Arlington County

Arlington County Board Passes ‘Missing Middle' Plan to Reform Housing

The vote was a defining moment in the history of a small county confronting the atrocities of the U.S. in the past

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The Arlington County Board unanimously voted to adopt the "Missing Middle" housing plan on Wednesday night, choosing to adopt new reforms that aim to eradicate nearly a century of racist, exclusionary laws around housing.

Low housing inventory and sky-high prices have left the dream of home ownership out of reach for a number of Arlington residents -- creating what's been called the missing middle.

The new plan includes allowing developers to build duplexes and small condo buildings on lots zoned for single-family homes.

The vote was a defining moment in the history of a small county confronting the U.S.'s atrocities of the past.

"We've talked about our current system being a vestige of exclusion," said Arlington County Board chair Christian Dorsey at the meeting. He drew attention to the way the community was designed a century ago.

As more Black families moved in, white leaders changed zoning laws for housing -- making it more difficult for Black families to buy homes in Arlington. That's a wealth disparity that can last for generations.

"That's what it was designed to do," Dorsey told News4. "And, effectively, even though that's not the intent of anybody who lives in those places today, that's what it successfully has done for generations."

The Missing Middle housing reform plan is the county's attempt to make home ownership a reality for more people of different incomes.

Unanimously approved in a 5-0 vote, missing middle will allow developers to build multiple units on a single family lot. Options range from a duplex to up to six units, depending on the lot size.

That means a $4 million lot in a great neighborhood could have four condos, instead of one 4,000 square-foot home -- bringing it closer to reality for the middle class.

"It's historic, it's monumental, and it's going to create homes for people who cannot access a home in Arlington County," said Ashley Goff, a resident who supports the new plan.

Not everyone is so optimistic. In theory, a duplex would be cheaper than a single-family home -- but the county is not setting any price limits. That means the market will dictate costs.

"The average African American median income is $66,000, and you need $193,000 a year to pay for the smallest unit," said Anne Bodine, who opposes the plan. "So this is not addressing the key issue of diversity, which I think we all share in this community."

Even though the vote was unanimous, every one of the Arlington County Board members acknowledges that the plan isn't perfect. They intend to revisit the plan over the next couple of years, making tweaks and figuring out what's working, and what isn't.

The Missing Middle reform plan will take effect in July 2023, and the county will approve a maximum of 58 applications per year to develop single-family lots into multi-family buildings.

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