Tag Archives: James A. Bacon

As Arlington Housing Prices Soar, Supply Is Unresponsive

The worst fears of Amazon critics are coming true. Housing prices are becoming increasingly unaffordable — even before Amazon sets up shop at its HQ2 facility in Arlington and floods the region with 25,000 employees.

The average home price in Arlington County jumped 7% in the past year to $713,000, as investors poured into the market in anticipation of Amazon’s arrival, reports the Washington Post. Inventories are so sparse that some popular Zip codes in Arlington and Alexandria show no homes for sale at all.

Alexandria saw a comparable increase in average home prices, while Fairfax County saw a year-over-year gain of 6%. Said Terry Clower, director of George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis: “This is a market response to the Amazon HQ2 announcement, with investors competing with residents for a shrinking number of homes for sale.”

In a functioning real estate market, prices act as a signal for the allocation of capital. A surge in home prices would be matched by a surge in home building as developers and builders. But, as seen in the table above, based on Arlington County permit statistics, the supply of housing is increasing negligibly. In 2016 the county’s housing stock stood at 111,549 units. According to Arlington County permitting data, the increase in housing units (completions minus demolitions) was only 810 units in 2017 and a negligible 220 units in 2018 — roughly a 1% increase in the housing stock over two years. Continue reading

Give Fairfax a Chance to Clear His Name

Lawyers for Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax have formally requested prosecutors in Suffolk County, Mass., and Durham County, N.C. to open criminal investigations into the sexual assault allegations made against Fairfax in February, reports WJLA.

The allegation of Meredith Watson, who accused Fairfax of raping her in 2000 when they were students at Duke University, should be fully investigated, argued Barry J. Pollack, Fairfax’s attorney, in the letter to the Durham County district attorney. Wrote Pollack:

If an investigation were to determine that the allegation is true, it should be criminally prosecuted. Conversely, if an investigation were to determine that the allegation is false, which Lt. Governor Fairfax is confident would be the conclusion of any unbiased and professional investigation, the matter could be closed and the public informed.

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The Virtues of Incremental Development

Would you rather live here….

One more angle to think about when appraising Amazon’s HQ2 project in Arlington… A single developer, JBG Smith, will have a disproportionate impact on the evolution of the urban fabric in the National Landing district of Arlington and Alexandria. In theory, a single big developer can mobilize more resources, carry out better planning and execute a more uniform standard of design than could an uncoordinated army of small builders.

… or here?

Not so fast. Over on the Strong Towns blog, Daniel Herriges compares “Texas donut” approach typical of Dallas, Texas – a monumental ediface consuming an entire city block — with the incremental approach of traditional development in Charleston, S.C.

“Incremental development doesn’t mean slow, small, or cautious. Incremental means many hands,” Herriges writes. “The ‘increment of development’ is how big each project is, but says nothing about how many projects are taking place. Continue reading

Brace Yourselves, Arlingtonians, for SJW Law Enforcement

Liam Bissainthe’s nightmare has come true (see his blog post here), and Arlington voters nominated Parisa Dehghani-Tafti yesterday as the Democratic Party’s nominee to run for Commonwealth Attorney. In ultra-blue Arlington County (76% Clinton, 16.7% Trump), the Democratic nomination is tantamount to election. Now Arlington will become a petri dish for progressive theories on law enforcement.

To get an idea of Deghani-Tafti’s priorities, here is a statement the George Soros-backed candidate issued last month, according to ARLNow:

I’m for impartiality. Even though rare in our community, use-of-force incidents require impartial review. I’m also a reformer and any time you run as a reformer you get pushback but pushback means we get to talk about the issues. My opponent has fought reform at every turn. Now she has decided to go negative because it distracts from her record of failing to adequately support victims, including survivors of sexual violence — a record of opposing cash bail reform, opposing voting rights for returning citizens, opposing using diversion instead of incarceration for individuals with mental illness, opposing expungement of minor infractions, opposing civil asset forfeiture reform, and opposing transparency and impartiality. I will continue to focus on these issues in the campaign and once elected because that’s what makes everyone safe.

