The number of families receiving aid to families with Dependent Children (AFDC) has gone up 110 per cent in Alexandria during the past five years, a far greater increase than in any other area jurisdiction.
"Why it has happened is something we must find out, said Vice Mayor Nora O. Lamborne. "I don't think anyone has the slightest idea."
The city of Alexandria has a larger proportion of low-income families than other Northern Virginia Jurisdictions. A 1974 study by the Washington Center for Metropolitan Studies showed that 7.7 per cent of Alexandria's population had incomes under $5,000 a year, compared to 6.4 percent in Arlington and 1.6 percent in Fairfax.
The availbbiliry of low-income residents, according to Alexandria officials. Figures compiled by the Council of Governments, (COG) show that Alexandria has almost one-fourth of area housing units that rent for less than $175 a month.
This housing situation is changing rapidly, however, because many apartments are being converted into condominiums that low-income residents cannot afford. City officials estimate for example that in the next several years 2,800 apartments will be converted into condominiums.
In addition, other low-income housing units, such as the Shirley-Duke and Regina apartment complexes, are being radually closed by their owners.
But even while the huge Regina apartments, with more than 700 units, were being gradually closed, there was a net increase of 18 cases per month in the AFDC program. CIty Manager Douglas Harman told the City Council on Tuesday that the city could not predict the impact the planned closing of the Shirley-Duke complex will have on the number of AFDC cases.
At the time that the Shirley-Duke closing was announced earlier this month, Harman said the city felt a "special responsibility" to relocate the 272 AFDC families now living there.
Officials have ruled out the possibility that low-income residents are attracted to Alexandria because AFDC benefits are higher there. On the contrary, both Arlington and Fairfax County pay recipients 100 per cent what welfare officials calculate a family needs to survive while Alexandria pays only 90 per cent of need. This means that a family of four in the AFDC program receives $346 per month in Arlington and Fairfax but only $311 per month in Alexandria.
"people are not making the decision to move to Alexandria based on money. They're making it for some other reason," remarked Jack Powers, chairman of Alexandria's Equal Opportunity Commission.
The Alexandria City Council is now considering whether to raise payments to 95 per cent of need for AFDC families not living in public housing. City officials say this would amount to an additional $15 per month per person. The AFDC program designed to pay for food and shelter for destitute families with children, is financed both by the states and federal government.
"Frankly, we're confused about it." Powers said of the sharp increase in the city's AFDC cases. The number of cases has risen from 799 to 1677 since 1973. "Alexandria may be more attractive to low-income people because it is a city as opposed to a suburban county."
Powers speculates that there may be some subtle reasons why low-income people choose to settle in Alexandria. The city's proximity ot Washington and the availability of public transportation are among those he cited.
But Powers says that the personal identity people find in Alexandria neighborhoods may be attractive to low-income groups. He said it is easier for people to go shopping in Alexandria because a car is not essential to travel to shopping centers as in some other areas.
The city has initiated a study to find out the reasons for the rise in the number of low-income residents.Barbara McDonald, assistant city manager, believes that the city's small size (pop. 110,000) make it easier for people to "get through the system" and receive services. "I think its very obvious that the people of Alexandria have a tradition of providing services," she added.
But City Manager Harman has warned that the city's traditional desire to help needy citizens must be balanced with its fiscal capacity to do so.In Harman's view, the ability to establish this balance is the single most important challenge facing the city.
"Low-income persons living in Alexandria have an important stake in stabilizing the population, because growing concentrations of the poor will eventually erode the city's ability to support its progressive social programs." Harman warned in the city's 1977 annual report.
Alexandria officials say they were suprised that the number of AFDC cases in the city has risen by 110 per cent since 1973 while other area jurisdictions have experienced much lesser increases during the same time period.
In the District of Columbia, for instance, the number of AFDC cases has grown by 6.4 per cent. In Arlington the increase has been less than 12 per cent, while in Fairfax County the number of ADFC cases has risen by 42.5 per cent.
In the State of Virginia the increase has been almost 30 per cent, while Montgomery County in Maryland registered a 31 per cent increase. Prince Georges County is the ohly jurisdiction where the number of AFDC cases since 1973 has decreased, by 12.5 per cent.
Powers, the executive director of the Alexandria econmic opportunity commission, is afraid that the increasing number of condominium apartments and a reduction in the city's overall low-income housing may make Alexandria a more homogeneous com.
"I don't know what we can do as a government other than to reaffirm our commitment to lowincome housing said Powers.