About 5,500 housing units — houses, townhouses, apartments and rooms — are there, and 2,450 of them, or 44 percent, are what are called “affordable units.” “Affordable” in Alexandria means that a single person making up to $45,150 a year could afford to rent one of those places; a family of four with an income of no more than $64,500 would be able to swing the rent.
But with the arrival of thousands of federal workers to the Mark Center and the continued population growth, the city is in the midst of creating a Beauregard redevelopment plan. In its working draft version, it would require that when existing housing is removed, developers create 700 affordable units. That shrinkage of affordable housing has some residents alarmed, and many are likely to be at the town hall-style hearing Thursday night at the William Ramsey Recreation Center, 5650 Sanger Ave., to express their opinions.
The plan is about more than housing — for instance, it includes a new fire station, improved roads and traffic control and expanded parks — but the loss of lower-cost housing options is likely to spark the most discussion, as it already has.
City manager Rashad Young last week said, “Our view is .... [this] is better than the existing zoning” which has no requirements that developers replace any lost housing with affordable units. For the past year and a half, a group of volunteer residents worked on the proposal, planning director Faroll Hamer said, and the plan “is a response to ... the job market in the Washington D.C. area, which has continued to grow. This is a very desireable place to live.”
Thousands of affordable housing units in Alexandria have been lost in the last dozen years, said Mildrilyn Davis, the city’s director of housing. The 700 affordable unit replacements, which would be available to those who qualified for and had federal Section 8 vouchers, would be required to be kept affordable for three decades.
The cost of rebuilding the area will be $219.7 million over the next 30 years, deputy city manager Mark Jinks said, with the bulk of it paid by developers, state and federal funds. The city, however, will put in $32.6 million and all that money is expected to come from new real estate taxes as the area rebuilds. It’s the same strategy the city is using in the Potomac Yards redevelopment, where the cost is expected to be borne by newcomers, and no existing tax funds are used.
Some planning commissioners are issuing cautions about the plan.
“Once these affordable units are gone, they’re gone,” said Eric Wagner last week at a joint Planning Commission and City Council meeting. “We can’t focus on 30-year [commitment to affordable housing units]. We have to focus on perpetual.”
Stewart Dunn, who’s been on the commission for 17 years, urged the council members to move slowly and carefully. “This is the first time in my experience where developers are advertising the [city] plan, drumming a beat for it.” He then clarified that he supports the idea of a plan for the area, “but not always the first plan.”
At least six public meetings about the proposal are planned or have occurred this month. The Planning Commission and City Council votes come in April.