Editorial: Developers could — and should — do more for Alexandria

Editorial: Developers could — and should — do more for Alexandria

Residents and officials concerned with Alexandria’s dwindling supply of affordable housing saw two major developments recently: the sale of Hunting Point and the planning commission’s approval of rezoning in the Beauregard corridor.

The apartment complex and neighborhood represent a large chunk of the city’s remaining natural — market-rate, in other words — affordable housing. The land deal and zoning change, however, put those holdouts at risk in the near future.

Alexandria’s quickly shrinking stock of affordable housing is no secret, and neither is our position that city officials must take greater strides in preserving — if not creating — homes for low- and middle-income residents. But that debate, for Hunting Point and the Beauregard corridor at least, is coming to an end.

To keep Hunting Point affordable, all city officials can do is ask representatives of the Laramar Group nicely, since the state Department of Transportation has handed the property off to the Chicago-based firm. And officials long ago struck a deal with major West End developers to save 800 affordable housing units in exchange for the increased density expected to spark the neighborhood’s redevelopment.

So we must turn to the private property owners — JBG, Duke Realty, Hekemian and Co., Southern Towers, Home Properties and Laramar — and ask that they be good neighbors.

Officials successfully negotiated for affordable housing in Beauregard, but 800 units is not nearly enough, especially in a city that’s seen its supply drop from 18,218 units in 2000 to just 5,672 last year. But the five major West End property owners don’t have to settle for just 800 units — they could set aside far more. After all, they’re poised to make a tidy profit from redevelopment.

There are even fewer restrictions on Laramar, which could remove rent freezes and increase costs as leases expire. But the national firm has the same opportunity as the cartel of West End developers: setting aside affordable units voluntarily.

Fairly or not, big developers are often demonized as uncaring and rapacious, driven by profit as they demolish and displace. In Alexandria, which has debated two major land-use plans in recent years, developer is almost a dirty word.

So here’s a chance for JBG, Laramar and all the rest to prove their critics wrong; an opportunity to show they are investing more than dollars into the community. And all it takes is giving more than what’s required.

There is a difference between what is legal and what is moral. We hope that these developers, like a good neighbor, will do the right thing for Alexandria.