The great thing about America is that it is still (even with an overbearing federal government) a laboratory for democracy. Continue reading

The Crux of Arlington’s Affordable Housing Crisis: $350,000 Per Unit


Amazon will donate $3 million to support affordable housing in Arlington County, the company has announced. While government officials and charities welcomed the donation, reports the Washington Post, critics contend that the sum is sufficient to build only a handful of units.

According to the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance, new housing in the Virginia suburbs costs about $350,000 per unit. In other words, Amazon’s gift is enough to build about 8.6 housing units. For purposes of comparison, the tech giant expects to employ 25,000 at its Arlington facility, and that doesn’t include jobs created by vendors, partners, spin-offs and support entities such as Virginia Tech’s new technology campus that locate near Amazon’s HQ2.

In other words, the donation is meaningless. The number we should focus on, however, is $350,000. If that’s what it costs to build “affordable” housing in Northern Virginia, then no wonder there is a housing panic. Continue reading

Promoting Social Mobility via STEM Education


Job openings outnumber job seekers by a record gap, the Wall Street Journal reports today. There were a seasonally adjusted 7.45 million unfilled jobs at the end of April compared to 6.2 million Americans looking for work. With workers so much in demand, there exists a never-seen-before-in-our-lifetimes opportunity to increase social mobility.

Here in Virginia, contend John Broderick, president of Old Dominion University, and co-author Ellen J. Neufeldt, the commonwealth can kill two birds with one stone: meeting the demand for tens of thousands of unfilled technology jobs and helping lower-income Virginians climb out of poverty and near-poverty by equipping the disadvantaged with the skills required for those jobs. In a Richmond Times-Dispatch op-ed published today they write:

It is our obligation, particularly at public universities,” “to enhance social mobility for the students we serve. By removing barriers to higher education and preparing students for STEM-H jobs, institutions will not only increase economic opportunity and social mobility, but also ensure that the jobs of the future are filled by a well-educated, career-ready and diverse workforce.

From a high-altitude perspective, Broderick and Neufeldt make an excellent point and their ideas are well worth exploring. However, their analysis fails to account for the bottleneck in the school-to-college pipeline for lower-income students, especially African-Americans and Hispanics, and a naive application of their ideas could have unintended negative consequences. Continue reading

Meanwhile, Back in the People’s Republic of Charlottesville…

City Councilor Cathy Galvin — divestment a step in the right direction.

Charlottesville City Council has voted to remove all operating investments in “weapons” and fossil-fuel companies from its $50 million-to-$100 million core investment portfolio, reports WVIR-TV.

Divestment proponents said fossil fuels and weapons do not align with the city’s vision and have negative impacts on community members. In response to calls that the measure does not go far enough, Treasurer Jason Vandever said the city is looking into divesting from fossil-fuel and weapons investments in the retirement fund as well.

Fossil-fuel and weapons companies make up only a small portion of the investment portfolio, so the measure will have a minimal budgetary impact, divestment advocates said.

Bacon’s bottom line: I wish there were some way Virginia could divest itself of Charlottesville, but no mechanism readily comes to mind. As a fall-back position, perhaps Commonwealth should divest itself of the University of Virginia, which sits at the epicenter of the city’s radical-chic culture. Continue reading

Moral Hazard and Sea Level Rise

Ann Phillips. Photo credit: Free Lance-Star

Why aren’t Virginia localities acting more aggressively to protect themselves from rising sea levels? You don’t have to believe in catastrophic global warming to acknowledge that sea levels are creeping steadily higher worldwide or that subsidence caused by shifting tectonic plates and shrinking aquifers is aggravating flooding in Virginia’s Tidewater.

A big reason for the complacency, says Navy Adm. Ann Phillips, is that people think someone will bail them out. Virginia’s coastal-adaptation czar, appointed by Governor Ralph Northam, drove home the point last month at a College of William & Mary forum. Reports the Free Lance-Star:

“As I talked to people about what options are, in passing, to deal with the future, I have a sense that many homeowners feel that the cities are going to bail them out. And that the cities feel that the states should bail them out, and that the state thinks the federal government should bail them out.”

