Arlington, Immigrants and Granny Flats

Walter Tejada, the new chairman of the Arlington County Board of Supervisors, is promoting a worthwhile idea — allowing homeowners to build small “accessory dwelling units” on their properties. Unfortunately, he’s diluting the proposal with a highly controversial agenda, and he appears to be basing his justification for the accessory dwelling units on a fuzzy call for social justice instead of individual liberties.

As Kirstin Downey writes for the Washington Post, Tejada wants to eliminate smoking in public places and ban trans-fats from restaurant foods. A native of El Salvador, he also is an outspoken advocate of Arlington’s Hispanic residents. Responding to the plight of immigrants who were displaced when garden-style apartments were torn down to make way for upscale condominiums, Tejada wants to require landlords to make tenant-relocation payments. The plight of displaced tenants is all too real, but the proposed remedy is a form of social engineering that undoubtedly would have unintended consequences if enacted — the topic for another blog post some day.

To replace some of the torn-down units, Tejada also proposes that the county permit homeowners to add accessory dwelling units, such as in-law apartments or English basements, in residential neighborhoods. Arlington County considered the idea some two decades ago but dropped it in the face of heated opposition — presumably from homeowners worried about the impact on their neighborhoods.

Accessory units like granny flats and garage apartments are wonderful things. They provide a wider range of housing options for lower-income individuals, they allow for a diversity of ages and income groups in a neighborhood, and they create an income-producing opportunity for homeowners. If neighbors are concerned that a basement apartment might become home to a dozen immigrant day laborers sleeping in shifts on mattresses, the appropriate solution isn’t to ban basement apartments but to limit the number of people who can live in them.

Unfortunately, if the quotes in the WaPo article are any guide, Tejada bases his case on justice for immigrants — as opposed to basing it on the principles of property rights and individual freedoms. Once an issue becomes one of group rights as opposed to individual rights, it becomes a zero-sum game, thus needlessly polarizing and divisive. Big mistake. In all likelihood, the best idea in Tejada’s nanny-state agenda will get shot down.
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29 responses to “Arlington, Immigrants and Granny Flats”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    What property rights?

    Those are pretty much a thing of the past. And without being able to do what you want with your property, so is much of individual freedom.

    It wouldn’t even be so bad if there was a clearly designed procedure that would get you to where you want to go, but as it stands now, anything you want to do involves “public participation”.

    People with marginal vested interests have more power to say no than you have to say yes. If the history of Arlington opposition repeats itself, Tejada may find that out, again.


  2. Groveton Avatar

    What property rights?

    Good question.

    I count four references to “property” in the constitution and all ratified amendments.

    They are:

    Section 3 – New States

    The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.

    Amendment 5 – Trial and Punishment, Compensation for takings

    No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

    Amendment 14 – Citizenship Rights

    1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

    So, what do we have?

    Reference to “property” #1. New states – refers to property of the United States – irrelevent.

    Reference to “property” #2. Trial and Punishment … Forfeiture of property must be under due process of law.

    Reference to “property” #3. Trial and Punishment … Siezure of private property for public use must be compensated

    Reference to “property” #4. Citizenship Rights. State law applies to people in the states where they live and the states can only sieze private property after due process of law.

    Unlike most RINOs and all liberals, I believe the founding fathers were pretty articulate and they wrote what they meant. Depriving a person of their life means killing them not making them unhappy or denying them self-actualization. Depriving someone of their property means taking away their property, not restricting the use of that property. In addition, property is never defined as real estate alone. The founding fathers lived in a world where there was money (i.e. currency) and they understood that property included all types of property. If they would have meant real estate they would have said “land” or something equally specific.

    So, where are these mythological “property rights” that put land and structures into a priveleged and inviolate class of “property”? Where does the Constitution prohibit the restriction of the use of property? Even if you somehow believe that the founding fathers were inarticulate and meant “deprive or restrict” when they wrote “deprive” the only right is that the deprivation and restriction be performed under due process of law (as punishment in a trial) or with compensation when taken as eminent domain.

    The law places many restrictions on the use of real property beyond density-related zoning. For example:

    1. It is illegal in most places to have a pet tiger on your property even if it is well tended and never leaves your property.

    2. It is illegal to grow marijuana on your property even if it is solely for landscape decoration or to be harvested and consumed personally.

    There are many restrictions on property other than real property. For example:

    1. You cannot fund terror organizations with your own money (a kind of property).

    2. You cannot bribe public officials with your own money.

    The only “property rights” anyone has are either defined in the Constitution or granted by the governments in the juridictions where the property exists.

    If you want “property rights” that uniformly prevent any restrictions on the use of real property then you should call your Congressman / Congresswoman and ask him or her to draft a new amendment to the constitution defining and guaranteeing such rights.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    I believe the founding fathers were pretty articulate and they wrote what they meant.

    I beleive that “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” means any property or any part of property, and any public use, means any public use.

    and that

    “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” means what it says as well.

    To the extent we have laws that say you cannot keep a tiger, then we have due process. Likewise for many of the other restrictions we have imposed on ourselves.

    But say that I cannot cut down a pine tree because it is the publicly owned habitat of a spotted owl that someone else (the public) wishes to grow on private property.

    In that case it represents a taking for public use.

    If we thinkt the fathers were articulate, then we should accept what they said at face value, and not read more into it.

    The issue here seems to be that we have gradually come more and more to interpret due process of law to include due process that takes private property for public purposes.

    In doing so we have turned one clause against another.

