Arlington Gets Antsy about Illegals

Kirsten Downey with the Washington Post framed her story last week about Arlington County and fears of illegal immigration just perfectly:

Arlington County, which prides itself on racial tolerance and economic diversity and has sneered at anti-immigrant policies in nearby jurisdictions, now finds itself facing some of the same questions.

Many longtime residents are voicing fears that a new zoning proposal will bring an influx of immigrants and poor people. Support for affordable housing initiatives is almost an article of faith in the Democrat-dominated enclave, but the proposal to allow rental units in single-family neighborhoods is challenging that orthodoxy.

At issue is a proposal to allow homeowners to add rental units to houses in single-family neighborhoods. Other jurisdictions permit “accessory dwellings” — garage apartments, granny flats, and such — and they’re touted by New Urbanists as a way to create affordable housing for students, young people, the elderly, domestics, laborers and others without creating income-segregated neighborhoods. By creating more affordable housing close to the Washington region’s urban core, the proposal also would allow people of modest means to live closer to where they work, which would eliminate long commutes and take traffic off the region’s congested arterial highways.

It makes sense in many ways, but the idea has spurred a vocal backlash among residents who fear the idea would “worsen parking problems, traffic congestion and crowding and increase the number of absentee landlords and illegal immigrants,” Downey reports.

Retiree Rick Barry, 75, said that he considers the plan a wrongheaded assault on Arlington’s way of life and that he fears it would attract immigrants displaced from Prince William County, which has enacted a crackdown on illegal immigrants.

“You work hard to get your family into a single-family neighborhood,” Barry said. “We have a very nice neighborhood character, and we should do whatever it takes to keep it as it is.”

Merryl Burpoe, a government relations consultant, said Arlington’s “beautiful, stable” neighborhoods are at risk.

“We moved here for the quality of life Arlington affords,” she said. “We paid a lot for our homes.”

So, here’s the big question

: Does this mean that the residents of Arlington County, an unofficial “sanctuary” jurisdiction and politically one of the most liberal, bluest-of-blue jurisdictions, are… racist? Are phrases like “overcrowding” and “traffic congestion” and “absentee landlords” just liberal white peoples’ code words for not wanting brown people around?

It’s one thing to lambaste retrograde attitudes towards illegal immigration when the people allegedly behaving in a retrograde manner are Republican-leaning troglodytes in Prince William County. Clearly, the issues they raise about noise and poor upkeep and too many cars parked in the yard are indirect expressions of prejudice.

Or maybe, just maybe, the clash over illegal immigration really isn’t about racism. Maybe it is a clash of cultures, reflecting the difficulty of integrating immigrants (legal or otherwise) accustomed to Third World villages and barrios, where certain norms of behavior are perfectly acceptable, into American suburbia, where those norms of behavior traditionally have been considered obnoxious.

It will be interesting indeed to see how the citizens of Arlington County resolve the tension between accepting all cultures as equally valid — especially when the foreign cultures reside at a comfortable distance — with the prospect of those cultures getting up front and personal.

(Hat tip: Larry Gross. The views expressed in this post are those of the author only and do not necessary represent the opinions of the hat tipper!)

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Hitting the nail on the head as usual. To be fair though the people in Arlington holding the views described were in the minority. In Prince William I am not sure if that is the case.


  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    a similar discussion in Spotsylvania – the “eureka” idea balloon of “we can allow more affordable housing in the existing housing stock” blown to smithereens when concerns turned to “attracting” more affordable housing demand that desired.

    that tells me that the affordable housing “crisis” is not a crisis in terms of the non-availability of housing but a crisis in people’s attitudes about having affording housing options in “their” neighborhood.

    so the next time you hear folks jumping up an down about why the Government is not doing something about affordable housing – hand them a mirror.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    So what is exactly your point, Bacon?

    That brown, Spanish-speaking people aren’t wanted anywhere?

    How about rounding them up in concentration camps and mass deporting them. If you read the Wash Post’s excellent series, you’d probably want to dope them up on Haldol.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    1. I’m sure there are plenty of racist Republicans in the 40% of Arlington country that don’t vote red.

    2. The debate in ARL is the same as anywhere — housing values.

    3. What the good people in ARL are afraid of is not so much hispanics — we already have too many of those — but drunk white kids.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    Will somebody please post an example of “sneering” by Arlington County. And no, simply disagreeing with Corey Stewart is not enough.

  6. Groveton Avatar

    I do not support allowing home owners to build rentable nanny/grandmother suites on existing property. I find it hard to understand why anybody on this board would support this. NoVA’s already crowded roads would only get more crowded as people move into these “granny pads”. Meanwhile, HB3202 is all but dead and there is no alternate plan of record for transportation. Allowing for a rapid ramp up of people without an equivalent addition of transportation capacity just seems dumb.

    This seems like a classic situation where a local referendum should be held. Additional housing units on existing lots allows for more affordable housing and provides the posibility for rental income to existing home owners. However, it also adds stress to an already stressed transportation system. It’s a trade off that citizens can understand. Why not let them vote?

    And why wouldn’t this be a good idea in other areas too?

  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    added data points:

    two households.. added to their homes – living spaces – approved as “additions” rather than tenant buildings.

    both were for aging parents.

    neither could be built as “separate” facilities.

    both require connecting doorways to the existing homes.

    what is the difference between this and adding “affordable” tenant space?

    Ironically – the moves of aging parents to new accommodations resulted in MORE available housing.

    moral of the story – at some point, the parents pass on – then what?

    the “rules” say that only members of the family can live there…

    is that legal?

    Is the county going to bring a deputy and ask for IDs and DNA at some point?

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    If you look at one of the articles locally about this issue, they said that the accessory dwellings are already legal in Fairfax, DC, and I think Montgomery county. Until the issue was made of it, I never even realized they were illegal since most jurisdictions don’t sweat it unless there are complaints of overcrowding, and I’ve seen them pretty commonly already in Arlington county.

    I’m not sure the big deal about having accessory units since the renting of them to people that can’t afford the common $1500-$2000apartment rents here has nothing to do with overcrowding in homes. The two issues are separate and should be considered that way. The people I know that have accessory units almost without fail will only rent them to singles. The landlords that allow overcrowded homes are the same ones that will have overcrowded illegal accessory dwellings.

    This whole issue has been way overblown and is being placated on racist fears and wildly exaggerated claims. The number of new accessory dwellings would only be a few dozen a year at best, hardly the traffic and public services epidemic that is being reported.


  9. Groveton Avatar

    “The number of new accessory dwellings would only be a few dozen a year at best…”.

    How could you possibly know that?

  10. Groveton Avatar


    Check 10-102, paragraph 11 of the Fairfax County zoning code.

    The accessory units can only be temporarily occupied by guests or occupied by people working as domestic employees.

    At least, that’s what I get.

    If your friends are “renting to singles” in Fairfax County they may be on the other side of the zoning.

    I am no expert in this but this is what I think the endless FC zoning laws say.

  11. Anonymous Avatar

    ZS & Groveton – It is also my understanding that the accessory residence can be built only in R-A (residential agriculture) and R-E (residential estate) parcels. Servants quarters are permitted ” but only in the R-A through R-4 Districts on a lot of two (2) acres or more.”

    Sounds like Gerry Connolly’s boarding house strike force ought to be checking out your friends renting to singles.

    Even with the tight budget, the BoS put more money into the boarding house strike force efforts.

    I’m not taking a position on what Arlington should or should not do, but it would appear to be lawful in Fairfax County.


Leave a Reply