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Sanctimonious Money in Politics

Grrrrr

The older I get, the more irritable I get. Perhaps, upon passing the threshold to Medicare eligibility, I became a cranky old man. In my defense, however, I do find myself continually provoked. The latest vexation comes from a Community Idea Stations article describing how an increasing number of Democratic Party candidates for General Assembly are self-righteously turning down campaign donations from corporations — not just Dominion Energy, mind you, but any corporation. One example:

Zachary Brown, a law student at the University of Richmond who is running against Eileen Bedell and Ghazala Hashmi in the 10th Senate District, only raised around $2,000 in April and May. But the 23-year-old law student says he came by it honestly.

“We can’t have our constituents second-guessing out votes because we take contributions from large corporations,” Brown said.

Such sentiments are consistent with Democrats’ conviction that the injection of corporate cash is a uniquely corrupting practice. Labor union money, extracted from union dues for causes members may or may not agree with… perfectly OK. Money laundered through Democratic Party PACs… just fine. Contributions from out-of-state billionaires like Tom Steyer… not a problem. But money collected from individual employees in a corporation and bundled through a corporate PACs… horrors! Continue reading

Northam Blackface Update: Head and Shoulders Analysis

As part of its examination into the Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) yearbook scandal, in which an unidentified figure appeared in blackface on Ralph Northam’s profile page, investigators with the McGuire Woods law firm considered a piece of evidence submitted by Northam’s personal law firm, Alston & Bird: a facial recognition report. “This report, conducted by a reputable vendor,” summarized the McGuire Woods report, “found the image of the Photograph was not of sufficient quality to conduct a comparison with other photographs.”

While the photograph is of such poor quality that facial-recognition analysis may be impossible, there is much else than can be gleaned from the photo. I have made the argument in previous posts that the figure in blackface was dressed in Michael Jackson costume.

Now a clever reader, who asks to remain anonymous, suggests another thrust of analysis: measuring the slope of the person’s shoulders and the angle at which he holds his head.

States the reader: “I noticed that the figure in the yearbook photo stood in a somewhat awkward way, with his body leaning left but his head tilted to the right (from the vantage of the viewer).” He pulled photos of Northam off the Web for purposes of comparison. “This is not unbiased evidence because I selected photos that worked, rather than doing a random sampling of photos. But it does show that the way Northam stands at times does appear to be similar to the yearbook photo.  A chiropractor might be able to untangle this!” Continue reading

Northam in Blackface: Talk to the Hand

Several days ago I advanced the argument that the identity of the blackfaced individual in Ralph Northam’s infamous 1984 medical school yearbook was none other than Northam himself, garbed in the likeness of Michael Jackson. That theory landed with a resounding thud. No one in the media (or anywhere else, for I can tell) took note of the interpretation. But, then, no one offered any evidence to the contrary. Undeterred by the public’s extraordinary indifference to a fascinating question — c’mon, people, doesn’t anyone like a good whodunnit anymore? — I press on.

I have two more angles to explore. One angle demolishes one of Northam’s  explanations of why he believes the man in blackface was not him. But the other raises new questions, which, if answered, potentially could lead to information exonerating the governor — or convicting him.

Today, I focus on the hand of the man in blackface — the hand holding a can of beer.

But first, a refresher. Here are the specific reasons, cited in the McGuire Woods inquiry into the origins of the blackface photo, that Northam cited why he could not have been the man in blackface (hereinafter referred to as Blackface Dude). Continue reading

Special VPI Graduation Ceremonies for Everyone (Except for Straight White Christians)

I don’t know what was considered deficient with the main Virginia Tech commencement ceremony — too white? too heteronormative? insufficiently diverse? — but the university this year provided ten supplementary graduation programs for African-Americans, Hispanics, Jews, Muslims, gays, and other groups.

