Our View: Build affordable housing while honoring SAPs

Our View: Build affordable housing while honoring SAPs
Photo/Cody Mello-Klein

Within 10 days, City Council has moved forward with two large developments that between them will provide almost 1,000 units of affordable housing in Alexandria. This progress follows years of steep declines in housing for residents who make less than the area median income.

It’s also heartening to see that in the Mount Vernon-Glebe development, a loan for which was approved by council at the Tuesday night legislative meeting, a quarter of the development’s units will be reserved for residents who make less than 40% of the AMI.

While we are not fans of further densifying already-too-crowded Alexandria, we do support projects like these, for several reasons:

• Lack of affordable housing is a real problem in Alexandria, and the arrival of the Amazon and Virginia Tech campuses are going to continue putting pressure on regional housing prices.

• Partnering with nonprofits – Wesley Housing Corporation in the ParcView II project and Alexandria Housing Development Corporation on Mount Vernon-Glebe – maximizes affordable housing at these locations. We think this justifies the bump up in density.

• The range of AMI units within each of these projects means there will be socio-economic diversity on each campus. This is important because it will help more moderate-wage earners, along with low-income residents, be able to afford Alexandria housing.

Yes, we also have concerns about these projects.

One concern is that the number of residents at each project earning 80% of AMI should never be more than those earning 40% of AMI. The 80% mark is not enough below AMI to have them comprise anywhere near the majority of units. It bears watching closely how many residents of each level actually wind up inhabiting these developments.

We are concerned about the added density that large projects like these will bring to Alexandria. That’s why there should be an attendant pause in density waivers granted to for-profit developers in exchange for what amounts to a token amount of affordable housing.

Projects like ParcView II and Mount Vernon-Glebe show that real progress can be made on the issue of affordable housing. We need more projects like these, and fewer for-profit developers getting density waivers.

We agree with the adjacent letter from the Alexandria Federation of Civic Associations that the city should not be able to simply ignore small area plans. Alexandria has 20 SAPs, each of which was developed over time with input from residents living within the impacted areas. It is wrong for the city to simply cast these SAPs aside because they are suddenly inconvenient.

We think that new City Manager Jim Parajon has arrived in Alexandria at a crucial juncture in the life of our city, and we are heartened that he has apparently embarked on a listening tour with various groups of city stakeholders. Fresh eyes, attuned ears and hopefully an open mind are exactly what’s needed right now in the most powerful person in Alexandria.

We hope that Parajon finishes his listening tour with empathy for the concerns many residents have about environmental preservation and the eroding quality of life that over-densification has wrought. We also hope that he will set about ensuring that Alexandria’s government honors the promises it has made to city residents.

Abiding by the city’s SAPs, or at least revising them through established processes, would be a great place to start.