    But, the whole problem goes away if we do hold property rights inviolate. Then the public has the right to buy the private property and grow all the owls they want.

    They can even grow tigers, if they want.


  4. Anonymous Avatar


    I think that modern zoning/land use regulation has an element of nuisance law intertwined within. It’s not spoken or written, but we restrict land use that becomes a nuisance to the larger community. Right or wrong; we do this.

    Absent “permission,” there are many things that cannot be done with private property. You can’t build a smelter in a residential neighborhood. You cannot have 30 unrelated people living in a single family home. You cannot divide a single family home into apartments. You cannot have increased density when it overburdens the roads — except in Fairfax County! I think that all of these restrictions have a relationship of sorts to nuisance law. Of course, it’s all in the definitions. In many places (but not usually Fairfax County), permission is rarely given.


  5. Anonymous Avatar

    Sure, we all agree there are things we cannot do, and for good reason. We have laws written for this purpose, and therefore we have due process.

    No problem.

    Originally zoning was intended to stop flooding the courts with nuisance cases and burdening us with all that paper and cost.

    Somewhere along the way, the cure has become worse than the disease. Like I said, we have started to invent “due process” that takes private property for public purposes.

    Then there is the issue of timing. If I bought a home that could be subdivided into a duplex at the time I bought it, and that provision is revoked retroactively, then it becomes a taking. and the problem is that the county did not specifically delineate what property rights transferred and what property rights didn’t.

    If I bought the property knowing that growing marijuana or keeping lions is prohibited, I really can’t complain, can I?

    Likewise, you have an area that is zoned for half acre lots, and build (some) roads and sewers to suit. Then the new residents decide (now that they have the votes) to disallow what previous owners had expected, and depended upon. They do this to protect what they see as their public purpose (keeping the roads uncrowded for themselves). This amounts to taking other peoples property for a public purpose without compensation.

    And now we have gone beyond even using “due process” to take property for public purpose, we now require certain actions or work on the part of others. I have a noxious weed on my property. It is a natural plant, I didn’t put it there, it exists in many other places as well, but I can be forced to spend my money to eradicate a weed in order to prevent it from spreading and damaging other peoples cattle, under certain conditions.

    Hey, if they are so worried about it, they should have stopped it before they allowed it to spread to my property. Why should I let them make their problem my problem?

    You are right, it comes down to a matter of definitions, and that is whay we need strong property laws: to define precisely what definitions are allowed, and which are not. Otherwise, you will always have someone like EMR with a prdilection to define things the way he would like to see them.

    So yes, of course it is unreasonable to put a smelter in a residential neighborhood. But how did we get from there to the point where it is unreasonable to put a residence in a residential neighborhood: one very similar to all the others already there?

    Or how do we let people build next to an existing smelter or airport or farm, and then let them complain about what happens there, or about possible expansion? The KNEW what they were buying into, or should have, and it should have been on their deed. “You bought your one acre lot. It does not include the right to prevent your neighbors one acre lot.”

    Remember the Burts Bees magnate who bought 20,000 acres in Maine, terminated all the fishing, and hiking, and whitewater rafting tenancies, and turned the place into a pure wilderness.

    “It’s my property, I can do what I want with it.” While she terminated other peoples livliehoods, and enjoyment of the wilderness.

    So it is a question of what damage is done, to whom, and how it is perceived, and the only way we get around it is to define things precisely. One of the things we need to define precisely, is waht constitutes a public use, and what constitutes fair compensation.

    After all, if you actually had fair compensation, you wouldn’t have nearly so people raising the issue of property rights, because they would already have them, wouldn’t they? The only people against property rights are those that don’t wish to have to pay fair compensation for what they get.


  6. uk employment law solicitors Avatar
    uk employment law solicitors

    Is it advisable to take the law as the profession now a days ?

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    “they create an income-producing opportunity for homeowners.”

    This idea may – MAY – work if it is confined to homeowners who actually live in the homes and not to those who have bought the house as an investment. If the owner and his family actually live on the premises and thus have a large interest in who and how many are living in the spare BR or garage apt, things will go smoother than if the owner lives elsewhere.

    “the appropriate solution isn’t to ban basement apartments but to limit the number of people who can live in them”

    Easier said than done, Jim. I know this first-hand, as I have mentioned before. I saw a well-run, clean, safe, apartment community turned into a chaotic, littered, unsafe over-crowded slum in a matter of just a few years. The method of its destruction in a nutshell was that units designed to house mainly 1 or 2 people with an occasional small family thrown into the mix began holding 5 or 6 people or more.

    This transformation occurred under a resident manager who enforced the rules and regs like a drill sargent and in a city (Alexandria) that had occupancy laws on the books. What happened is that 2 people signed a lease and then brought 4 more in in violation of said lease because it made rent cheaper. In some cases the orginal tenant went away for a while and left the apt in the care of – what else? – an apartment sitter(s). The resident manager was successful in enforcing those rules and regs with the old tenants because we mainly agreed with them, saw them as being in our best interests, and wanted them enforced. The new tenants didn’t.

    So if it was suspected that 6 people were living in an apt, what is the best way to ascertain this fact? Ask? They’ll lie. Inform them that you are inspecting the premise on Friday? They’ll simply hide the evidence of over-occupation. Stage a midnight raid? Now that will work but I don’t think it’s legal, nor would I want to be subjected to it. And remember: Manassas tried occupancy enforcement and was slapped with a lawsuit because it disproportionally affected Hispanics. The over-crowded apartments in my complex were occupied by folks mainly from South/Central America and Ethiopia. Good luck!

