the $25 million or so that is now needed for rent and food assistance and get rid of bloated and unneeded expenses.

Queens Court

 

 

 

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