Your Views: An open letter to city council

Your Views: An open letter to city council

To the editor:

I have just learned about the new rules for zoning density variances and affordable housing requirements recently approved by City Council. I am strongly opposed to both aspects of your policy.

First, why do we have zoning rules related to density and then give waivers? If we set zoning rules, surely they should be applied equally to every applicant. Waivers should be reserved for exceptional circumstances: a lot that is an irregular shape or was historically somewhat smaller than all of its neighbors.

In the current case, however, zoning is being used to strong arm developers to tax the owners of their “non-affordable” units so as to subsidize a number of “affordable” units. City Council is actually encouraging developers to request density waivers. If City Council wants to increase zoning density, let it follow the standard procedure to do so honestly and openly and not hide behind the fiction of affordable housing.

Second, why is council working so hard to designate some units as “affordable?” What they mean by affordable, of course, is below market price. The usual argument is that without such units, some category of residents in our city would be unable to afford to rent an apartment here and would have to move out. Often cited are teachers, police, first responders and so on.

I have an easy solution: If it really is essential that such workers live in our community, then raise their salaries. If private employers have a hard time finding workers, they can also raise salaries making their workers more likely, but not guaranteed, to afford to live in the city. Of course, if the city blackmails developers to subsidize housing, some lucky private employers will get a break and won’t need to raise salaries.

I urge council to take another look. Affordable housing is an inefficient and unfair way of taxing some to subsidize others. If zoning rules are important, then enforce them evenhandedly and save the time and expense of all of these waivers.

-Janet L. Bates, Alexandria