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Tuesday, November 30, 2021
ArlingtonHousing-advocacy group to take stock of its future direction

Housing-advocacy group to take stock of its future direction

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As its 20th anniversary approaches, the Alliance for Housing Solution will not rush, but instead train a lens on its evolving mission, as it begins the search for a new staff leader.

The Arlington-based advocacy organization’s board will embark on “thoughtful reflection” as it seeks a successor to Michelle Winters, who has led the group since May 2016 but recently announced plans to step down.

“We are going to take our time and make sure we are building the right future,” said Jenny Lawson, the organization’s board chair, at an online Nov. 14 gathering to present the organization’s 2021 Ellen M. Bozman Awards.

At the meeting, Lawson announced that Martha Bozman – daughter of the late Ellen Bozman – had been tapped as interim executive director until a permanent replacement is secured.

“We couldn’t be in more capable hands,” Lawson said.

Winters was lauded by the board chair as “a fine advocate” with an “astute understanding, relationships and connections” who served up with “a gracious personality.”

(An in-person celebration of Winters’s service is slated for early next year, with details forthcoming.)

Alliance for Housing Solutions leaders are hoping to receive expressions of interest from those seeking the job through Dec. 1. It currently is funded as a 20-hour-per-week position. Another staff position – administrative and events associate – also is soon to become open.

Founded 18 years ago by a group of Arlington residents (including Ellen Bozman, a former County Board member), the organization now finds itself in the thick of an ongoing community conversation – “battle” may or may not be too strong a word – over whether Arlington should loosen zoning rules to permit more residential development. The shorthand phrase is “Missing Middle.”

Those proposals have divided the community into factions, with affordable-housing advocates and those who say the effort will reduce overall housing costs in the county on the one hand, and on the other those who say such measures will lead to chaotic development, result in massive infrastructure impacts and imperil single-family neighborhoods.

It’s the pro-Missing Middle cadre that seems to have the upper hand, politically, with most of the five County Board members seemingly on its side to varying degrees. The days when local politicians were cowed by the power of North Arlington single-family neighborhoods and those who live in them seem to have waned.

The 2021 Arlington County Board race provided mixed results on the Missing Middle front. Two of the four candidates (winner Takis Karantonis and last-place finisher Adam Theo) were advocates of the concept, while the second- and third-place finishers (Audrey Clement and Michael Cantwell) were skeptics.

One of three recipients of the 2021 Bozman awards, Mary Margaret Whipple, said it would require “the force of community willpower” to craft a solution that satisfies as many people as possible.

“We need all of us to work together,” said Whipple, who spent 12 years on the County Board with Bozman before her election to the state Senate. She also served on the Alliance for Housing Solutions board for a period.
Also honored with Bozman awards were former Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing CEO Nina Janopaul and tenants-rights advocate Julio Basurto.

“It is my duty . . . to fight for my people – these are the people most often forgotten,” Basurto said.

Tenants in affordable housing need to know their rights and be willing to make waves when they are trampled on, Basurto said.

“You can choose to take it, or you can choose to rise up,” he said, pointing to a well-publicized case involving affordable-housing provider AHC Inc. “We fought back.”

Kellen MacBeth, a local housing advocate and former chair of the county government’s Tenant-Landlord Commission who introduced Basurto, said the AHC episode and those like it require “a serious soul-searching” among leaders, if Arlington aims to be a community that treats affordable-housing residents with respect and dignity.

How far local leaders will try to go, on the housing front, could depend on the limits of state law, which tends to favor the rights of landlords over those of tenants. While the recent run of Democratic control in Richmond led to some changes, state lawmakers of both parties seem disinclined to move too far in the direction of tenants’ rights – and without their backing, localities are prohibited from going beyond what presently is allowed.

The Bozman Awards presentation, now in its 13th year, traditionally is held in person but has been moved to “virtual” for the past two years.
“We are knocking on wood this will be the last time,” Lawson said. “The warmth and camaraderie [of in-person gatherings] cannot be captured in a Zoom event.”

Despite that, “we’re trying our best,” she said.

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