OUR VIEW | Reed Avenue affordable housing project a step in the right direction

OUR VIEW | Reed Avenue affordable housing project a step in the right direction

Kudos to City Council for approving a $250,000 loan to an Arlington non-profit dedicated to building affordable housing. The loan will help AHC Inc. pay for architectural and engineering work and environmental studies at a site in the 100 block of East Reed Avenue, between Commonwealth Avenue and Jefferson Davis Highway.

The planned project is not particularly large, at 77 units, but adding any housing for low-income Alexandrians is welcome given the dramatic drop in the city’s stock since 2000. It’s stunning to realize that as recently as 12 years ago more than 18,000 low rate units — market-rate or government subsidized —existed in Alexandria. Only around 6,000 such units remain today.

Low-income residents suffered from rapidly rising housing values in the early 2000s, when gentrification and redevelopment began eroding the city’s supply of inexpensive housing. Despite the recent economic downturn, each new redevelopment project has further siphoned off affordable housing. If this project is successful, it can hopefully become a prototype for future public-private and public-non-profit housing partnerships.

This project is far from a done deal — approval and financing hurdles remain. Nonetheless, it is an excellent example of the city working with a non-governmental entity to tackle a problem. The plan calls for Alexandria’s housing opportunities fund to contribute about $2.25 million to the project’s $24 million total cost.

There are two key aspects to the cost of this project. The first is that $2.25 million seems a reasonable city contribution toward a project that would provide lasting benefits to Alexandria’s poorest residents.

The second, less positive aspect, is that $24 million price tag. It seems hefty for 77 low-income units. That averages to a per-unit cost of $312,000. That per unit amount seems more in keeping with luxury condos than with affordable housing. Why is the total project cost so high and what is the money going toward? Surely a low-income unit, nice but not luxurious, can be built for less than $312,000.

In these days of tight budgets for all of us it’s important to leverage every dollar as efficiently as possible – and to spend as frugally as feasible.

The reality remains that even if the Reed Avenue project comes to fruition, Alexandria will remain woefully short of affordable housing for low-income residents. This project is a welcome step in the right direction. But with a housing deficit of 10,000 units since 2000, we need many more projects of this nature if we’re going to make up the deficit.