To the editor:
In Alexandria, homeowners are a juicy political target. Former City Councilor and Delegate Rob Krupicka recently said on social media that homeowners, whom he pejoratively called “NIMBYs,” are “literally destroying this country. We must take it back.” He blamed policies protecting homeownership for “driving up inflation, exasperating (sic) homelessness, inequity and ultimately hurting the middle class.” City Councilor Kirk McPike “liked” the post.
It is unclear exactly what advocates for hyper-density in Alexandria are so upset about when it comes to homeowners, and why those behind the city’s new urbanist agenda hope to “take back” neighborhoods.
Recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau reveals that Alexandria is already a cautionary tale when it comes to the perils of excessive density. In fact, there is hardly anything left to “take back.”
According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, more than half (52%) of Alexandria’s housing units are inside buildings of 10 or more units – more than major urban centers like Brooklyn (45%), Queens County, NY (37%), Los Angeles (37%), Minneapolis (37%), Chicago (31%) and Philadelphia (16%).
Only 14% of housing units in our city are detached single-family homes, which places it on par with large cities like Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. – and lower than Los Angeles (38%), Chicago (27%) and Queens (20%). For local comparison, Fairfax County is at 47% detached single-family homes and Arlington County at 27%. Nationally, single-family homes are 63% of all housing units.
The existing gap between multi-unit buildings and single-family homes is larger in Alexandria than nearly every other locality of more than 50,000 housing units in the nation, according to the Census Bureau.
Plus, residential real property taxes have increased in the city from about 31% of city revenues in 2010 to about 37% in 2020. The city is growing more reliant on a tax base and it is purposefully decreasing, which is unsustainable.
The gap between single-family homes and dense multi-family units is growing. RentCafe, an apartment website, analyzed new apartment construction data in 125 U.S. metropolitan areas. Alexandria had 1,799 estimated apartment units to be constructed in the first half of 2022, which places our city 14th in the U.S. for the actual number – not percentage – of apartment units built nationwide.
We are building the same number of apartment units as metropolis centers like Brooklyn and Queens – and more apartment units than Portland, Dallas, San Diego and Atlanta, which are all cities many times Alexandria’s size.
What in the world is Alexandria doing building more apartments than these major population centers? No wonder our infrastructure – flooding, water main breaks, electric grids, school capacity, public safety and the like – is overwhelmed and in crisis.
These reckless policies are deliberate acts. Alexandria is one of only two jurisdictions out of 24 regional governments, the other being the District of Columbia, to give in to development demands by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. The Montgomery County Executive rejected the same proposal, citing “Koch bros policy” in hyper density advocacy, and the attendant loss of diversity and affordability.
For now, density outcomes remain subject to current zoning requirements. Yet some in the city want to do away with public guardrails completely and remove the last checks that could stymie runaway policy consuming the final table scraps of undeveloped land in Alexandria.
It’s important in this time of high housing costs to discuss density and its effects on diversity and affordability. Alexandrians overwhelmingly support affordability and diversity. The city’s hyper-density obsession, however, achieves neither. Rage-filled attacks and demagoguery, which the Alexandria Times itself has rightly condemned, should have no place in our community dialogue on these issues.
The soul of Alexandria resides in its many diverse neighborhoods. All residents deserve a say in city density.
-Frank Putzu, Alexandria