Little by little, with resources both financial and physical at record premiums, the forces in Alexandria are doing what they can to level the housing market for middle- and lower-class members of the community.
Last week, the city began marketing sales at Alexandria Crossing, a new housing development in Arlandria being developed by EYA. The site, slated to open later this year with a mix of public, workforce and market-rate housing, joins The Station at Potomac Yard as new remedies to the citys recognized dearth of affordable housing.
Alexandria Crossing, part of the redevelopment of the pre-existing housing at Glebe Park, has 10 workforce housing units, along with eight market-rate units and 84 affordable rental units, according to the citys Office of Housing. The Station is a combination of 44 affordable-housing and 20 workforce rental units, intended for city employees, located above a new fire station.
The sites combine to create 30 opportunities for city and school employees to become residents in the community they serve, but 30 new housing units is a relative drop in the bucket for a city that saw more than 25,000 properties become unaffordable since the turn of the century, according to a 2009 report released by the Office of Housing.
Its not a large number in the grand scheme of things, but thats the reality with affordable housing, said City Councilman Rob Krupicka, a member of the affordable housing work group that produced the report. Its typically not in big numbers.
Only about 15 percent of city employees live in Alexandria and make an average salary of just under $60,000, according to the citys human resources department. By comparison, the work groups report said that nearly 75 percent of city residents work outside of Alexandria and have a median income just less than $100,000.
Market forces have led people who work in Alexandria to commute here rather than inhabit the city, while residents travel outward, creating imbalance in the community and adding to the regions well-worn traffic issues and altering its socioeconomic complexion.
According to the report, Alexandria has experienced a dramatic loss of affordable housing in recent years posing a significant challenge to Alexandrias economic vitality and cultural strength.
The sort of overhaul necessary to completely balance that equation not uncommon in other cities seems daunting at its most basic and near impossible at its most realistic.
I dont think we have any illusions that were going to fix that problem entirely, Krupicka said. Were not going to create a balance where the housing in Alexandria is in perfect balance with the jobs in Alexandria. The market forces are just too powerful for us to impact that.
Still, for members of the work group who did not come into the exercise with an extensive background in housing policy, like Alexandria City Public Schools educator Elissa Webster, the study was compelling.
It was a big eye-opener to hear about all of the issues and concerns regarding affordable housing in the community and theres a much wider range of people who need affordable housing options than I would have realized, Webster said.
In the coming months, Krupicka said City Council will likely begin working on an affordable housing master plan that focuses on encouraging preservation opportunities with developers as a less costly alternative to building new structures a primary recommendation included in the work groups report.
We dont have an affordable housing master plan for the city and a lot of jurisdictions in the region do, Krupicka said. One of the biggest things that became very clear to me is that preservation doesnt happen in a case-by-case way. Preservation happens because you have a concerted strategy that is built over time.
Krupicka, who served as one of City Councils two liaisons to the group with former Councilman Ludwig Gaines, said he was hopeful that measures will be taken to incentivize affordable housing preservation opportunities for developers in the city.
Mildrilyn Davis, director of Office of Housing, said that 24 of the new affordable housing rental units at Alexandria Crossing have actually been rehabilitated from within existing structures.
Homes at Alexandria Crossing are priced from $300,000 to $365,000 and may include up to a $20,000 subsidy from the citys Moderate Income Homeownership Program, according to a press release from the city.
Guidelines for purchasing one of the available workforce housing units at Alexandria Crossing require that the buyer either live or work in the city, be a first time homebuyer (or not owned a home in the last 3 years) and have a household income less than $71,900 for a household of one, less than $82,200 for a household of two, less than $92,400 for a household of three and less than $102,700 for a household of four.
Yet, defining what is affordable can be tricky, even when everyone agrees on the ground rules, because situations vary from household to household.
Standard measures consider affordable housing to be attainable by households making 60 percent of an areas median income. Workforce housing is pricier, attainable by households making up to 80 percent of the median income.
In 2008, 41 percent of the citys households earned less than 60 percent of the areas median income, according to the report, which was $69,300 for an individual or $89,100 for a family of three. About 42 percent of ACPS employees and 34 percent of other municipal employees fall into this category.
The report also said that the average assessed value for a single family home this year is more than $630,000, which, in order to be purchased requires an annual household income of around $140,000.
We purchased well within our means we bought [in the city] what we knew we were comfortable paying for, Webster said. But I do know other people who I work with and their incomes would not allow them to easily purchase what we would consider a unit with a comfortable standard of living, and theyre a group thats often overlooked.
Being able to live in the community where one works can pay dividends for employers like the schools and the city government.
I know for a fact that Alexandria gets a much bigger bang for their buck from me living close, than the school district I worked in for 12 years before did, where I had quite a commute, Webster said.
Again, the faster people get to work, the happier they are, she added. Im a lot more willing, personally, to take on more responsibility on a voluntary basis because Im not fighting traffic to get home to my family.