AMAC Exclusive – By Steven Peay
In the final months of the 2020 campaign, former President Donald Trump repeatedly warned about Democrats’ plan to “abolish the suburbs.” While the mainstream media insisted the claim was false, time has once again proven Trump correct, as liberal enclaves one-by-one look to abolish single-family home zoning and spread those same policies elsewhere. The left’s latest target: Arlington County, Virginia, just across the river from Washington, D.C. and one of the wealthiest suburban areas in the country.
In the left’s crusade for “equity,” “environmental justice,” and “densification,” the suburbs are on the chopping block.
In 2020, the Arlington County Board of Commissioners launched what it called a “Missing Middle” study to ostensibly “explore how new housing types could help address Arlington’s shortfall in housing supply and gaps in housing choices.” Arlington consistently ranks among the most expensive housing markets in the country, and is only set to get more expensive with major companies like Amazon and Boeing moving in. Proponents of “missing middle” housing strategies argue that multi-family homes and apartments in areas previously zoned for single-family homes are the key to bringing down housing costs.
Earlier this year, the board released the results of the study, which unsurprisingly argued that re-zoning vast swaths of the county from single-family home use to multi-family home use will solve Arlington’s housing “crisis.” The board is now considering several proposals to that effect, allowing for multi-unit complexes large enough to accommodate up to eight families to be built on lots previously zoned for single-family homes. Notably, according to Virginia law, changes to zoning laws are not eligible for a ballot initiative, and so whatever decision the board comes to will be final. This means that if single-family zoning is eliminated, an owner of a single-family home in Arlington could soon find that their neighbor’s house has been sold to a developer, who will promptly tear it down and build a four-story apartment building right next door.
During the first few of twenty planned “community conversations” about the proposed changes, some Arlington residents have supported the move, while others have raised concerns that allowing multi-family units on single-family lots will drive down existing home values and make owning a home in Arlington impossible for those who don’t already. At a meeting in June on the rezoning plan, residents booed county board chair Katie Cristol (D) when she began discussing the plan.
The recent momentum to do away with single-family zoning in Arlington follows similar successful efforts in other radical left progressive localities like Portland, Oregon, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, as well as the entire state of California. These efforts have also been explicitly encouraged by the Biden administration, which has furthered regulatory efforts that began under the Obama administration to eradicate single-family zoning in suburban areas. Biden’s budget request for FY 2023 includes a $10 billion proposal to incentivize states and localities to abolish single-family zoning, providing lucrative grants for those that do so. Although Republicans managed to remove it from the final bill, Biden’s original draft of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan which passed last year also included threats to cut billions of dollars in federal funding to localities which “ban apartment buildings from certain residential areas or set a minimum lot size for a single-family home.”
In Arlington and elsewhere, the left has cloaked their support for abolishing the suburbs in the language of “racial equity,” in effect claiming that any opposition to their point of view is “racist.” Shortly after the Arlington County board released its “Missing Middle” plan, the local chapter of the NAACP released a statement calling it “a first step in a series of necessary actions to reverse the damage done to Black and Brown residents by governmental and nongovernmental acts,” referring to discriminatory “redlining” practices that took place prior to passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Biden’s Department of Housing and Urban Development has repeatedly stated that “zoning reform” is a critical component of bringing about “equity” in housing.
Left-wing activists now refer to single-family zoning as “the new redlining.” But as conservatives have pointed out, there’s nothing inherently “racist” about single family homes. In fact, a majority of African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Asian-Americans now live in the suburbs. Eliminating single-family zoning today will only have the effect of making it harder for minority families to achieve the American Dream of owning their own home. Families of all races looking to escape the violence and crowds of cities might suddenly find that everywhere has become urbanized, as “densifying” residential areas has become the new “social justice” craze on the left.
For progressives, however, ending single-family zoning is an enticing political opportunity. The more voters Democrats can pack into densely populated areas, the more likely they are to win elections. By turning swing-vote suburbs into deep-blue miniature cities, electoral outcomes are all-but assured to move to the left.
But if county leaders in Arlington move forward with their plan to end single-family zoning, it could also backfire dramatically. Matt de Ferranti is the only board member up for re-election this November, but the other four members will also have to face voters in the years to come.
Additionally, threatening single-family zoning in Arlington could have ripple effects in Virginia’s statewide elections next year, as voters in other counties will rightly fear that their single-family neighborhoods could be the next casualty of the left’s war on the suburbs. In the final weeks of the gubernatorial race last year, one conservative group released a devastating two-minute TV attack ad against Democrat nominee Terry McAuliffe highlighting his past support for ending single-family zoning. While other issues like education undoubtedly played a role in handing the election to Republican Glenn Youngkin, many of those same voters are likely also concerned about protecting the future of single-family zoning.
Though Arlington has long been a Democratic stronghold, the votes of suburbanites who don’t want their neighborhoods transformed, fearing a reduction in the value of their homes, rising crime rates, or even the continued availability of street parking, may cut into Democratic margins, perhaps tipping the scales toward Republicans in a few key Virginia House and Senate districts centered on suburban areas.
Try as they might, the left may soon find that voters simply won’t give up a way of life that they have worked their entire lives for, no matter how much woke virtue signaling they are subjected to.
Steven Peay is the pen name of a political consultant with prior experience in the executive branch and U.S. Senate.