Amazon and Housing Affordability

In our area, housing affordability is an existing challenge.  So much so that Arlington County has identified affordability as a focus for the county. At JETMA, we are often asked how Amazon HQ2 impacts affordable housing in our area. In order to deliver a solid response, we track development throughout Arlington and Alexandria. Here is an overview for you to review to understand the scope.

Combined, Arlington and the City of Alexandria project investment of at least $150 million in housing over the next decade. This should result in the creation and preservation of 2,000 to 2,400 affordable and work force units. Of this, Arlington is projecting $7M per year for a course of 10 years and has established a goal of creating 1,000 units of affordable housing in and around the project area.

Arlington currently has nearly 2,000 committed affordable rental units in developments in the pipeline (units coming online, under construction, being renovated, approved awaiting financing, and in the planning process for County Board consideration in 2019). In terms of all residential units, Arlington currently has 4,000 units under construction, Alexandria has 3,800 and Northern Virginia has a total of 115,000 in the development pipeline.

Only 15%–20% of Amazon workers are expected to live in Arlington, with 80%–85% living in other counties throughout our region. A George Mason University analysis says any housing cost increases would be well within the expected gains the area had been planning to accommodate, even before Amazon’s announcement.

The Affordable Housing Master Plan (AHMP), adopted in 2015, enables Arlington to respond to the current and future needs of residents of all levels of income in the County. The plan’s affordable housing policy is organized around the goals of having an adequate supply of housing, ensuring that all segments of the community have access to housing, and having our housing efforts contribute to a sustainable community.

As with all qualifying development, new commercial development that comes online to accommodate Amazon will include corresponding developer contributions to the Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF), Arlington County’s main financing program for affordable housing. There are several provisions in place to ensure that affordable housing benefits accompany market-rate housing development. Also, Arlington County has recently established a Housing Conservation District to protect market-rate affordable housing in 12 areas through zoning and financial tools to incentivize continued housing affordability in these locations.