When Amazon announced that it had selected both Northern Virginia and New York locations for its second headquarters, there was outrage that the entire process had been a stunt and a sham. One criticism has been that while Amazon claimed to be concerned about housing availability and affordability in its selection process, the choice of two of the highest-cost regions in the country makes their claim suspicious. For example, in Northern Virginia there are well-founded concerns that the housing affordability challenges faced by many low- and moderate-income residents will only be exacerbated by Amazon’s arrival in Crystal City.
Northern Virginia, and Arlington and Alexandria, in particular, are indeed high-cost areas. There is strong demand for housing in these close-in locations and very little developable land. But against strong market forces, both communities have made affordable and workforce housing a priority and have put their money and land use policies where their mouths are.
For example, Arlington County’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHIF) supports the production and preservation of below-market-rate rental housing. This year, the County has allocated $14.3 million to the fund. In the City of Alexandria’s Potomac Yard area, located just south of Crystal City, the community has engaged in a multi-year planning processto intensify development potential and significantly expand housing options with affordable apartments, condos and townhomes.
Arlington and Alexandria have worked to create diverse housing options, as well as a range of retail and restaurant options and other amenities. Taken together, and along with their locations close to the District, these strategies have made these communities very attractive to just the types of workers Amazon is hoping to attract.
These efforts don’t mean that Arlington and Alexandria shouldn’t do more to address housing availability and affordability. They can and should work both locally and regionally to commit to the land use changes and financial investments needed to ensure that new workers, as well as existing residents, can find housing they can afford in this sought-after region.