    The results were predictable. The old timers – some from back in the 70’s when it first opened – left as conditions deteriorated, first in a trickle, then in a flood. The early low density tenants were replaced by more and more high-density tenants. Long term tenants were replace by high turnover with lots of short-term “visitors” probably staying a few days or a few weeks. New tenants interested in moving into a nice place wouldn’t move there.

    What finally happened was that the complex started causing problems in a nearby up-scale neighborhood when tenants started parking their cars all over the home-owners’ streets (actually public streets). City council accommodated the home-owners by zoning the streets for parking with stickers only. If they were interested in why all those cars were parking there, they didn’t show it.

    Meanwhile, the property owners, who I suspect saw that they had lost control of the property and that it was becoming a slum on a very expensive piece of real estate, announced that they were going to upscale it into “luxury apartments”. Thus they were able to clear it out without getting sued and about 250 previously affordable apartments were taken off the market.

    When I was in Alexandria last October, I drove through the complex. A handful of apartments facing Seminary Road are renovated and occupied. I hear rent starts above $2,000 a month. About 75% of the complex is in various stages of restorations or simply empty.

    It sounds as if something like that happened in the Arlington apts mentioned above.

    So if managed carefully, the plan might work; but I doubt that my “only-with-home-owners-on premises” will be passed. You can’t keep people from selling to investors; and, in fact, people who don’t like this development in their neighborhoods will likely do just that. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the Arlington neighborhoods affected (older, less prosperous?) don’t end up destroyed as good places to live and finally get replaced. Needless to say, the more upscale Arlington neighborhoods won’t be sprouting Granny Flats.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    Even owners on premise won’t cut it.

    I had Vietnamese neghbors who owned the property and turned the garage into housing. The garage had water battles sitting outside. A modest 3 bedroom ramber wound up with ten or twelve family members.

    They were very nice, and very pleasant, but they worked long hours and didn’t keep the property up to neighborhood standards.

    After I offered to help them out with a few things and haul away some stuff with my truck, they got the idea. Things are better now, but not perfect. They still have some illegal trucks on the property that they use for storage of merchandise.

    The county was no help.

  9. Groveton Avatar


    I think the laws should be fair but I don’t see such a thing as “property rights” beyond a fairly strict reading of the Constitution.

    You make the following point –

    “If I bought the property knowing that growing marijuana or keeping lions is prohibited, I really can’t complain, can I?”.

    However, I read the reverse into your argument. In other words, if it was legal to own lions when I moved in then it should stay legal to own lions. Obviously, the more important point is about zoning, not lions. If you buy land that’s zoned one house per half acre then the government should not de-zone it to one house per three acres. I think you’d see this as a form of taking property for the public good and, therefore, it would require proper compensation to the homeowner. I actually believe, as a layman, that you have a point on this. The de-zoning is close enough to depriving you of your property to be protected under the Constitution. But here’s the flip side of the coin – developers are forever getting zoning variances in the opposite direction. They buy land that is zoned one house per three acres and get it rezoned to one house per acre. Shouldn’t the developers compensate the public as much as the public should compensate those who have been de-zoned?


    You are completely right about the problems with getting people thrown out of apartments. I believe a “midnight raid” is a form of search and siezure requiring probable cause and a warrant. I’m not sure but I think that’s right. Good luck getting the cops to care enough to go through that level of effort. I can tell you for sure that even getting a renter evicted from your own property is an exercise in frustration. One of my friends owned a condo which he rented to a woman. He followed every rule, he paid taxes on the income, etc. One day the woman just stopped paying rent. At first she’d call him back offering excuses and promises to pay the rent. Then she stopped returning calls, wouldn’t answer the door, etc. My friend got a lawyer and went through the eviction process. Months later the lady just moved out. But she’s bought months and months of free residence by knowing that the process was long an convoluted. If you know how to “play the game” you can delay enforcement of occupancy laws for years.

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    “However, I read the reverse into your argument. In other words, if it was legal to own lions when I moved in then it should stay legal to own lions.”

    No, I don’t think so, and never suggested any such thing.

    But, if a guy had lions, and kept them well; if he had substantial investments in lion (or buffalo) containment, and THEN others decided that he dhould not keep lions (or buffalo) for their peace of mind, then THAT becomes a public purpose.

    They have every right to stop him from keeping lions, but they owe him a fair return on his PREVIOUS investmet, which he made in good faith.

    However, I ALSO recognize, that if someone is prevented from keeping lions, there is a good chance it is because he has abused the privilege.

    Strong property rights work BOTH ways.

    Therefore, yes, absolutely. When a developer buys land that is zoned at one house per ten acres, and requests a zoning variance to increase the zoning to one house per one acre, then he should expect to pay up. When the county plays the reverse game, they shoud expect to pay up.

    Unfortunately, the reverse does not hold. In the case of my wife’s property, the current difference between the original zoning, and the current zoning means a differnce of up to $33 million dollars out of her pocket.

    I don’t really care. I will never spend $33 million dollars. But I might like one of those houses for a million or so ($300,000 net). Even failing that, I would settle for nothing. Except that, if the county thinks that I should be in the scenery business, then I expect them to provide me with some paying customers.

    I cannot afford to sit here and make my neighbors property more valuable, and get paid nothing (and have no prosect of anything, ever). Not only to get paid nothing for providing waht is widely seen as a public benefit, but pay extra for the privilege. AND pay to operate a part time farm to boot.

