Public Land for Housing, Schools in Arlington

In a first step toward developing a formal process for utilizing publicly owned or underutilized land for affordable housing, Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan announced that County-owned parcels that could be considered for future affordable housing and public school developments within the next several years have been identified and prioritized. Utilizing a Geographic Information System (GIS), county staff developed a database of 678 parcels owned by the County and Arlington Public Schools (APS). The information was presented to the County Board as part of a presentation on the proposed Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for 2015-2024. It is worthwhile to note that the inclusion of affordable housing in the CIP is part of the County’s vision for ‘investing in strategic priorities.”

“Affordable housing and schools are two of our County’s highest priorities, and the County Board has emphasized its commitment to the concept of using Public Land for Public Good,” said Donnellan. “We need to do more analysis, but this is a good start for finding ways to use public land to achieve important community goals.”

Recommended sites for affordable housing

The list of potential sites was narrowed to 24 based on criteria including, but not limited to, land area; environmental constraints; distance to metro stations or the primary transit network; zoning designations; and existing land use. Of these 24 sites, the County Manager is recommending eight sites for further consideration for affordable housing within the next 10 years, in two tiers:

  • Tier 1: Rosslyn Highlands Park/Fire Station #10; Courthouse Square and Plaza; land adjacent to Lee Gardens (North Woodbury Park); and Gables North Rolfe Street.
  • Tier 2: Fire Station #8; Edison complex; Lubber Run Park; and land adjacent to Jennie Dean Park.

All Tier 1 sites are currently in the planning process and will consider inclusion of affordable housing. Tier 2 sites are identified in the CIP for future studies, but the planning processes for these sites are not underway. A timeline for a special planning study to include a significant community discussion for each site under consideration will be developed. Additionally, the list of sites and priorities will be evaluated as part of the annual review of the County’s Planning work program. The recently opened Arlington Mill Residences, a partnership between the county and the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing is an example of using public land to co-locate housing with a community center.

What are other jurisdictions doing?

Alexandria has included a recommendation in their Housing Master Plan to evaluate city-owned land for affordable housing, but the time line for implementation is 4-6 years, and community housing advocates have urged city staff to shorten the process since an inventory of public land is currently available. The Station at Potomac Yards, developed in partnership with the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation, is another example of co-locating affordable housing with a new fire station.

Fairfax County advocates promoted a public land policy for affordable housing as part of a 2005 report on the development of single room occupancy units to the Board of Supervisors. To date, there has been no shared inventory of county-owned land nor has there been any affordable housing development on publicly owned or underutilized land. The Residences at the Government Center, an affordable housing development planned for the County Government Center campus, has been in the works for more than six years, but there is no clear indication as to when construction may actually begin.

To learn more about using public land to develop affordable housing, see our newly released report “Leveraging Public Land for Affordable Housing in Northern Virginia: A Primer.”