Business Community Development News — 17 January 2013
Affordable housing coming to East Reed Avenue

By Derrick Perkins

An Arlington-based nonprofit’s affordable housing project on East Reed Avenue received city council’s approval Saturday — despite two members inadvertently voting against the proposal at first.

Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg and City Councilor John Chapman came down against AHC Inc.’s plan to build a 78-unit affordable housing complex along the 100 block of E. Reed Ave. after neighbors worried they would have to compete with the tenants for on-street parking. The planning commission previously approved the $250 million project but added a stipulation that AHC include free parking, a condition the majority of city council opposed.

Mayor Bill Euille admonished Chapman during council’s lunch recess, according to the Washington Post, and when they revisited the project later in the day he and Silberberg recast their votes in favor of the project.

“I’ve been very pleased with the overall proposal,” Chapman said. “I think this is probably one of the first time’s I’ve gotten lost in the weeds.”
Supporters worried forcing AHC to provide free parking — instead of charging for spaces — would jeopardize the proposal’s finances. Alexandria’s top-elected officials approved a $250,000 loan for the project in October and City Hall will chip in further by donating land and providing additional financial support.

The complex represents one of the largest infusions of affordable housing in recent memory, according to city officials. Affordable housing — and Alexandria’s dwindling supply of it — became a major campaign issue during last year’s local elections.

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(4) Readers Comments

  1. What exactly does “affordable housing” mean? Income restrictions for tenants? Why will nobody explain this in any article about this development?

  2. I believe, and this is a guess, that affordable housing is tied to your income – essentially you provide your income to the organization and they have a table that tells if you qualify.

  3. Editor’s Note: Units (apartments, essentially) obtainable by a family bringing in less than 60 percent of the AMI – average median income – and costing no more than 30 percent of their overall budget are considered “Affordable Housing.” For more information check out the city’s Housing Master Plan “At a glance”: http://alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/housing/info/DraftHousingMasterPlanataGlanceNovember2012(2).pdf

  4. The premise seems to be that Alexandria must choose between smart growth and affordable housing. Certainly, in its vote about the imposition of parking fees on the new building at 3600 Jefferson Davis Highway, that’s the way that the Alexandria City Council seems to have framed the question.

    The real question, and Council members Chapman and Silberberg deserve kudos for getting it, is imposing user fees on the poor. By charging for parking in this new building, no one is incented to use the BRT or Metro whose work is not already accessible to public transit. People who work near transit will use transit. People who work far from transit need cars, just as people who shop for groceries need a car.

    Imposing a fee on the poor to park their car requires a higher level of income to qualify to rent these new apartments. Federal guidelines call for a person’s shelter cost (that is rent plus parking fees) to be no more than 30 percent of income. The $500 in parking fees will mean that renters will need an additional roughly $1700 in income each year to qualify to live in these new apartments.

    $1700 doesn’t sound like a lot, but every fee generates additional costs and before you know it, affordable housing doesn’t serve those who need it the most.

    Smart growth and affordable housing work together. The wise act by AHC to locate this development adjacent to BRT means that its residents have a transit option. The wise investment by the City Council in this development means that the City will assist in creating small amount of affordable housing in the face of the tide it has lost, and continues to loose.

    Locating affordable housing near transit and jobs potentially removes a vehicle from having to travel through our streets (and over a long distance) to get to a job in Alexandria. That’s smart growth and affordable housing working together. Imposing a parking fee on renters of this housing, however, turned an “and” into an “or” and Alexandria’s lower income workers lost out.

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