Redoing the math on affordable housing

(Photo/Derrick Perkins)

When our newspaper — really any media outlet — publishes a mistake, we own up to it and correct the record. If not, how could we expect you, our readers, to trust what we present each week as fact?
We couldn’t.

The Alexandria Times erred twice last week in its coverage of the National Science Foundation’s relocation to the Port City. For that, we offer a mea culpa.

As regular readers will remember, the decision to move the federal agency represents a major victory for the city. Its relocation to Eisenhower Avenue is expected to bring thousands of jobs to Alexandria, spur redevelopment and create a new source of tax dollars for City Hall’s coffers.

But recently, the details of the deal that lured the foundation from Arlington County have come under a bit of scrutiny. Namely, the package of incentives dropped a required $1.04 million contribution to the city’s affordable housing fund.

Our coverage of the controversy erroneously claimed that the foundation could generate as much as $83 million in economic activity over the course of its 15-year lease. That mistake also slipped into last week’s editorial.
In fact, city officials and economic experts believe the foundation could spur upward of $99 million in economic activity each year during that period.

The mistake was so egregious that the deputy city manager and the president of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership contacted the Times to note the error and request a correction.

No one, though, mentioned the mistake in our editorial.

In it, we backed City Councilor John Chapman’s proposal to reallocate $500,000 of real estate taxes from the foundation’s site toward affordable housing efforts. We also went further, noting that half a million dollars “seemed a pittance.” We thought our elected leaders could do better than $500,000 given what we saw as an $83 million shot in the arm to our local economy.

But the accurate figures — when added up — are even more striking.

While the foundation represents a net gain of $55 million in taxes over 15 years, experts believe the agency will boost the Port City’s economy by about $1.5 billion in that same period. That’s a lot of zeroes.

Acknowledging a mistake is not an act a journalist — or news outlet — enjoys or takes lightly. In this case, we are more than happy to set the record straight.

Now that we know the true figures, let’s think bigger than just $500,000 for affordable housing from this site. Given the windfall, it sure seems like the city can afford it.

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