EDITORIAL: $500K for affordable housing barely scratches the surface

(Photo/Derrick Perkins)

City councilors righted a bit of a wrong Saturday, agreeing to discuss shunting $500,000 in real estate taxes from the National Science Foundation’s future home into efforts to preserve affordable housing. But they could — and should — have gone further.

What was the wrong? While drawing up a competitive package of tax breaks and other incentives to lure the federal agency to Alexandria, negotiators dropped a required contribution to the affordable housing fund.

Though enticing the foundation to leave Arlington County represents a major victory — think jobs and redevelopment along Eisenhower Avenue — leaving about $1.04 million on the table was a mistake.

By redirecting tax dollars from the site into the affordable housing fund, the city council will take a step toward atoning for the original sin. But if it’s willing to reallocate $500,000, then we have to ask: Why not more? Why not the whole sum?

City Councilor John Chapman, who proposed the measure, indicated Saturday that he initially had a larger figure in mind. But in talking to his colleagues, he realized a more generous sum lacked support.

And that’s a shame.

We know, as do our city councilors, that Alexandria’s shrinking pool of affordable housing has reached a crisis point. We also know that you, our readers and residents of this city, recognize the need for affordable housing. It keeps the city diverse and provides homes for people, such as firefighters, police officers and teachers — not to mention the folks who bag your groceries or serve you drinks during happy hour.

The National Science Foundation is expected to be a boon for Alexandria. It will bring jobs (from construction workers to scientists), drive development and generate as much as $83 million for our local economy over 15 years. The agency’s likely role as an economic engine is exactly the reason why officials gave the federal government such a sweetheart deal to relocate.

Given the amount of money we’re talking about here, $500,000 seems a pittance in comparison. Chapman did not name individuals while discussing his frustrated efforts to garner more money for the fund, but it’s clear he could not convince at least three of his fellow councilors.

They have time to reconsider — and we hope they do in the weeks and months ahead. Reallocating $500,000 is a start, but we should do better.

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