Incumbent Alfonso Lopez and challenger Julius D. “JD” Spain, running for the Democratic nomination in Virginia House of Delegates District 49, took questions from voters at a candidates’ forum on the morning of May 11 at Busboys & Poets in Shirlington. About 35 people attended. Audience questions and candidate statements covered a number of topics, but affordable housing was the single biggest subject of discussion.
Spain brought affordable housing front and center in his opening statement. “I feel and worry about things like affordability and social justice,” Spain said. “Take affordability for a second. These are issues I think for everyone in some way. They make it harder for young adults to get started in the community, get invested in their education. They make it harder for police, fire and paramedic vacancies. It puts pressure on our public safety system.”
In his reply, Lopez referenced his role in the creation of the Virginia Housing Trust Fund, which aims to create and preserve affordable housing and to reduce homelessness. “I’m especially proud of my legislation that created the affordable housing trust fund which has already invested over 1.7 million dollars on projects in our community,” Lopez said. He returned to this accomplishment in response to audience questions later.
Written audience questions asked the candidates to talk about their ideas for improving affordable housing in Arlington and also how they felt about rent control and requiring low income housing for new developments.
“Rent control—I’m all about that,” Spain said. “We need to look at that closely.”
A moment later, Spain said: “… we have affordable houses, trust fund money’s coming in, the problem is, no one can afford to live in these dwellings. These condos, these homes, the price of living is going up. So, how do we mitigate that, how do we fix that? You know, I would like to look at and explore things like community-based housing.”
In reply, Lopez again invoked his role in the Virginia Housing Trust Fund. “I’m incredibly proud of the fact that, in my second year in the House of Delegates, my legislation created the Virginia affordable housing trust fund and every year I’ve worked with set-aside funding, and increased funding for the affordable housing trust fund,” Lopez said. “I’ve worked to get the dedicated source of revenue for the affordable housing trust fund.”
Lopez then turned to his January vote against the incentive package for Amazon’s HQ2.
“We all know gentrification is happening, it’s been happening for decades, but the fact is that HQ2 put the bright light on that,” Lopez said. “It has exacerbated things so we also know that the four poorest communities in Arlington are in the 49th district within two to eight minutes of South Eads Street where HQ2 is going to be located. And these folks need help now. So I voted against that bill because of the fact that we had a deal, we had a deal on where the affordable housing money was going to be going and where it was going to come from. We had 70 million dollars from Alexandria, 80 million dollars from Arlington, and 150 million dollars from the state…. Eventually we only had 75.”
Another question asked if there was a role for the Virginia General Assembly for addressing gentrification.
“Gentrification has taken place and in most of your lower- to middle-income communities of color with socio-economic issues and concerns are drastic,” Spain said. “And it’s been going on for years.”
Spain also said: “… state legislature leaders need to stand up, we need to form coalitions, we need to get this collective to address issues of gentrification across the Commonwealth…. it’s going to take leadership in Richmond, Portsmith, Danville, areas of northern Virginia, our communities with significant people of color.”
Lopez addressed the same question. “Let me give you some facts. Four of the top ten communities in America for evictions two years ago were in Virginia. Working with my friends in the legislative black caucus, with leadership, we were able to pass legislation over the last two years to address that—the affordable housing trust fund.”
Lopez went on to say that people are afraid that they will no longer be able to live in their hometowns, in communities with good schools, and in communities that are close to their jobs.
“That’s why I worked across the aisle, with Republicans and Democrats, to convince folks, over a year and a half period, to create the Virginia affordable housing trust fund which has now become, due to state administration and the state agencies, the major access point for affordable housing in every corner of the state,” Lopez said. “Because here’s the issue: this is not just an urban issue, it’s not even a suburban issue. It’s a rural issue as well. Every year around 22, 23 of these grants go out to help people address homelessness issues, and to help folks address the creation of new affordable housing projects. Because here’s the kicker: if you’re living in Galax, and the only affordable housing you have is a double-wide with mold and a hole in the roof, we’ve got kids living there, that’s not affordable housing.”
Other audience questions during the forum concerned LGBTQ rights, veterans’ affairs, and the national popular vote compact.
Lopez and Spain have a debate scheduled for 7:30 pm, Wednesday, June 5, at Drew Model Elementary School (3500 23rd Street South, Arlington).
The primary will be held on Tuesday, June 11. Deadline to register to vote anywhere in Virginia is Monday, May 20. Register online or find out more information about registering in person at the website of the Virginia Department of Elections here.
Over 75% of voters in Virginia House of Delegates District 49 live in Arlington. The rest live in Fairfax County near Bailey’s Crossroads or Seven Corners. Both jurisdictions have both by-mail and in-person absentee voting, available now. See information about absentee voting in Arlington here and in Fairfax here.
According to recently-published information on the website of Virginia Public Access Project, as of March 30, Lopez, who is also minority whip in the House of Delegates, has raised over $127,000 for this campaign – more than five times the amount of his opponent.