In Virginia's June 12 primary, Arlington Democrats will select a nominee to challenge independent incumbent John Vihstadt this November for a seat on the Arlington County Board. Greater Greater Washington volunteers interviewed the two candidates for the nomination, and we endorse Matt de Ferranti.
De Ferranti is currently legislative director for the National Indian Education Association, and he formerly served on the Arlington County Housing Commission and Arlington County Public Schools’ Budget Advisory Council. During his tenure with the housing commission, he participated in the Affordable Housing Study Working Group that helped develop the Affordable Housing Master Plan, adopted in 2015.
Now, he hopes to win election to the board and continue helping bring that master plan to fruition. Arlington is a popular and diverse county with multiple successful commercial business corridors, including two with Metro. It’s a desirable place to live, but it needs to add housing at all price points to keep up with demand to live there, and needs to continue to grow its transit system to serve more parts of the county.
In 2017, the county board voted to loosen restrictions on converting existing space like garages into Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), but it waffled on whether to allow homeowners to build new structures to serve as ADUs. In his responses to our questionnaire, de Ferranti said he supports further enabling ADUs around the county.
During our interview, de Ferranti emphasized building housing that would be affordable across a variety of incomes and available to younger workers who can build income and own homes in the future. He was also confident about the county’s ability to providing housing and resources for those experiencing homelessness.
He said that leaders needed to be “relentless” about listening to residents, and to have shared values that can help leaders make decisions to help all residents “across income spectrums”:
Social workers need to be able to afford a place to live. People who serve food at a restaurant need to afford to live in Arlington. …We need an economic ladder so people who are millennials can be working their way up can eventually own a home. … We need to invest in housing affordability and in a way that is geographically spread across the county. That’s not an easy thing. It’s not been easy but there’s been progress.
De Ferranti was also cognizant of the different obstacles the board faces, saying, “[We need to] find the best ways to embrace growth that are mindful of the challenges implicit in it. There are inevitably [going to be] challenges with growth, but we shouldn’t shy away from them and we should be willing to invest in the future.”
We also spoke with de Ferranti about potential cuts to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority as a result of Virginia approving dedicated Metro funding. De Ferranti said he supported Governor Northam’s proposal for increases to hotel tax and real estate transfers to help offset the Metro funding, and that though the state assembly did not ultimately approve it, he intended to revisit the funding issue in the next few years.
Chanda Choun: A newcomer with passion for his community
We also interviewed the other Democratic candidate, Chanda Choun. Arlington has many tough decisions ahead, and it bodes well that Chanda Choun is very committed to his community. Since moving to Arlington in 2015 (not long after de Ferranti), he has been Vice President of his neighborhood civic association and a Delegate to the Arlington County Civic Federation.
During our interview, Choun emphasized that because he’s lived all over the world, in rural, suburban, and urban places, he has an innate understanding of how transportation and housing are “life and death” for residents, enabling them to access childcare and job opportunities. Choun also emphasized the problems with car dependency in Arlington County, committing to increase the options for public transit in the county to take drivers off the road. He also wanted to address small, but significant, issues like sidewalk repair:
For me, it’s about where are the basics of what people need and how do we execute things better. Some of that is lighting, some of it is more elaborate solutions like eliminating on street parking to put in bike lanes.
Voters in the Democratic primary have great choices before them this June. Both candidates possess urbanist bona fides and an ability to build support and coalitions. Ultimately, we believe that Matt de Ferranti’s lengthier and more robust experience in the Arlington County community and politics will be useful to get through transportation and housing gridlock.