Alexandria City Manager Vola Lawson said yesterday the city is "facing the worst of times" as housing for low- and middle-income families becomes more scarce in the city.
Lawson, addressing about 160 city officials, developers, homeowners and tenants attending a special housing forum, painted a stark picture of the city's housing situation:
*Developers are, or soon will be, renovating about 2,000 apartments, forcing out the majority of tenants because of rising rents.
*The city's landlord-tenant relations division helped relocate 1,300 individuals or families since July 1, 40 to 45 percent of whom had to move out of Alexandria to find affordable housing.
*The 264-unit Cameron Valley public housing project has deteriorated so severely that some units are sliding off their foundations, and federal funds are available to replace only 30 units.
*The average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $660; the average selling price for a single-family house is $126,400. In order to spend no more than 30 percent of their income, renters would have to earn $26,440, and homeowners who could afford a $25,000 down payment would have to earn $41,000.
"I'm starting to wonder where schoolteachers live," said Alexandria attorney Lee Fifer, who often represents city developers, during the meeting at Grace Episcopal School.
"The people who have been living here for years will have to go," said Matthew C. Gibbons, an Alexandria United Tenant Organization volunteer. Gibbons said it was people like himself, a former taxicab driver and a self-employed handyman, who can not afford to live in Alexandria.
Mayor James P. Moran Jr. said the city, with little prospect for federal funds, basically has three options left to keep some housing for the city's working class: raise taxes, cut money from existing programs or services, or encourage more development.
Raising the already steep $1.41 per $100 assessed value property tax rate would be unpopular, Moran said, as would cutting certain services.
But Moran said that if the city developed the Eisenhower Valley to a "reasonable level," it could collect $30 million more a year in property taxes.
"It may mean the inconvenience of more traffic and development," the mayor said, but the options have become slimmer and the need is more urgent.