    That part time farm drops around $25,000 on to the local economy every year.

    So, the reverse does not hold. Not only that, but her property has been downzoned in three tranches. Each one worse than the last. It is exactly like what happened to the Cherokee indians, being gradually forced off their land by incremental treaties that were subsequently not honored.

    Now, the smart, landowners, and those with resources, subdivided years ago. And they paid higher taxes onthe land for many years. But now, the new idea is to negate unused lots, EVEN IF THEY WERE PREVIOUSLY RECORDED. And the reason for this is that some people see a huge liability in agreements that were previously made.

    Frankly, I have a problem with that.

    You have to be realistic about this. Compared to the value of some of my neighbors homes, the net value of building ONE new home here is equal to the value of farming the remainder for 250 years.

    BUT, the price of corn has increased substantially last year. If I do not have any other choice, then I may very well call in the loggers and clear cut 90 acres of forest, and plant the whole place to corn.

    I could retire on the value of the forest. Or, I could retire on the net value of one new home, and leave the rest undisturbed.




  11. Anonymous Avatar

    Let’s think about this. Why do we have such an affinity for farms and other open space?

    Because we think it wil increase the value of our property. We see this in golf course homes, private airport homes (with hangars AND garages), we see this in the new equestrian oriented homes, etc.

    It is also because we know (or think we know) those places pay more in taxes than they cost.

    It is also because we have (still) a soft spot for the romantic aspects of what we think of as farms.

    It is because we know it will delay the costs of additional infrastructure.

    But the REAL reason is that we know that urban life is unsustainable.

    Think about it. For $2500 I can buy a ram and five ewes. With adequate fence, protective dogs, and a little luck; in a year I will have 25 sheep.

    Where else can you make that kind of return on renewable resources?

    It is a VERY seductive promise.

    BUT, the facts are, that the political and tax and economic situation conspires entirely against succeding this way. We prefer cheap food to the idea of allowing landowners and farmers to make a fair profit on their investment.

    It is a case of taking a public benefit without adequate compensation.

    If we had a lot fewer farms, then the ones remaining would make a profit. On the other hand, there IS a rational argument for preserving valuable farmland for the time when we will need it.

    That preservation is a public benefit, and we should expect to pay for it, as the Constitution says.

    Instead, we are stealing it from people like my wife’s family. And many others like her. We have set up a system that pays almost all of the profits, and almost all of the subsidies to a handfull of large, and well capitalized farms.

    In the process, we have forgotten the value of saving other property, which is not currently valuable, for its future value. The net present value of that future value is a public benefit, and we are stealing it, rather than investing in it, for our future.

    We hear often about those who value short term profits over long term values. Particularly from some members of the environmental movement. In my opinion, THEY are among the worst offenders, because they are short circuiting the long term value of open space for their own perceived short term values.

    When you see the owners of pine forests cutting them down because they fear a spotted owl might move in, then you get my point.

    If you want a public benefit, then you should expect to pay for it. If you claim not to be a RINO, then don’t back it up with a call for more socialism.


  12. Groveton Avatar


    You talkin’ to me?

    You must be talkin’ to me. There’s nobody else here.

    First, I don’t want a public benefit. I don’t care much about farms or open land in urban / suburban areas. There are plenty of farms in Nebraska. So, I wouldn’t have downzoned the land to start.

    Second, I wrote the following:

    “I actually believe, as a layman, that you have a point on this. The de-zoning is close enough to depriving you of your property to be protected under the Constitution. “.

    I am not sure where the call for more socialism is in that statement.

  13. Groveton Avatar

    And … let’s remember the original article – support for allowing people to build granny flats in Arlington.

    So, somebody buys a house in Arlington that’s on a lot zoned for one residence. Now they get to have two residences. Great. I assume, like my point about developers, they’ll pay for the up-zoning of their property from one residence to two when they build the second residence. Because guess what?

    Granny has a car.
    Granny expects the police to respond when she calls.
    Granny wants to use the public library.
    Granny has costs.

    My issue with the rhetoric on this site is the idea that there are extensive “property rights” pertaining to real estate. And, as RH writes, “Those are pretty much a thing of the past. And without being able to do what you want with your property, so is much of individual freedom.”. I can’t buy the link between being able to “do what you want with your property” and personal liberty. You never had the right to “do what you want with your property” – at least not from the Constitution. You have a right against your property being taken without compensation. Down-zoning is a case that’s extreme enough to warrant a Constitutional question. Telling somebody who bought a house that never allowed for a granny flat that they still can’t build a granny flat is not a Constitutional issue.

  14. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    At least part of the purpose in designating land use in terms of density is the infrastructure implications which, in turn, have quality of life/levels of service implications.

    The property rights/homebuilder advocates of “no zoning” apparently believe that things like water/sewer/roads/fire/rescue/libraries /schools are dynamically expandable with a minimum of muss and fuss.

    When an area is designated for a certain density and water/sewer is installed – the SIZE of the pipes is not some arbitrary decision. Instead an engineer sits down and asks “how much water needs to flow in this pipe” and then he/she chooses the size of the pipe and installs it.

    No.. one granny flat won’t overwhelm that pipe but allowing granny flats on all houses in a certain area could.. over time lead to problems.

    The same is true of other infrastructure – even privately-provided infrastructure like electricity and phone – all predicated on the numbers of users, the number/size of substations, etc.

