Letter to the Editor: Housing affordability is a density issue

A rendering of the renovated facility for The Carpenter's Shelter at 930 N. Henry St., which will combine a homeless shelter with 97 affordable housing units (Courtesy Photo)

To the editor:

Housing affordability is the new clarion cry for public and private sector problem-solvers. The impending “Invasion of the Amazonians” has galvanized them like never before. Where-o-where will these well-paid Amazonians live if there’s not enough affordable housing for them in Alexandria?

No one seems to appreciate that the Amazonians may not want to reside in Alexandria. But for those that do, why does their choice have to trigger worry that our housing stock is affordable? If housing is too expensive, the only sure-fire way to reduce its cost is to increase supply.

Since Alexandria is space-constrained, high rises are the best option to maximize the number of people per square foot. But since most people don’t want to live in a high rise, should Alexandria encourage their construction by relaxing its zoning?

The lack of affordable housing in Alexandria is a condition for which there is no satisfying solution. It affects a fair number of city employees as well. Many simply cannot afford to live in Alexandria. I commend those who have posited how they would solve this vexing problem.

However, of the solutions I’ve read, they overlook one phenomenon: limits. Just as a glass can hold only so much fluid, Alexandria can hold only accommodate so many structures, people and vehicles. To many people – me included – Alexandria is already too dense.

Congestion has blemished the charm and quality of living here. And without limits, evermore congestion is inevitable. There can be no more roads in Alexandria but, without limits, there will be evermore traffic. With no more inexpensive land on which to build houses, there will be fewer affordable houses for purchase or for rent by families, especially those of modest means. And more housing, affordable or not, means more congestion.

It will be enlightening when our new city council and, especially our new mayor, articulate their density goals for the City of Alexandria. Is it one million residents? Half a million cars? Twice as many structures as there are now? My guess: they’ll permit density limits for everything but the number of structures, people and vehicles that can be placed within the 55 square miles of Alexandria.

Pity. Selecting desired densities allows us to prepare, to marshal resources, to be ready, not surprised, by future costs, housing needs and congestion consequences, especially in schools and public facilities. Without limits for structures, people and vehicles, Alexandria will simply morph over time into Calcutta on the Potomac – hopelessly dense, dirty and impassible.

-Jimm Roberts, Alexandria