An increasingly powerful coalition of faith-based activists won a commitment from a majority of the Alexandria City Council on Tuesday to increase support for public housing and affordable housing in the city.
About 200 supporters and members of Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE) jammed St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Alexandria to call for stronger commitments and more money to house lower-income residents who increasingly find themselves priced out of areas once affordable to them.
Since 2000, spiraling rents and upscale redevelopment have reduced by 90 percent the stock of privately owned apartments affordable to people who make about half of the median income for the area, according to a recent city report. That means that 1,749 privately owned apartments in the city are affordable for a four-person household with an annual income of $66,180 or less — less than 6 percent of the rental housing stock.
Alexandria, one of the few cities in the area with a public housing authority, also has 1,150 public housing units for the poorest residents, but there is a years-long waiting list for those apartments.
The housing crisis affects churches as well as families. The Rev. Donald Fest, pastor of St. Joseph’s, said his church spent $60,000 last year in rental and moving assistance on its parishioners, many of whom live or lived in the historically African American neighborhood known as “the Berg.”
Prompted by a plan by the public housing authority to redevelop the 48-year-old Andrew Adkins apartments just east of the Braddock Road Metro station, VOICE members said all 90 of the public housing units should remain on the site. The authority has planned to let a private developer rebuild 60 of the public housing units while putting about 500 new, more expensive apartments at the site. The other 30 units would be moved elsewhere in the city.
Alexandria Vice Mayor Justin Wilson (D) told the crowd that he and council member John T. Chapman (D) told the authority and developer last week that the council expects all 90 apartments to remain on the site. But, he noted, it’s a three-way negotiation between the city, the Alexandria Redevelopment Housing Authority and the developers.
The housing authority is in the midst of consolidating its public housing project and partnering with private developers to raise money. Federal funds, which for years supported public housing, are vanishing, and the authority says it needs another source of revenue to maintain and operate its projects.
Chapman and council member Willie Bailey Jr. (D), both of whom grew up in affordable and public housing in the city, said they fully support VOICE’s agenda. Wilson and council member Timothy Lovain (D) said they support the principles but would not commit to allocating $8 million more in the city budget each year for housing.
“I’m with you 95 percent of the way,” Lovain said.
“I just generally don’t make monetary commitments outside the budget process,” Wilson said in a later interview.
The members of the council, in the middle of its two-month summer recess, said they are at work strengthening and modernizing the city’s 36-year-old commitment, known as Resolution 830, to replace any of its public housing units with equally priced apartments.
VOICE, which was founded in 2008, also has gotten a commitment from Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova to discuss a plan to create a dedicated fund to make transit more affordable for low-income residents, and is pushing to use 30 percent of Metro property for affordable housing.
VOICE supported a plan in 2015 and 2016 to rebuild and replace the 15 Ramsey Homes public housing units with 37 additional apartments. It has also been active in Arlington County planning decisions and electoral politics on a variety of issues.