Virginia housing-authority referendum encounters difficulty
ARLINGTON, Virginia: A fall referendum calling for the establishment of a redevelopment and housing authority to be activated in Arlington County has been met by court officials with accusations of possible illegality. County attorney Stephen MacIsaac said that despite the fact that supporters met the requirements for a referendum when they submitted signatures, their petition does not satisfy new regulations put in place by the Virginia General Assembly earlier this year.
MacIsaac said the referendum "appears to be unlawful based on the plain language [of the amended Code of Virginia]...which prohibits a referendum being held within five years of the November 2008 referendum. If this is so, the court would be without authority to order a referendum." The new legislation does more than add a five-year waiting period between referendums; it also greatly increases the number of signatures required to qualify for the ballot. The old rule called for 100 signatures, but now about 30 times as many as that are required.
If the initiative does indeed get on the ballot and is passed, an independent governmental unit (called a "housing authority") separate from the county government would be set up. Specific criteria for the creation of such an institution include "the elimination of blight and redevelopment of blighted areas, the prevention of further deterioration and blight, and the promotion of the availability of affordable housing for all citizens of the Commonwealth and in particular to provide safe, decent, and sanitary housing for those citizens with low or moderate incomes." Despite these responsibilities, the housing authority would have no access to new sources of revenue or financing. Instead, it would have more direct involvment in operating and managing rental housing. The exact differences, however, remain ambiguous, even to legislators.