    RH believes that folks properties that are downzoned are owed compensation.

    Fair enough.

    Now what about the folks who own properties that are UPzoned? Shouldn’t they, in turn, owe the county the difference in the value of their property before and AFTER the upzone – just the same as RH is asking for them to be compsenated for a downzone?

    When a jursidiction upzones an area (as opposed to merely rezoning one property), they are making a financial decision – to provide the expanded infrastructure to serve that increased density – roads, water/sewer, fire/rescue, schools, etc.

    So, when the jurisdiction upzoned an area, everyone who owned property has their property instantly gain value as a result of the upzone so if we were to follow RH’s philosophy then all those folks should then “compensate” the jurisdiction for the upzone – right?

    You have to ask yourself WHY a jurisdiction would, in the first place, want to upzone an area vice not doing so and responding to AD HOC rezones over time and the answer is clear – it would be a nightmare back fitting infrastructure incrementally and piecemeal to the point where if, in every rezone case, it became the direct financial responsibility of the applicant – that the cost of development would skyrocket to the point where it would not be feasible in places that were already maxed and they would be, because no previous applicant would want to pay more for say water/sewer expansion than just what they needed.

    So … the locality TRIES to designate areas for development pegged at a real density number that has real infrastructure consequences.. not just some number plucked out of thin air … like some of the “no-zoning” advocates might have folks believe.

    It’s about planning.. for adequate infrastructure…

    Can anyone imagine.. tearing up a street every/other year to rip out the old water/sewer “perfectly” sized just to serve the last development – and putting in new expanded infrastructure “perfectly sized” to add only enough extra to serve the next new development?

    So .. all of this starts by one person saying “all I want is ONE Granny Flat” …. and whatever happens to the next 50 folks who only want “one granny flat” is not my business.

    True enough.

    But IT IS… some body’s business, isn’t it?

    In the “no-zoners” world, it is apparently nobody’s business because infrastructure is not an issue.. it’s just “there”.. to start with.

  15. Anonymous Avatar

    Larry, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The big problem in my apartment complex was that “one granny flat (or 6+ apartment)won’t overwhelm that pipe (etc) but allowing granny flats (or 6+ apartments) on all (apt) houses in a certain area could.. over time lead to problems.”

    Which FTR is why I am suspicious of EMR’s high density development. What’s to keep a “sustainable” community from becoming unsustainable because of over-population? The denser the development, the quicker it can tip into chaos. Because the US is over-populated now, we need to get population under control sooner rather than later.

    My complex had 14 units per building, mostly 1 or 2 tenants per unit, for 25+ years. That was the density that it had been planned for back in the early 70’s and demographics remained fairly constant during that time. Verrrry few children. Why? Because after folks had or even planned children, they usually moved to at least a townhouse.

    When I moved in (1985), we had 2 washers and 1 dryer per building. You had to plan, but laundry was doable. Then suddenly in the late 90’s we had twice (or more) the density. AND 5-6 guys living in an apt = 5-6 guys doing their own laundry. Added competition for resources.

    Ditto with parking. I didn’t have a car during most of my time there but those who did found themselves in constant competition for spaces near their buildings, hence parking in nearby neighborhoods. As street crime made its debut there, this became more of a problem.

    Low turn-over meant that we tried to save on utilities, kept the grounds neat, etc. because we knew that this translated into savings on rent. High turnover meant no long-term interest. One of the things that infuriated me after the start of the high-density arrival was, after years of keeping the temperature at 65 in winter and 72-75 in summer, I noticed apts with open windows when it was 90 degrees plus in the summer – with the A/C running. The old tenants picked up the occasional stray piece of paper that blew onto the grounds. The new tenants cleaned out their cars by swiping an arm across the front seat, leaving fast-food litter in the parking lot. All of this translated into higher costs for us long-termers and made staying a worse deal.

    In the old days, in the laundry room and garbage room combination, it wasn’t unusual to see people sitting down and reading while waiting for their clothes to complete a cycle. There was no smell to speak of because the trash cans were tightly sealed. Later, the garbage room was so full of trash because of increased density that the lids wouldn’t even fit on the cans. I leave it to your imagination how it smelled in steamy August when waiting for your clothes to finish drying with dirty diapers in the open garbage cans.

    One of the consolations of middle-age is knowing what the garbage disposal will actually dispose of so I had rarely needed a plumber at these apts. During the last few months, I needed one repeatedly because my neighbors apparently didn’t know what the GD would dispose of. Since the plumbing was interconnected, I got their problems.

    As the problems multiplied, the old tenants left. When they left, new high density, high turnover tenants moved in. It got to the point that about the only people moving in were those who could tolerate the deteriorating conditions. I stayed longer than I might have otherwise because I knew I was leaving soon anyway.

    These Granny Flats, unless carefully managed, can turn into the same disaster that my apt complex did with the same final result: Upscale development because the folks that brought on the problems can’t possibly afford the upscale costs and so will move – and take their problems – elsewhere.

    People who don’t want Granny Flats will leave. The people moving in will be (1) more accepting of GF’s and possibly more likely to start thir own GF or (2) investors living elsewhere and so unconcerned about the affects of their GF’s on the community. That’s why I say IF you plan to do this, it needs to be carefully controlled.

    Deena Flinchum (anon 9:13 – forgot to add my name).

  16. Anonymous Avatar

    Sorry, Groveton, that wasn’t directed specifically at you.

