Our View: A visionary response to a tangible need

Our View: A visionary response to a tangible need
The Rev. Jo Belser stands in front of renderings of the new project (Photo Credit: Missy Schrott)

Too often in life, dealings seem to be zero-sum, meaning one side loses while the other wins. Issues at the national level regularly default to this line of thinking, as partisan rancor makes win-win situations increasingly elusive.

Locally, development or redevelopment issues in Alexandria too often devolve into an “us vs. them” situation. Waterfront redevelopment, the Potomac Yard/Potomac Greens small area plan and now the wooded area behind the Temple Beth El are but a few examples where it seems one side wins while the other loses.

When viewed through this prism, the win-win-win plan of Church of the Resurrection to keep its church alive while also significantly boosting Alexandria’s affordable housing supply by partnering with the city, state and a nonprofit builder is even more impressive. As detailed in this issue’s page 1 story, this endeavor is affirming on many levels.

First, it’s a story of redemption. Church of the Resurrection has an older building that is too large for a congregation winnowed over time by demographics and location. According to its rector, the Rev. Jo Belser, church leaders were casting about for ways to stay afloat simply for survival’s sake. When they devised the plan to lease most of their property for affordable housing, it was still from a self-survival perspective.

And then a wonderful thing happened. The affordable housing project became the church’s mission and a congregation that had felt adrift had a sense of purpose. It was revitalized.
This is also a lesson about the type of innovation that will be needed long-term to rebuild Alexandria’s supply of affordable housing in a region where lower-wage earners have dwindling options.

Partnerships between multiple, seemingly disparate entities are going to be necessary. Creative thinking and bold leadership will be at a premium.

“All” this project took was collaboration between an individual church, the church’s governing body – the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia – a building partner, the City of Alexandria and the Virginia state government in Richmond. The project is not yet a done deal, as final city council approval and tax credits from the state are essential to move it forward. But the probability is high that both will be granted.

Additions to Alexandria’s affordable housing supply in recent years have generally been much smaller: nine units contributed by a developer as part of a larger project here, two units added by a nonprofit there. This endeavor is exciting because it adds 113 new lower rent apartments all at once.

Finally, the Church of the Resurrection project provides hope. It’s encouraging to longtime advocates for affordable housing that larger gains are possible. But most importantly, it’s a concrete step forward for those who want to work and live in Alexandria, but increasingly can’t afford to do so. Alexandria’s city council replaced words of support with real money for affordable housing when it set aside contingency funds in last year’s budget for this project.

Yes, details remain to be worked out, such as ensuring that the site contains enough parking for both the church and apartment complex (we don’t think the current proposal does). But the larger picture is undeniable: this is a visionary plan that will make a real difference in Alexandria on multiple fronts.

Kudos to all involved.