By Derrick Perkins
Alexandria City Council approved a $250,000 loan for an Arlington developer late last month, paving the way for the largest infusion of new affordable housing units in recent memory.
The money will help AHC Inc., a nonprofit that builds low-income housing throughout the mid-Atlantic, pay for architectural and engineering work as well as necessary environmental studies, said Mildrilyn Davis, director of the city’s housing office.
The Arlington nonprofit has spent about $1.2 million on the project, which is expected to create 77 apartments on the 100 block of E. Reed Ave. for people making 60 percent or less of the region’s median income. That works out to an annual income of about $64,500 for a family of four.
“It’s rare that we get this number of new [affordable] units. It’s something that we’re excited about,” Davis said. “This is a great opportunity.”
But even with the city’s financial backing, the project is far from a done deal. AHC will need to receive planning commission and city council approval as the final proposal works its way through City Hall, likely by year’s end. After clearing those hurdles, the development will hinge on whether AHC can secure low-income housing tax credits, Davis said.
If the project stalls, it wouldn’t be the first time, said John Welsh, AHC vice president. The company tried to redevelop the site more than a decade ago, but efforts to buy up the individually owned properties fell through, he said.
Another attempt came up short a few years later, he recalled. The current iteration — a less grandiose project than planners and homeowners hoped for in the past — has been in the pipeline for about two years, Welsh said.
“It’s been too challenging a task to try to get every single seller, every owner, on board,” Welsh said. “As a result, projects have failed because everybody thought they had to redevelop the whole [block].”
Still in the design stage, the project calls for a four- or five-story building to replace six individual homes across the street from The Preston development. The apartments will range from one- to three-bedroom units, and the building will include an underground parking garage for residents and visitors.
AHC also wants to set aside a community room, primarily for after-school activities, tutoring, adult education classes and computer literacy lessons, according to documents filed with City Hall.
Officials expect the project will cost $24 million, with the city potentially coughing up $2.25 million — money coming from Alexandria’s housing opportunities fund — toward the final price tag.
The project is the nonprofit’s first in Alexandria, though AHC owns affordable housing buildings in Baltimore, Richmond and across the region. And it comes as city officials and residents grapple with Alexandria’s dwindling supply of market-rate or government-subsidized affordable housing.
The city’s supply has fallen from more than 18,000 units in 2000 to around 6,000. Affordable housing — and the lack of it — has dominated discussion of redevelopment projects across the city, including a mixed-use building in Arlandria that opponents argue will raise property values and price out lower-income residents. The city’s controversial Beauregard corridor redevelopment plan faced similar criticisms when it went before city council earlier this year.
It’s also become a campaign issue. Mayor Bill Euille touted the predevelopment loan as a symbol of the city’s commitment to creating more affordable housing during a debate with Independent challenger Andrew Macdonald last week.
“We’re committed … to making certain we protect affordable housing for all income levels,” Euille said.