    While you may not care much about Farms or open land, there are plenty of powerful figures that do. They think they are working hard to provide a public benefit, and they think it benefits you, whether you agree or not.

    Yup, I think upzoning and downzoning ought to Be treated equally with respect to costs. But that leads to the problem of when do you start, which is what the Oregon debacle was mostly about.

    There are plenty of places that have already been downzoned, and you can bet when the time comes to upzone them that the powers that be will want their pound of flesh – for allowing you to do what you could have done before it was prohibited.

    While there might be plenty of farmland in Nebraska, that might not be the mostcost effective way to farm.

    I agree with what you say about Granny Flats. If you bought into a circumstance with rules in place, you don’t have a beef.

    “….all those folks should then “compensate” the jurisdiction for the upzone – right?”

    Yep. In fact, some people think that different levels of zoning should simply be for sale. All we have to do is agree on a price. Then, it is just like moving into a place with any other rules: if you think the price is too high, and you might want to avail yourself, then don’t move there.

    But, if you did that, and if you then had enough money from the sale of zoning rights to meet the infrastructure needs, then all or most of Larry’s arguments would be met.

    Then we would learn pretty fast that it isn’t about money or infrastructure at all. It is about controlling other people in such a way that we won’t ever have to be offended by them.

    Larry’s right that one granny flat isn’t a problem, but enoguh granny flats over enough time is a problem. And if there is THAT much demand you probably have a problem anyway. Over time, kids grow up and get cars, too. And if they marry and move in, then it’s family. The problem is no different from granny flats, but now you have no leverage.

    As I see it, part of the problem is that the right to say NO has no cost associated with it, but it often has a substantial benefit associated. Think of an existing operation like a school that wants to expand. You can bet the neighbors will put up a stink.

    So, we think that people should pay for what they get, but if they get something by just saying no, then that is not supposed to be, or recognized as a loss to someone else. Therefore and they shouldn’t pay for what they got.

    Everytime someone says no, what they are really doing is creating an externalized cost. Those costs should have a price put on them, just like any other externality.

    What happens, if we put in a new park? It raises the property value of people near there (unless the park has soccer fields). But who pays for the park? Everyone. So, someone could go and complain that they shouldn’t have to pay for new infrastructure that benefits other people.

    If we allow that logic, we can never get anything done. Larry say’s its all about having enough infrastructure, and having it paid for by those who create the need for it.

    It’s a catch 22. You won’t let them in without infrastructure, if they aren’t in they can’t pay for it, and the existing residents aren’t about to pay for it in advance. Meanwhile, by simply saying NO, the existing residents get the benefit of renting their neighbors (empty)land at no cost.

    Property rights have to work in BOTH directions. You do have the right not to have your property taken for a public benefit. I read that to mean for ANY public benefit, and any property or part thereof.

    So, if other people can control what you do on your property for their benefit, they are controlling you. They are renting your property for the purpose of doing nothing with it, and not paying you rent. That is a taking.

    The county claims that for every home I don’t build, I’m saving them $6700 a year, so they refuse to allow me to build. I’m not unreasonable, I can live with that, but I figure they owe me the interest on the $6700 that THEY claim I am saving for them.

    The county has every right to deny me building a home. But they don’t have the right to profit from it at my expense. Those are two entirely different things. If they do profit at my expense, then it is a taking, just as sure as if the took the money out of my pocket.

    And we are not talking about building smelters or pig farms, we are talking about ordinary things that ordinary people do every day, but some people just don’t want other people to do them. Or at least not anywhere near where they are.

    BOTH directions. Fairly. That is all I expect.


  17. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    …” Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (D-Arlington) and other lawmakers said they will again work to pass homestead exemption legislation, a priority for Alexandria and Arlington County officials. The legislation would give local jurisdictions the authority to grant property tax relief to residents in owner-occupied houses, up to 20 percent of a home’s assessed value. Because such a change would require a constitutional amendment, the bill must pass the General Assembly for the second time this year before being put to voters in a referendum. Lawmakers gave the bill first-round approval last session.

    “Traditionally, Arlington gets up to 50 percent of their real estate taxes from residences and 50 percent from commercial and retail. But it’s gotten out of balance,” Brink said. “Homeowners are now paying something like 60 percent of the real estate taxes. This exemption would give local governments another tool to manage their property tax system as equitably as they can.”

  18. Groveton Avatar

    Ms. Flinchum’s points are well taken. I have seen many cases of gentrification caused by dropping property values caused, in turn, by over-crowding. I have never figured out where the people who used to live in relatively affordable housing go after gentrification. From Capitol Hill to Alexandria west of Washington St to the site of the former Cabrini Green projects in Chicago – I see this happening all the time.

    My only quibble with Ms. Flinchum’s comments is her statement that the US is over-populated. I just don’t see that being true. There are certainly areas that are suffering from a “growth at all costs” mentality but the US (overall) still has fairly low population density in my opinion. I think this is especially true when you consider the geography of the US – almost all of the “lower 48” is very habitable. Russia has vast tracts of essentially uninhabitable land, most of interior Australia is a desert, a vast majority of Canada’s population lives with 100 miles of the US border because the north is generally too had to habitate.

  19. Anonymous Avatar

    “Ms. Flinchum’s points are well taken. I have seen many cases of gentrification caused by dropping property values caused, in turn, by over-crowding. I have never figured out where the people who used to live in relatively affordable housing go after gentrification.”

    Yep. Neighborhoods get old.

