Weighing the costs and benefits of affordable housing funding

Weighing the costs and benefits of affordable housing funding

By Jim Mercury, Alexandria
(Photo/File Photo)

To the editor:

The city council tag team of Paul Smedberg and Justin Wilson recently weighed in yet again with their grave concerns about the runaway train that is advocacy for affordable and workforce housing in Alexandria — how it’s endangering vital programs and services, and prudent fiscal management, as well as the “divisiveness” it’s causing.

Being one of those unreasonable malcontents, I checked the city’s fiscal 2014 operating budget to see what I was missing. The three largest categories with their respective percentage shares of the total budget are as follows:

• Transportation and environmental services: 43.9 percent
• Education: 32.3 percent
• Government (legislative, executive, courts, general, etc.): 12.4 percent

And the housing department’s share? That would be 0.4 percent. What a budget hog indeed.

Wilson and Smedberg go on to trumpet that they have done more for affordable and workforce housing this budget cycle than ever before — albeit after initially chastising their colleagues for taking the lead in doing so. This raises the question of whether they were against it before they were for it.

The city’s statistics on this subject are well known by now: the loss of 10,000 units in a decade with many thousands more on the way out in the near future and the projection of demand outpacing supply by as much as 14,000 units by 2030.

The indirect consequences of this loss are less remarked upon, whether they are the financial impacts on an already overtaxed regional transportation system or the stress on the household budgets of displaced commuters. Harder to quantify, but no less tangible, what about the destruction of established communities by redevelopment and the loss of personal and family time of those displaced commuters?

To simply cite the escalation in property values and then throw one’s arms up in the air about it is not leadership. But then that four-tenths of 1 percent is all anybody really needs to know about the true dedication of those two fellows to the issue.