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Planning Asks: Is The Housing Trust Fund Working?

July 18, 2002

Is Alexandria's Housing Trust Fund encouraging or discouraging the creation of affordable housing in the City? That was one of the answers sought by the Planning Commission at its July 2 meeting.

As of May 31, 2002 the cumulative total of all Alexandria's Housing Trust Fund [HTF] revenue topped $12.7 million. Expenditures, since its inception in 1993, have exceeded $7.7 million.

This accounting, along with a total analysis of efforts to increase the city's affordable housing inventory, was presented to the Commission by Mildrilyn Stephens Davis, Director, Alexandria Office of Housing in response to a request by Commissioner Ludwig P. Gaines to gain clarification "of just what is happening in affordable housing throughout the city and how the Trust Fund functions."

It was also triggered by the June 15 action of City Council raising developer contributions to the fund from 50 cents to $1 per gross square foot of a proposed development. But is money or set-aside units the ultimate answer?

"We often vote thumbs up or down on a particular development based on the proposed contribution to the Trust Fund. I view our role with regard to the Trust Fund as being far more than just perfunctory," Gaines said.

"I wanted to know just how successful we've been in creating affordable housing within the city. There are few problems that have reached such a crisis level as affordable housing. That's why I made a specific request to staff that we be given such a report," he emphasized.

IN MAKING THE presentation, Davis noted that since the adoption of the Affordable Housing Policy, "89 development projects have been approved by the City with Affordable Housing Plans and/or Housing Trust Fund obligations."

The report explained that, "Among these are 79 projects that have made pledges to the Housing Trust Fund; nine projects have submitted Affordable Housing Plans, of which three also provided a ... contribution in lieu of one or more pledged units; and one assisted living facility (Sunrise), which has agreed for the life of the project to accept one client receiving the State's Auxiliary Grant ..."

There are five completed projects within the city that were approved with affordable housing and/or Trust Fund pledges prior to the adoption of the policy in 1993. Of these, three have fully satisfied their pledges to the Fund; one has satisfied its pledge by providing affordable set-aside sales units; and one has satisfied all but $9,000 of its $156,000 pledge, according to the report.

Commissioner John Komoroske raised the question, "Is there any way to tell how this report translates to how many people have been helped?" Davis responded in the negative.

She also responded negatively to Commissioner Donna Fossum's question as to whether there was any connection between affordable housing and public housing. That brought forth Fossum's response, "We need land acutely on which to build affordable housing. We should encourage developers to give land."

This was buttressed by Gaines who said, "There is a certain level of frustration that sets in because we are limited as to what can be done about this problem. The frustration lies in the fact that its very hard to get our arms wrapped around this problem.

"The impact we have is limited in scope. It's a regional problem. We're not alone in this."

THAT ANALYSIS was born out by a memorandum dated Feb. 14, 2002, to the mayor and City Council from City Manager Philip Sunderland. It pertained to a resolution No. R41-01, proposed by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) concerning regional housing matters.

Sunderland's memo explained, "Last year, at the request of the COG Board of Directors, two COG committees and the independent, COG-supported Washington Area Housing Partnership (WAHP), chaired by Alexandria Mayor Kerry J. Donley, investigated policy and best practices to address affordable housing challenges in the Washington metropolitan region."

The WAHP report, entitled "A Case for a Regional Housing Trust Fund," printed with Donley's endorsement, recommended "the development of a regional housing trust fund to be established and capitalized with seed money from federal, state and private sources and to receive ongoing operational and administrative funds from local governments," according to the Sunderland memo.

COG's resolution, adopted Nov. 14, 2001, authorized COG, in partnership with WAHP, "to solicit federal and private sector funding for the establishment and capitalization of a regional housing trust fund," the memo noted.

The memo's final paragraph notes,"Council endorsement of COG Resolution No. R41-01 does not signify a current or future commitment of city resources to COG or WAHP or any COG or WAHP-sponsored regional initiatives ... except for the regional housing trust fund."