Alexandria Housing Advocates on Proposed FY21 Budget

NVAHA has coordinated housing advocacy in the City of Alexandria for several years. Here is a recent letter sent to members of City Council on funding for the Office of Housing as well as additional recommendations for regional cooperation on housing targets and land use and zoning tools to achieve the City’s housing goals.

Mayor Wilson, Vice Mayor Bennett-Parker and Members of City Council:

We are writing to you as Alexandria affordable housing advocates, members of human service organizations, representatives from city boards and commissions focused on the need for housing and human services, members of faith communities, and professionals from multiple sectors engaged in the production and preservation of affordable housing.

We support the City Manager’s FY2021 proposed budget for the Office of Housing which provides $9.3 million allocated to Affordable Housing Development.

Unmet Housing Needs. As you are aware, rising rents threaten our existing, older market-affordable housing stock. According to the Office of Housing, 87% of the City’s market affordable housing has shrunk, while its stock of committed affordable rental units has seen only modest increases.

Numerous boards and commissions have identified housing affordability as the top priority for the residents they serve. These include the Commission on Aging (affordable mixed-income assisted living housing); the Economic Opportunities Commission 2019 Community Needs Assessment (safe, affordable housing listed as the top concern of low-income residents); and the Alexandria Health Department’s 2019 Community Health Assessment (housing that is affordable chosen as the number one issue that would improve quality of life). Serving some of the most vulnerable city residents, the Emergency Financial Providers Network, a coalition of faith communities providing safety-net supports, has experienced a dramatic increase in households seeking rental assistance to prevent eviction or keep utilities from being shut off. They report that they are turning an increasing number of clients away as they cannot keep up with the rising need for housing assistance.

City and Regional Targets for Affordable Housing. The proposed housing budget provides critical resources needed to achieve the City’s housing goal of 2,000 new affordable units by 2025, adopted in the 2013 Affordable Housing Master Plan. Specifically, we applaud the City Manager’s allocation of $1 million to help address potential displacement as a result of HQ2 (“Amazon” funds). The dedication of 1% of the meals tax to the affordable housing fund is a valuable, flexible source of funding and provides continuity and certainty for prospective affordable housing developers. These local dollars are essential to secure additional public and private sources of financing for development.

However, as Alexandria plans for projected growth and areas of the city continue to redevelop, we must be guided by the vision of shared prosperity, ensuring that vulnerable communities are neither displaced nor left behind. We believe that budgets in future fiscal years will require an increase in development funds beyond the current level, especially as we work to serve those households earning the lowest incomes.

Additionally, we support the City’s endorsement of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government’s (COG) 2030 regional housing goals and targets, adopted by the COG Board of Directors in September, 2019. This goal seeks an additional 3,000 affordable units in the City by 2030. We are strongly committed to collaboration to tackle this housing shortage that threatens our regional prosperity. An endorsement of the COG plan and Alexandria’s participation, affirms the City’s commitment to working across jurisdictional boundaries to achieve a shared objective that provides regional benefits for all.

Land Use and Regulatory Tools. While housing funds are essential, land use and zoning tools guide and facilitate affordable housing production and preservation. We applaud the newly adopted 10% affordable housing requirement for the Eisenhower East SAP, and creation of the Residential Multifamily Zone to incentivize one-for-one replacement of affordable units in a redevelopment proposal.

We support the robust work plans for Planning and Zoning and the Office of Housing as they analyze a number of tools to increase opportunities for housing, including:

  • Examining Barriers to Housing Production – reviewing Small Area Plans for additional development capacity
  • Inclusionary Zoning Policy Feasibility Analysis
  • Accessory Dwelling Unit Feasibility Analysis
  • Tools to Assist the Redevelopment of ARHA properties
  • Mixed Income Assisted Living
  • Zoning for Housing – expanding housing production, including affordable housing, through changes to the Zoning Ordinance

We are very supportive of the strategy that examines co-location of affordable housing with City public facilities or City schools where feasible. The Station at Potomac Yard is the first and most notable example of co-location, and it should not be the last. This is a strategic use of one of the City’s most valuable assets – its land – and should be maximized to serve an agreed-upon public need. We encourage Council to consider initiating a Citywide conversation on the merits of co-location, how sites will be considered, and share examples of this best practice that exist across the country.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed budget and the policy initiatives under consideration. As advocates who live and work in the City of Alexandria, we are committed to advancing public discussions about the community benefits of affordable housing, creating a City that is diverse and inclusive, and provides housing opportunities for all.

Sincerely,

AHC Inc, Walter D. Webdale, President & CEO
Alexandria Housing Development Corporation, Jon Frederick, President & CEO
ALIVE!, Jennifer Ayers, Executive Director
ALIVE! House, Danien Johnson, Director
Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, Nina Janopaul, President & CEO
Betsy Faga, Affordable Housing Building Committee Chair, Episcopal Church of the Resurrection
Carpenter’s Shelter, Shannon Steene, Executive Director
Cristina Stacy, resident and housing economist
Coalition for Smarter Growth, Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director
Emily Ward and Peter Nicewicz, residents
Enterprise Community Partners, David Bowers, VP & Mid-Atlantic Market Leader
Fairlington United Methodist Church Rent Security Deposit Assistance, Carolyn M. DeVilbiss, Coordinator
Grassroots Alexandria
Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia, Rev. Jon Smoot, Executive Director
Hopkins House, J. Glenn Hopkins, President/CEO
Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers, Heather Raspberry, Executive Director
Jennifer Skow and Andrew Aurand, residents
June and Eric Stowe, residents
Melanie Gray, Director of Outreach & Mission, Christ Church
Michaels Development Company, Nicholas Bracco, Regional VP, Mid-Atlantic Region
Nancy Carson, resident, former leader Housing Action Alexandria
Neighborhood Fundamentals LLC, Michael A. Spotts, President
New Hope Housing, Pam Michell, Executive Director
Nora Lopez, Director of Programs and Services, Computer CORE
Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance, Michelle Krocker, Executive Director
Rebuilding Together DC Alexandria, Katharine Dixon, President & CEO
St. Joseph Catholic Church, Fr. Donald Fest
St. Rita Catholic Church, Susanne Arnold, Community Outreach Coordinator
Tenant and Workers United, Evelin Urrutia, Executive Director
The Arc of Northern Virginia, Rikki Epstein, Executive Director
Tim Craft, AHC Inc. Construction Manager
Wesley Housing, Shelley Murphy, President & CEO