Displacement is essential to Beauregard redevelopment plan

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Following an exhaustive tug-of-war over waterfront redevelopment, city planners, residents and developers have begun a new battle for the future of Alexandria, this time in the city’s northwest corner: the Beauregard and Mark Center neighborhoods.

In Old Town, opponents of the waterfront plan feared new hotels and office buildings would disrupt their quality of life. On the West End, opponents of the proposed Beauregard plan worry they’ll be shooed away from their homes forever.

Five developers want to demolish and rebuild some of the last market-rate affordable housing in the city — homes with naturally low values and cheap rent that serve low-income residents. The plan calls for razing 2,500 multifamily apartments and 15 single-family homes. When all is said and done 30 years from now, about 4,000 homes will be added to the landscape for a total of 9,450.

Most will be too expensive for current residents.

“You can clearly see that the Beauregard area has a sizable percentage of households with lower incomes … so we know that we need to do a better job of focusing on people at those income levels,” said Mildrilyn Davis, director of the city’s housing department.

Affordable housing is a fast-fading resource in Alexandria. In 2000, the city had more than 18,000 units. About 6,000 exist now.

City officials know development will mean displacement, which is why the plan calls for cutting a deal with developers to preserve affordable housing. Zoning laws don’t allow the density developers want, so the plan calls for up-zoning the area in exchange for 700 designated “affordable” units, paid for by developer contributions and city reserves.

(Cat VanVliet)

In a region with a high median income, that means a family of four will have to make $59,000, at the low end, to qualify for the affordable homes. Residents will have to apply to stay put, according to the plan.

What’s considered affordable depends whom you ask. An annual household income of $59,000 — 55 percent of the median regional income — is not the norm in Oscar Medina’s neighborhood, according to the West End resident who spoke against the plan.

“The affordable housing that you are suggesting … will only be accessible for people that make more than $60,000,” Medina said through an interpreter. “I have a question: What is the percentage of the millionaires versus the rich versus the people that need to live in affordable housing?”

About 44 percent of households in the Beauregard area make $56,000 or less, according to the plan document.

If the plan passes the public process and becomes reality, displacement is inevitable, but Davis says 700 affordable units are better than the amount of dedicated affordable homes currently in the area: zero.

Davis said the city is looking at strategies to increase designated affordable housing beyond 703 units, “but it’s about how much the city can afford [to supplement].”

“This is still definitely a work in progress,” Davis said.