“When my Army captain husband and I bought a home in 1972 we were able to afford the down payment on a new house,” Marjorie Hobart said. “I don’t think that opportunity exists anymore.”
It’s been fifty years since Marjorie moved to Arlington, and she’s watched with concern as the housing market has changed.
She and her husband first lived on post at Fort Myer, then purchased a house in Lyon Park from the man who built it. It was to become Marjorie’s home for forty-five years and even though she recently moved to The Jefferson, a senior living community in Ballston, she is still connected to the neighborhood.
Marjorie spent seven years as a librarian for Arlington Public Schools before becoming the executive director of Arlington Education Association (the local affiliate of the National Education Association). In her thirty years in that role she saw housing prices slip out of reach for many county employees.
“In our political action we used the U.S. mail,” Marjorie said. “When I started, the teachers were by far living in Arlington in all the ZIP codes. We now have a minority of teachers living in Arlington.”
Why does it matter if teachers live where they work? Marjorie says that if teachers face a long commute twice a day it diminishes their ability to be involved in the community and makes it harder to retain them.
“A long commute on top of a long day is discouraging,” she said. “If you passed 30 other elementary schools on the way to work wouldn’t you be thinking, isn’t that a better choice than what I’m doing?”
Teachers may be able to afford a small condominium, Marjorie says, but not a three bedroom house with a yard.
But she is encouraged by some of the action she’s seeing in Arlington. Religious groups are considering how to re-purpose their properties to create affordable housing. She hopes changes to regulations around accessory dwellings will continue to create new opportunities, and has high hopes for the Lee Highway redevelopment.
“We need to think about our land use,” Marjorie said. “Almost all paved parking lots in Arlington are housing opportunities.”
She’s also watching developments unfold in Minneapolis, where recent city-wide zoning changes are on course to upend decades of racial segregation and affordability issues. She thinks something similar in Arlington is not impossible and has seen design plans for multi-plex homes that she believes could work in some neighborhoods.
Making changes and working toward affordability—for teachers and everyone else who can’t afford a million dollar home—will “require a lot of community attention and enthusiasm.”
“If decision makers don’t feel support they will slink back,” Marjorie said matter-of-factly. “It’s important that groups like AHS and all the other actors in affordable housing don’t lose their enthusiasm and energy in keeping these options open and in front.”
Marjorie is discovering that in addition to being a great place to have a career and raise children, Arlington is a great place to retire. She and her husband, George, have discovered a variety of options for seniors, including water aerobics, continuing education courses, and programs designed to help people live independently as they age.
“We are blessed that we didn’t have to exclude retiring in Arlington based on cost,” she said.
They’re also blessed that four of their five children live in Arlington. George’s two sons live in the home where they grew up in Ashton Heights. Marjorie’s daughter has lived in Arlington for years, and her son returned when his children went to college a decade ago. Most of their friends’ children, Marjorie said, have not returned to Arlington as adults.
She hopes that with encouragement, the county will apply its best thinking to solve the issue of housing affordability so Arlington can be a place where people of a variety of incomes will be able to thrive just as she and her family have for the past fifty years.
We support an Arlington for Everyone, in which people from all walks of life are welcomed to live and fully participate in our community.
We believe that Arlington is a greater place because of its openness to inclusivity and dedication to social and economic diversity.
We recognize that creating and maintaining a variety of housing options and a commitment to long-term affordability in Arlington is essential to this diversity.