Arlington County, VA should add $3 million to assist at least 400 more Arlington very-Low income households with a housing rental grant in its FY 2020 budget
The Arlington Green Party at their February meeting voted to support asking the Arlington County Board to add $3 million more for low-income rental (housing) grants that could help 400 or more households in Arlington in 2020.
With $3 million in funding, at least 400 more housing grants should be provided to people who are termed “extremely low income” (those earning 40-percent or less of the area median income (AMI), by lowering the current minimum age for seniors from age 65 to 50, and by eliminating other arbitrary restrictions that block thousands of such extremely low income Arlington renters from just applying for a rental grant.
There are currently 15,000 Arlington renter households — about 30,000 people who are considered as “very low income” – earning under 50-percent AMI, and nearly two-thirds of whom do not receive housing assistance in any form, and face a heavy housing cost burden. This forces them to apply for other forms of assistance from faith communities, the Arlington food bank (AFAC), and other forms of emergency assistance from the county and charities. Housing rental grants are the county’s single most effective and cheapest (per dollar of benefits given versus the cost of administration) housing assistance program, and benefits can vary per household depending on need, and amount of funding available.
In 2015, the Arlington County Board adopted its Affordable Housing Master Plan that set a yearly goal of helping an additional 630 more households in Arlington who earn under 60-percent AMI with housing assistance. The county was only able to aid 246 new households in the most recent year, and cut the number of households getting a housing grant by 30. About 1,215 households applied for a housing grant in FY 2019, a drop of about 400 from the 1,624 households who applied in FY 2015.
The two primary housing assistance programs in Arlington funded by local tax dollars are the affordable housing investment fund that subsidizes construction of mostly new apartment units (“committed affordable units (CAFs)”) ($13.7 million funding in FY 2019), and the separate housing grants program that provides rental grants for very low income seniors, families with a child or disabled persons ($8.7 million in funding in FY 2019).
In the most recent year for which data are available (FY 2017), the county was able to add only 276 new CAFs, and has rarely added even 300 per year. The extraordinary high cost of building new units (averaging well over $350,000 per unit), and the number of years and difficulty it takes to build such units are major impediments to adding more CAFs. In addition, virtually no persons earning 40-percent AMI or less can qualify to rent a CAF because of their extremely low incomes. The new CAF program does not help extremely low income renters in Arlington for the most part.
In FY 2019, the county will spend $8.7 million for housing grants for 1,180 households—half of whom are disabled persons; one quarter are seniors over 65; and the remaining one quarter are families with a child. The average monthly grant is about $600 a month; the average rent in Arlington is about $2,000 per month. The average beneficiary family earned $27,000; a disabled person or a senior over 65 earned about $14,000 a year. The maximum income allowed for a housing grant is 40-percent AMI. In FY 2019, the county cut funding for housing grants by about $446,000 from FY 2018, and thus 30 fewer households got a housing grant.
The disposable income available per month for non-rental expenses for an Arlington family receiving a housing grant in FY 2018 was $930 without the grant, and $1,490 with a grant. A person with a disability with a housing grant had a disposable income available for non-rental expenses of only $50 per month without a grant, but $675 with a grant. For a senior receiving a grant, their disposable income for non-rental expenses was $102 without a grant and $677 with a grant. It would have been impossible for these households to live in Arlington, but for the housing grant.
Therefore, Arlington Greens call on Arlington County to provide $3 million more in funds in FY 2020 to its housing grants program that will allow at least 400 very low income households to receive a housing grant in Arlington. Far more than 400 households could be assisted with this $3 million if the monthly grant per household was reduced from its current $600 per month. An expanded housing grants program will allow Arlington County to finally reach its own goal of aiding at least 630 additional households in Arlington with housing assistance per year.