    Notice that Deena’s problems could have been solved if the landlord had strong property rights. He could just refuse to renew leases to people that won’t meet his standards. But now we call that discrimination, and the rules to get people out are tough, if you have a bad tenant, you are screwed.


  20. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: overpopulation


    1/3 of the counties in the US have a higher death rate than a birth rate.

    The problem is the jobs are going to the urban areas and with them – the need for service work.

    For every guy/gal with that 100K hi tech yee ha job.. several more are needed to dry clean their clothes, tend to their landscaping, nanny their kids, etc… and we are really, really good about talking the affordable housing talk… and hiding out when the “walk the walk” time comes…

    so.. folks do what they have to do to find a place to live – and it’s not pretty sometimes….

    I think what we collectively do not appreciate perhaps is that the experts say that we ought not to exceed 1/3 of our income for a mortgage (a place to live).. and most of us think in terms of the mortgage for a 100K income… when there are twice.. three times as many folks with 50K incomes that are.. in fact, bound by the same economic forces.

    They have to have a place to live and they end up doing what they must do – to meet that 1/3 income benchmark…

    If the minimum townhouse in the region is 400K.. where do we expect the folks who make 50K to live?

    What I’m hearing is – “not near where I live”….

  21. Anonymous Avatar

    As in, I don’t want to pay for their infrastructure. We have to stop all this development. I want invisible service. Let them eat cake.

  22. Groveton Avatar


    Your argument struggles with basic economic theory. If people cannot make enough money being nannies (relative to the cost of living) the nannies will either find another career or move somewhere that allows nannies to make enough money (relative to the cost of living). Once the nannies switch jobs or leave there will be fewer nannies. This will drive up the price for nannies which, in turn, will provide the nannies who continue to be nannies more disposable income. This is why nannies earn more in Manhattan than in Montana.

    The real culprit in the quality if life debate is employment not affordable housing. To hear the people on this site you’d think that there was a mass exodus of working age people from NoVA to SW Virginia. After all, NoVA doesn’t have affordable housing while SW Virginia does have affordable housing. However, reality intrudes on this argument. In fact, working age people leave the rural areas (and the affordable housing) to find jobs in urban and suburban areas. Some return to those same rural areas when they are ready to retire.

    You ask, “If the minimum townhouse in the region is 400K.. where do we expect the folks who make 50K to live?”. In rental units like I did when I was making the equivalent of $50K in today’s dollars? The United States is meant to guarantee equality of opportunity not equality of outcome. Some people will make enough money to buy houses and some will not. Assuming that everybody should be able to buy or rent a $400K townhouse is a fine, utopian idea. It just doesn’t work in “real life”.

  23. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m not advocating mandated minimum salaries nor mandated housing prices but I AM pointing out that if several people CAN crowd into one house to bring them to the cost threshold that they can afford for housing and keep their service job – they will do it.

    So… the “trouble” that people refer to… i.e. granny flats ..where they were not intended to be… or one family renting out the basement and upstairs of the their SFR in a neighborhood of SFR … will continue…. unabated.. with or without changes in zoning or efforts to allow the market to provide more affordable housing.

    When we squeeze out a trailer park or convert apartments to condos… we are doing what?

    well.. we’re letting the market “work” .. I agree.. but what happens to the folks that used to live there?

    They don’t go away and they don’t stop being nannies… they still have their jobs and so they do what the can to find affordable places to live…

    Nannies and pizza places and dry cleaners and janitors all exist in all major urban areas .. as far as I know…

  24. Anonymous Avatar

    “re: overpopulation
    1/3 of the counties in the US have a higher death rate than a birth rate.” LG

    Yep, Larry: OVERPOPULATION. In 1968, the US had a population of 200 million. Around the early 70’s, the US hit a “replacement level” birth rate. Some people seem to think we stopped growing then, but we didn’t. First of all, the US would continue to grow anyway for the simple reason that once “mom” had her 2 (actually 2.1) kids, she didn’t have her parents put to death. They kept on living, as did Granny of Granny Flats fame.

    At replacement rate, the US should have hit about 255 million in 2010and then started to decline a bit.

    Instead in Oct 2007, we hit 300 million. That figure was recently adjusted to 303 million. We added 50% more to the US in a scant 40 years. The cause was a massive wave of immigration kicked off in 1965 by the Hart-Cellar Immigration Act.

    Needless to say, the good citizens of 1965 were assured by Congress that this act wouldn’t do that very thing, just as they are now being told that if we’ll just give ’em one more ‘this time only’ amnesty like back in good ol’ 1986, they’ll get serious about enforcing the law. This time the good citizens don’t seem quite so gullible.

    In 50 years, the US will hit close to half a billion people if things continue on as they have.

    Groveton, can you imagine the fuel costs alone of getting tens of millions of people through a series of Dakota winters? The fact that a relatively small number of humans beings can live in a place doesn’t mean that it can support the level of population increases we are talking about. Settlement patterns occur for a reason, one of which is water, which we seem to be running out of in fast growing Atlanta. Some of those “empty space” states (AZ, NV) never had much to begin with and are growing rapidly in the areas where they do have a now depleting source of water.

    To assume that we are somehow going to spread another 100-200 million people – or more – throughout the US’s “empty” spaces is about as realistic as saying we’ll solve our population problems by colonizing space just because 40 years ago we walked on the moon.

    Or that we’ll solve NoVA’s traffic problems by building more roads, for that matter.

