Editor: The Arlington County Board continues to vote in favor of significant increases in density. In February, board members voted to triple it in an already dense area of Pentagon City. Board members are now about to vote on removing all single-family home zoning in Arlington.
The drastic increases in density will bring significant profits to developers while only marginally improving the stock of affordable units.
In response to opposition from the community, the board commonly states that it does its best to listen to all voices. Yet the loudest voices supporting the density spike have been YIMBYs – the “Yes In My Back Yard” group, which now has a local chapter in our area.
The YIMBY movement, started in California, is based on an idea that the market will solve all housing problems and all that’s needed is an increase in supply. With more construction, the demand will fall and housing costs will fall with it.
This has no consistent evidence, however. And in the real-estate markets dominated by large developers and private-equity firms, the prices do not normally fall with the increase in housing stock, as a few large players can effectively control price levels. And even if the prices did fall, the in-migration from higher priced areas would absorb the new supply.
The YIMBYs of NOVA group is co-led by Luca Gattoni-Celli, a resident of Alexandria who is a frequent speaker in Arlington County Board meetings.
Gattoni-Celi intends to make lobbying his full-time job, with the recent grant he received from Emergent Ventures, which was initially sourced by billionaire Peter Thiel.
Gattoni-Celi and other local YIMBYs often state they only need just a few of them to show up at the County Board meetings to voice support for any density plan in order to provide enough “cover” for the board members. So far, they have been right.
In February, a handful of YIMBYs, including Mr. Gattoni-Celli, spoke for the plan to triple density in one area of Arlington, while more than 90 Arlington residents spoke in opposition. The plan was approved by the County Board unanimously.
YIMBYs are often aggressive on social media and in their in-person engagements with civic organizations. They have posted personal attacks on those who question, inquire or muse about costs of increased density and accuse them of ignorance and bigotry. Additionally, the County Board has placed YIMBYs on all key citizen commissions in the county. The heads of several key advisory commissions are YIMBYs, pushing the agenda on behalf of all Arlingtonians. Since the County Board itself (or the county manager) selects commissioners, these placements of YIMBYs in most important commissions need more scrutiny.
While YIMBYs attack opponents, they have attempted to co-opt the diversity messaging. Recently, they used the “welcome diversity” yard signs as a model for their own messaging. Yet the overwhelming majority of YIMBYs of NOVA are young, white, college-educated men. The YIMBYs of NOVA affordability message also has been changing to “attainability,” as most of the new construction is in the luxury market.
It is imperative for Arlington residents to ask whose interests the group serves and what connection is there with the developers. For example, one of the most vocal YIMBYs of NOVA is on the board of the Alliance for Housing Solutions, a non-profit funded partly by developers. One of the current County Board members, Takis Karantonis, was a member of the Alliance for Housing Solutions and did not resign from that position until pressured by Arlington residents.
The current chair of the County Board, Katie Cristol, appears to be fond of YIMBYs, letting them know she loves hearing from them and urging them to attend public meetings. In the meantime, e-mails to Ms. Cristol from opposing voices normally remain unanswered.
With the outside money funding some of the pro-density advocacy and big fortunes being made in the area now, Arlington residents ought to ask more questions of who is influencing the current County Board’s decisions.
Alla Kamins, Arlington