They may be at odds – “at war” in the words of one veteran political leader – with the Arlington County Democratic Committee and local elected officials on other issues, but leadership of the Arlington NAACP is lining up on the same side of the county’s political oligarchy when it comes to housing-policy revisions that have gained the name “Missing Middle.”
“The recommendations successfully balance the needs of existing single-family-home residents by keeping design standards the same while opening previously closed single-family-home neighborhoods, [to new types of housing]” the organization said in a May 24 statement. “We are particularly pleased to see the inclusion of eight-plex units, because these will be the most attainable for residents making the area median income.”
The Missing Middle fight is shaping up to be a political bloodbath, although most anticipate the fix is in, so to speak, and that County Board approval of staff-written recommended changes later this year is almost a sure bet. Those changes would end the sacrosanct nature of single-family zoning in Arlington, which has endured for more than a century.
The NAACP paints the issue in racial terms, saying past practice was designed to maintain a white hegemony in the county throughout the 20th century.
“The proposed zoning changes in the draft framework, in and of themselves, will not repair the harm done to communities of color in Arlington in the last hundred years,” the organization said. “However, the proposed Missing Middle framework is an important first step to addressing the legacy of racial discrimination and segregation in the housing market.”
While County Board members are likely to embark on major changes to zoning, the NAACP’s position may have little bearing on any final decision, at least if the five members of the board choose to carry grudges.
The local branch of the NAACP, which has tacked left in recent years, has skirmished with the County Board and other county leaders, as well as with the Arlington County Democratic Committee that serves as the gatekeeper to elected office in Arlington. Current elected officials may end up forgiving some of those skirmishes, but are unlikely to forget them.
Whether the “Missing Middle” housing strategies will benefit or harm individuals, or the community more broadly, is an open question. Supporters point to such changes bringing down the cost of housing; critics scoff at the assertion and say the entire exercise is a giveaway to developers.
Critics also worry that shoehorning thousands more residents into a geographically constrained county will overwhelm schools, roads, sewer systems and other civic infrastructure. Supporters of the proposal, however, can point to estimates of the mid-20th-century, which predicted that Arlington’s population ultimately would settle at about 300,000 – more than 50,000 higher than today’s population, providing additional room for growth.