    Deena Flinchum

  25. Anonymous Avatar

    “If people cannot make enough money being nannies (relative to the cost of living) the nannies will either find another career or move somewhere that allows nannies to make enough money (relative to the cost of living). Once the nannies switch jobs or leave there will be fewer nannies. This will drive up the price for nannies which, in turn, will provide the nannies who continue to be nannies more disposable income.”

    Bravo! That used to be the case, but not anymore. Now we will simply import cheap foreign nannies to keep nanny wages from going up. At least the nannies might get free housing where as most of our cheap foreign labor doesn’t.

    Did you realize that during the most recent building boom, construction wages actualy fell? They did and the reason was obvious as to why. Did housing prices fall as a result of cheaper construction workers? No, they soared at least for a while. Somebody made money – at least for a while. I’d watch the sacking of the financial “geniuses” who gave us the subprime debacle with a bit more glee if I didn’t know they were probably being paid millions to leave.

    So how did those poorly paid construction workers get by? Well, some of them did so by living 6 or more to an apt in my old neighborhood! Thus they completed the circle: Third world people came to a first world country, there to get paid better than in their old country but not well enough to live even a meager first world life so they proceeded to create a third world life style in the first world country, which they then shared with the locals. Swell.

    And while we’re at it, whatever happened to the belief that working under harsh, dangerous, or unpleasant conditions should at least command a living wage?

    I remember back in the 70’s when the women’s movement was just getting cranked up. A secretary in our office used to go on and on about how she could type, take shorthand, do bookkeeping, etc and still didn’t make any more than a garbage man.

    After hearing this about 5 times, I pulled her aside and pointed out that she worked in a clean, safe, weather-controlled office, didn’t lift anything heavier than a phonebook, wore stylish clothes, had perfect hair and nails, and never had to touch or smell anything slimy. Still, I assured her, if she really wanted a job in sanitation, I’d support her decision with a job recommendation. Last I heard about it. And FTR, when was the last time you saw a typewriter or shorthand? But we still need sanitation workers!

    Garbage men, construction workers, and slaugherhouse workers, among others, should be paid decently instead of being replaced by cheap foreign labor which the community at large then has to subsidize while the biz interests pocket the profit.

    Deena Flinchum

  26. Anonymous Avatar

    “Notice that Deena’s problems could have been solved if the landlord had strong property rights.”

    Thanks for the kind words, Ray. I’d have settled for their being allowed to exercise the good business rules and common sense they had shown for years.

    That community existed for over 25 years primarily by good management, good tenants, and good owners. We tenants helped keep the place clean, monitored utility use, and stuck around for years, which saved money by their not having to ready the apt annually for new tenants. It had very low turnover for an apt complex. The owners were downright decent – help us keep costs down and we’ll keep rents down. The resident manager was fair but firm, but I don’t think she knew what had hit her until things got too bad to fix without drastic steps.

    And how bad were they? Well, Alexandria had a little housing law that says that 10% of apts got inspected each year for code regs. In our complex, the resident manager always asked permission to enter and gave the date. I always said yes, straightened the place up a bit, and let them inspect.

    If everybody says yes, then you can expect to be asked about once every 10 years, on average. The first 12 years I lived there, I was inspected twice. The last 5, after many of the old tenants had left, I was inspected 4 times. My take on it was that the vast majority were saying no and I suspect we know why.

    I’m sure the manager suspected why but was afraid to do anything for fear of being sued. So much for code enforcement.

    Where is it likely the old tenants went? Since affordable housing was a problem in Alexandria, I suspect they went farther out where they now play a small part in helping to make NoVA commuting hell instead of using public transportation as many of us did there. Public transportation, a small shopping center (grocery store, bank, restaurants, CVS, etc) within a block or two – sustainable living at its best, now a construction site.

    Good luck on the zoning, Ray!

    Deena Flinchum

  27. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Deena, you captured the illegal immigration dynamic perfectly: “Third world people came to a first world country … to get paid better than in their old country but not well enough to live even a meager first world life so they proceeded to create a third world life style in the first world country, which they then shared with the locals.”

    That really gets to the heart of the grassroots-level conflict over illegal immigration in Virginia. Someone should write a book based on that insight.

  28. Anonymous Avatar

    I’m not getting any zoning changes in my lifetime. I’ve given up on that, even though I think the county is making a mistake.

    I could easily provide a couple of modest and affordable housing units withour wrecking, and in fact enhancing the farm. But I won’t be allowed, because other people have their own ideas as to how I should live.

    Now I just propose that if the county is going to collect taxes on rural agricultural land, they should deveote that money to rural and agricultural services, instead of using it to subsidize tax payments for those in the residential areas.

  29. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I agree.. Deena DID capture the essential conflict:

    “Third world people came to a first world country, there to get paid better than in their old country but not well enough to live even a meager first world life so they proceeded to create a third world life style in the first world country, which they then shared with the locals.”

    but WAIT! – aren’t these jobs that ‘we’ won’t do anymore?

    No.. these are jobs we won’t do anymore for low wages, no health care and no pension plan.

    so.. we “solve” this problem by “importing” modern day – “near-slave” labor?

    But WAIT!.. if we did not do this, then our American Middle Class could no longer afford the American Dream – a new house…

    so .. American Business is OPPOSED to rules that they only hire documented folks – who are much more likely to demand decent wages and benefits as opposed to saying absolutely nothing for fear of losing their jobs.

    and our elected? well, of course, they demonize the “illegal” issue but they won’t deal with the employers because that’s where their campaign donations come from…

    what a mess.

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