Opinion: Residents can help ensure affordable housing remains affordable

Opinion: Residents can help ensure affordable housing remains affordable
(Laura Sikes)

To the editor:

As the head of a nonprofit that focuses on keeping low-income Alexandrians housed, I was especially pleased to read about the city council’s decision to support nonprofit developer AHC’s efforts to build affordable housing (“Affordable housing slated for East Reed Avenue,” October 11).

It’s a move in the right direction that continues to preserve the socioeconomic diversity that makes Alexandria a strong community and shows us to be a community that cares about its neighbors.
I also want to point out that affordable housing is not just about rental housing. Alexandria is home to many low-income homeowners — often elderly, disabled and many who are veterans. They own their homes, but expenses associated with staying housed often overwhelm them.

Helping them stay housed is important to our city’s affordable housing strategy and vital for neighborhood stability. That’s why Rebuilding Together Alexandria works with volunteers and funders to provide free repairs and modifications to ensure that low-income residents can continue living in their homes.

Right now we are ramping up for Energize Alexandria on Saturday, which will help 25 struggling homeowners make energy-efficient upgrades to their homes. Winter is a very difficult time for these homeowners; the cost and effort involved in the seasonal upkeep of a home is often beyond their financial and physical means.

These upgrades are important since low-income housing tends to be in poor condition and energy inefficient. As a result, these families spend three times the average for heating and electricity. Most of our clients spend about 14 percent of their income on energy as compared to 3.5 percent for higher-income households.

Many of the upgrades we are doing Saturday are ones that you can do in your home — or for a struggling neighbor — and will result in real savings, such as:

• Installing a programmable thermostat
• Insulating attic hatches
• Air drying dishes
• Setting water heaters to 120 degrees
• Replacing regular light bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps
• Installing foam gaskets for electrical outlets
• Covering AC and hot water tanks
• Caulking around doors and windows
• Using power strips
• Installing low-flow faucets, showerheads and toilets

We all have a role in making our city a great place to live. Ensuring that homeowners who face health and income challenges are able to live in their homes is integral to this and another way we can maintain a variety of affordable-housing options. To learn more, visit www.rebuildingtogetheralex.org.

-Katharine Dixon