To the editor:
Earlier this month, the first-ever housing summit was held in Alexandria. The focus of the summit was affordability. Unfortunately, home ownership, a pathway that allows families to build wealth and participate more fully in our community was at best an afterthought to the summit.
The morning opened with a high-quality bus tour highlighting creative solutions for affordable rental units, like the Station at Potomac Yard which co-located 64 affordable units above the city’s new fire station.
Under the current rules, to obtain the bonus, most developers agree to a 40-year commitment. But, after 40 years those affordable units could be- come market-rate units without additional action. A rental-focused strategy does not address the long-term affordability challenge; opening pathways to home ownership does.
During the tour, I raised the issue of home ownership because it was not discussed. Once raised, others joined the conversation and highlighted their personal struggles to utilize the program. Home ownership allows families in need of affordable housing to have greater security in their housing costs, build equity and participate more fully in our community as permanent fixtures.
While the city is working to address affordable housing with multiple tools focused on rental units, there is just one program focused on home ownership.
Tragically, the city’s first-time home buyer program continues to be under-resourced, understaffed and de-prioritized, even as Amazon HQ2 raises local housing costs. The approved 2019 operating budget provided less than half a million dollars for the program with personnel costs consuming nearly 35 percent of the budget allocation.
Any solution to the city’s and region’s affordable housing crisis must involve a mix of units and types. Allowing people to break the rental trap and own their home is the solution that builds generational wealth while building neighborhoods.
The city should focus on affordable housing for all Alexandrians, including affordable rental units and affordable home ownership. Allowing families to break the ‘rent with no equity’ cycle is a long-term solution to affordable housing that doesn’t expire in four decades.
-James Lewis, Alexandria