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ArlingtonPoliticsElected leaders press housing, transit, education at regional forum

Elected leaders press housing, transit, education at regional forum

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Northern Virginia needs to build more affordable housing, promote teleworking, support the Metrorail system (despite its ongoing woes) and ensure better education funding, top officials from five area jurisdictions said Aug. 25 at the seventh annual Northern Virginia Elected Leaders Summit.

The panelists, all Democrats, touted provision of affordable housing – including in areas where none now exists – as a means of countering the region’s housing-affordability, traffic-congestion and job-filling crises.
Prince William Board of County Supervisors Vice Chairman Margaret Franklin supported converting unused office space into affordable dwellings and expanding such housing across the county.

Area leaders should look at affordable housing as an investment, not as an expense, as it places employees closer to their workplaces, said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay.

Fairfax County, which has a 2.5-percent unemployment rate, is having a tough time drawing people to fill available jobs, he said.


“We need to build places where people want to live and, incidentally, where they want to work,” McKay said.

Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson agreed, saying communities must do even more to lure new residents.

“Ultimately, we need to provide a reason for people to be here,” he said.

Arlington County Board Chairman Katie Cristol alluded to, but did not call it by name, the county’s proposed “Missing Middle” housing initiative, which if approved later this year would permit up to eight multi-family residential units on properties currently zoned for single-family homes. The question is how to make room for the next generation of residents, she said.

On nearly 80 percent of Arlington’s residentially zoned land, “it is illegal to build anything other than one house on one lot,” Cristol said, repeating a frequent talking point of hers that critics have lambasted factually inaccurate.

Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairman Phyllis Randall preferred the term “attainable housing” and said officials needed to have tough conversations about NIMBYism.

“You have to know the issues that you’re willing to lose your seat over,” Randall said. “Housing is one of those issues for me.”

Traffic has come back in full force following the pandemic, but movement patterns are different from before, she said. Randall favored increased teleworking, saying it is better for the environment, lowers costs for employers and does not harm employee productivity.

Held at Van Metre Hall on George Mason University’s Arlington campus, the event was sponsored by the Arlington and Northern Virginia chambers of commerce.

WRC-TV’s Jummy Olabanji kept the proceedings moving briskly and managed to have panelists address all of their intended topics, despite the discussion’s late start and collegial ribbing between Wilson and McKay.

The panelists supported stronger state support for education across the commonwealth, as well as adjusting Virginia’s Local Composite Index to provide fairer funding for Northern Virginia.

Randall drew some comments from a heckler after castigating Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) for criticizing Loudoun County’s schools.

“I am really tired of the governor running in the campaign against our school system,” she said. “I have had it with Gov. Youngkin attacking school officials . . . We have an excellent school system. If the only way you can get elected is attacking teachers by calling them ‘groomers’ and attacking educators, then maybe you shouldn’t be in office. What has happened to our teachers is a travesty.”

The panelists also favored supporting Metrorail and said the region could not afford to have that transit system fail. They also said the U.S. government should play more than $500 million per year for Metrorail, saying the system moves much of the federal workforce in the region.

Cristol and McKay advocated for continuing some of the emergency electronic-meeting-participation measures implemented during the pandemic, saying they were convenient and fostered greater public participation.
“There is such a desire to go further,” Cristol said.

Fairfax County officials already are continuing some policies put in place during the pandemic, such as telephoning people who had signed up to speak at meetings when it is their turn to testify, McKay said.

“Sometimes you get people getting in the shower or at the grocery store and they forgot they signed up to call,” he said. “All of the sudden, they’re live in front of the whole board. So thankfully it’s audio.”

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