Apparently, the administration deemed it inadequate for some students to revel in what they shared in common as Hokies, graduates of one of America’s more prestigious universities, or as young people embarking upon their life journeys as adults, or even, dare I say, as Americans. They needed an opportunity to celebrate their cultural identities. Well, some of them did. If they were of English, German, Irish, Scotch-Irish, Italian, or Polish descent, or if they were Catholic, Protestant or some other denomination of Christianity, there were no special Cultural Achievement ceremonies to attend.

But if students were of African-American descent, they could participate in the university-sponsored Donning of the Kente ceremony. If they were of Hispanic-Latino background, there was the Gesta Latina. There was a ceremony for American Indians & indigenous people, and another one for Asians. There was a special ceremony for Jews and one for Muslims. There was a ceremony for international students, and a ceremony for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and ally community. Oh, and there was even one for students in recovery and one for veterans.

According to a Virginia Tech feature story, the special ceremonies advance the university’s mission to ensure the success of all students, particularly those from underrepresented and historically marginalized populations. Continue reading

Oops, We Did It Again

What a shock! Virginia’s Medicaid expansion isn’t working out as planned. Today we learn that Virginia’s private hospitals, which are paying a tax to defray the state’s 10% share of expansion (Uncle Sam pays the rest), is on track to receive only 78% of the Medicaid revenue they expected, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The big question is whether the shortfall is a one-time event caused by a slower-than-expected rollout of the program or a permanent feature of the healthcare landscape.

Department of Medicaid Assistance Services (DMAS) estimated that the influx of 300,000 to 400,000 Medicaid patients would increase hospital industry revenues by $247 million in the second half of the 2019 fiscal year. So far, the actual net increase is on pace for $192 million for the six-month period. The hospital lobby agreed to the tax in the expectation that a surge in Medicaid revenue would more than offset it.

“We’re rolling out a little bit more slowly than anticipated,” said Chris Gordon, chief financial officer for DMAS. “We’re continuing to monitor and adjust our forecast. We continue to learn from experience.”
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Want More Affordable Housing? Try Free Markets.

More apartments needed… Affordable housing complex approved in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Exclusionary regulation at the local level is the root cause of unaffordable housing, and a rollback of exclusionary regulation is the best long-term solution, argue Salim Furth and Emily Hamilton, research fellows at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center.

“Contemporary American land use law embodies the bad idea that private land ought to be publicly planned. In practice, these plans routinely exclude low-income families by indirect means, causing income-based segregation,” they write in an attachment to April 2, 2019, testimony to the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services.

Exclusion is widespread: most jurisdictions, through zoning ordinances, ban apartments and manufactured homes in all but a few locations. Single-family homes are usually allowed, but only in specified areas and often on lots larger than many buyers want. As a consequence, those states that give the most power to planners and the least authority to property owners have abysmal housing growth rates. When wages rise in those states, rents and home prices soar.

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Mass Shootings a Multi-Faceted Phenomenon

Victims of the Virginia Beach shooting

Tragedy struck Virginia yesterday in the form of a mass shooting at the Virginia Beach municipal complex. The investigation into the shooter’s motive — undoubtedly tied to workplace violence — remains incomplete, but that probably won’t stop pundits and talking heads from indulging their usual tropes for and against guns.

I find both sides of the gun-rights debate to be tiresome. Gun control zealots act as if the availability of guns were the one and only issue: Limit access to guns and the country will be a safer place. Gun rights zealots act as if the ubiquity and easy availability of guns has nothing to do with the lone-shooter carnage that erupts periodically across the country.

To my mind, mass shootings are a complex social phenomenon for which there are no easy remedies. Permit me to advance a few propositions that, hopefully most reasonable people can agree upon.

Yes, the ubiquity and easily availability of guns is part of the problem. The fact that the overwhelming majority of mass killings are mass shootings is all the evidence we need to make this point. True, you can kill people by exploding bombs, running them down with trucks, and even stabbing them with knives (a growing phenomenon in countries with low rates of gun ownership). But alternative means of committing mass mayhem are either more difficult to execute, easier for law enforcement authorities to intercept, or less likely to be deadly. Continue reading