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Stabilizing the City's Affordable Housing Crisis
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Stabilizing the City's Affordable Housing Crisis

Recently completed or in development committed affordable housing projects with city funding.

Recently completed or in development committed affordable housing projects with city funding.

At its Jan 28 public hearing, the City Council adopted the FY2017 through 2022 Strategic Plan. Through FY2018, the plan recommends actions to help the city reach certain goals in various categories related to life in Alexandria. Over the next five years, the Strategic Plan will be the central guide to projects approved and funded by City Council.

Ten categories are identified in the plan as areas where city government will continue to develop resources, ranging from changes to the waterfront to encouraging citizens to get more exercise. Each item of the plan also includes a selection of actions to be taken for the FY 2018 year.

The second section of the city’s Strategic Plan focuses around combating poverty and adding committed affordable housing to Alexandria.

Action items for FY 2018 include:

  • Support non-profits and ARHA to provide committed affordable housing

  • Provide housing relocation support to Beauregard residents impacted by redevelopment

  • Develop tools and strategies to create and maintain deeply subsidized committed affordable units

  • Conduct Fair Housing Testing and Training

  • Secure committed affordable housing through the development process

  • Launch an equity and implicit bias initiative

  • Create Title VI plan (to prevent discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin) for the city

  • Create a comprehensive one stop workforce development shop

  • Implement strategies to execute federal, state, and local goals toward functionally ending chronic homelessness by the end of 2017

  • Identify and support homeless youth and transitional age youth (18-24) in Alexandria by implementing best practices developed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and partnering with the Alexandria City Public Schools and Health Department

  • Add language courses for English Language Learners at the Barrett and Duncan Library branches

  • Conduct Route 1 South Planning Study

  • Secure committed affordable and accessible housing, as well as seek affordable assisted living units through the development process.

FOR AFFORDABLE housing in Alexandria, the Strategic Plan is a mostly a continuation of goals and efforts set forward in 2013’s Affordable Housing Master Plan.

“The action items align perfectly with the work we’re doing right now,” said Helen McIlvaine, director of Housing. “The underpinnings for the Housing Master Plan is housing for all, which is an inclusive approach. Achieving more housing affordability is probably the most tangible way that this city speaks to the commitment to diversity and inclusiveness. If people of different abilities and incomes and ages can live here, that’s how we make it real.”

In Alexandria in 2015, 67 percent of residents live in housing that is considered unaffordable based on their income (spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing). Nearly 10 percent of the city’s population live in poverty.

The first action item, supporting non-profits and Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA) to provide committed affordable housing, is becoming an increasingly vital piece of Alexandria’s housing program. The city partners with and financially supports public housing and voucher programs through ARHA, as well as through loans supplied to affordable housing non-profit developers like AHDC.

Market-rate affordable units, those considered affordable to low income residents without government or non-profit subsidies, have been in freefall in recent years. Between 2015 and 2016, the number of market rate affordable units in Alexandria fell from 5,956 to 3,853. If the trend continues the two decade decline, 2017 will be the first year that the number of committed affordable housing residences, 3,818 as of last fall, will exceed the number of market-rate affordable units.

City Manager Mark Jinks will present the proposed budget at the Feb. 21 City Council meeting. McIlvaine said the main part of the housing budget contingent on yearly funding is their yearly projects with non-profits.

“We use federal dollars and other funds we have available [for affordable housing projects] but when that amount isn’t sufficient, our support is dependent on City Council allocating dollars for that project,” said McIlvaine. “This past year, for the Carpenter Shelter … we used our money and will use some general obligation bond funding when the project goes into closing. That’s a case where doing a project was dependent on budget resources. We expect to be in the same position for 2018. The project we currently would expect to do, the Church of the Resurrection project, would require an allocation from the City Council to make up what we don’t have.”

During last year’s budget process, the Church of the Resurrection project was described as a $7.9 million project. McIlvaine said the number was “in that same ballpark” but no exact estimate was available yet.

One of the last action items, the planning study for Route 1 South, is part of the Office of Housing’s ongoing effort to preserve 200 affordable units in that area.

“We’ve been active in trying to get grant funding for the Route 1 South planning study,” said McIlvaine. “There are three existing affordable housing developments that we would like to make sure remain affordable over time. What’s being developed around there is the opposite of affordable. If these homes are redeveloped, they will come back as million dollar townhomes.”

THE KEY INDICATORS of the Inclusive City section say the city should reduce levels of housing cost burdened households and reduce the percentage of residents living in poverty, but does not list numbers the city should be expected to reach.

“We don’t have a target,” said McIlvaine. “We can tell if there’s success if the number is going down. It doesn’t reflect our reluctance to have our work measured, it just tries to take into account that there are lots of factors external to us at play.”

Greg Useem, chief performance officer, said the indicators for Inclusive City have a directional goal rather than a numeric one.

“The focus there is, regardless if it has a target or not, is to strive to improve the city as a whole,” said Useem. “The objective here is to focus the organization on improving these indicators. Setting a specific target sometimes helps that discussion … [but] sometimes something like this can be a little more difficult to set a specific numeric value to.”

Like McIlvaine, Useem said affordable housing in Alexandria is an area that can be heavily impacted by outside factors like tax rates for housing loans.

“These are indicators where the city has some influence on moving,” said Useem. “We do not control these indicators or what direction they move in, but we are striving to influence them in a positive way. The city does not control poverty rate. If we did, it would be zero. There are variables and factors that go into the poverty rate. What we’re trying to say we’re is trying to make it better.”