Editorials Opinion Our View — 02 March 2012
Editorial: Playing softball with developers

Developers want to exceed the density allowed in the West End’s Beauregard neighborhood by building 6,500 new apartments, condos and houses, and City Hall seems bent on realizing their desires. If it passed today, the plan would be at the expense of thousands of people losing their residences and a severe blow to what’s left of affordable housing in Alexandria.

Five giant developers including JBG and Duke Realty have the right to build what they want on their land if it is within legal zoning parameters. But to realize their vision of adding a mass of new housing units, the city must increase zoning limits. As city officials consider bending the rules, developers are salivating at the prospect. Why? Because to get what they want, they only have to preserve 700 units of affordable housing.

That’s the lopsided deal on the table: Developers will demolish more than 2,500 market-rate affordable homes and build 6,500 new ones. When construction is complete, the area will host about 9,500 housing units, mostly gleaming and new. In exchange for the city’s permission, developers promise to subsidize 700 homes to freeze the rent and keep it affordable, at least for 30 years.

But “affordable” is perhaps one of the most relative terms in the English language. Some Alexandrians can afford a Lamborghini while others can’t scrape together money for a Huffy.

So how does the City of Alexandria determine what’s affordable?

It starts with the annual median household income of the Washington area according to Housing and Urban Development: $107,500. Any household making 60 percent of the median income or less qualifies for affordable housing, according to the city’s definition. So a household making $64,500 a year or less is considered eligible.

Yet the 700 units being labeled “affordable” in the Beauregard plan are feasible only for households making between $59,000 and $80,000, according to the city’s housing department. The available units don’t reflect Alexandria’s housing needs.

Another problem: The city’s formula skews the local reality. Alexandria’s median income is about $81,000, far less than the regional figure. That means city households making $48,600 actually require affordable housing. Developer contributions don’t even scratch the surface of aiding Alexandria’s needs. The gap between reality and fantasy grows deeper.

There is a serious gap between what the city portrays as generous developer contributions and what is actually occurring. The gloomy facts are the city stands to lose 2,000 decently priced housing units and, more importantly, displace thousands of residents. At the behest of developers, Alexandria will become less diverse economically and ethnically despite years of lip service condemning such notions. City Hall should play hardball with developers and refuse to up-zone the Beauregard area under the current plan.

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Alexandria Times Staff

(4) Readers Comments

  1. The Times is right that affordable housing is the biggest challenge. The Council and Planning commission have been clear we need a better housing plan before anything can be done. And there is a lot of work going on to push the developer as well as to work with the residents to create better affordable housing plan. It is tough because doing nothing also means a lot of affordable housing will vanish as the developers can legally upgrade their properties into high-end apartments without city oversight. Inclusionary Zoning (which mandates affordable housing) is illegal in VA. In Arlington they are providing increases in density to sustain housing. I expect we’ll have many more discussions of housing before anything comes to a vote. That isn’t bending the rules, its using the limited tools we have to support the community. I’d also say that AMI is a bad measure for affordability. It does not take into consideration the budget benefits of having access to transit or walking instead of needing a car. Many on the west end now live in 60% AMI housing even though their incomes are much lower. I have been pushing for a full study of the incomes of residents as well as a better way to define affordability so that we truly address these issues. I’m glad the Times is highlighting this issue. A lot more work to do.

  2. The issue of providing affordable housing in the Beauregard Corridor Small Area Plan ought to be the priority amenity that the City is requesting from the developers rather than the unwanted transit improvements–such as the ellipse (traffic circle) at Seminary and Beauregard and the High Capacity Transit Corridor C–that comprise more than half of the proposed amenities. While this plan does have a goal of providing affordable housing, how much of the new housing might serve our current neighbors–who are at the lower income levels–is not clear. As Rob Krupicka noted above, “there is a lot more work to do.”

  3. First, the city must try to negotiate for at least affordable housing for the site. I understand this is the policy in Arlington. The tool we do have is approving the zoning. I also would strongly question the need to spend 29 miilion on the ellipse, and 80 miilion on a ramp. Even though the 80 million is state money and cannot be shifted to transit, I do not think that it is worth the money for the amount of improvement and it will impact the Winkler Preserve, remove trees, and may require sound walls. If we reject spending millions of dollars now on road improvements it may be a good argument for future funding of a 1st class transportation system for the West End, a Streetcar. It was projected that a Streetcar would have 2,500 more riders per day than bus rapid transit, which adds up to almost a million more riders a year. It may also generate more revenue from increased investment in properties adjacent to the proposed line. It would also connect with Arlington, and to a training facility at Northern Virginia Communnity College, training people for the jobs ot thhe future. Transit is needed now on the west end, and an investment in Streetcars lasts longer than an ivestment in buses. And if they carry more people, there will be less traffic. They also would not require the widening of Beauregard, which I oppose. But like the editorial says we need to solve the Affordable Housing question first, and not push out one of the last enclaves of affordable housing in our communnity.

  4. First, the city must try to negotiate for at least %20affordable housing. I understand this is the policy in Arlington. The tool we do have is approving the zoning. I also would strongly question the need to spend 29 miilion on the ellipse, and 80 miilion on a ramp. Even though the 80 million is state money and cannot be shifted to transit, I do not think that it is worth the money for the amount of improvement and it will impact the Winkler Preserve, remove trees, and may require sound walls. If we reject spending millions of dollars now on road improvements it may be a good argument for future funding of a 1st class transportation system for the West End, a Streetcar. It was projected that a Streetcar would have 2,500 more riders per day than bus rapid transit, which adds up to almost a million more riders a year. It may also generate more revenue from increased investment in properties adjacent to the proposed line. It would also connect with Arlington, and to a training facility at Northern Virginia Communnity College, training people for the jobs ot thhe future. Transit is needed now on the west end, and an investment in Streetcars lasts longer than an ivestment in buses. And if they carry more people, there will be less traffic. They also would not require the widening of Beauregard, which I oppose. But like the editorial says we need to solve the Affordable Housing question first, and not push out one of the last enclaves of affordable housing in our communnity.

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