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Charter Change Plan Draws Concerns

A proposed change to the City of Alexandria’s charter that would allow the city to subsidize housing for city and public school employees brought a great deal of protest from citizens at a recent Council meeting.

"Arlington County has a program similar to this and it has worked very well,” said Mayor William D. Euille. The program would offer low-interest loans or grants to employees who would like to live in Alexandria but who cannot afford to do so. “It would allow our police officers and school teachers to live in the city and not have to commute,” Euille said.

The city is required to ask the General Assembly to grant the charter change because of Virginia’s Dillon Rule. This rule states that the legislature retains all powers that are not specifically granted to localities. If the city wishes to use public funds to subsidize housing for its employees, the legislature must agree.

There was no estimate as to the potential cost to the city, should this be enacted.

Many residents spoke in opposition to the proposal. “When I asked about the reasoning behind this proposal, I was told that it was to help city employees be more involved in the city and get more familiar with what is going on in the city,” said Dennis Simmons.

“It seems to me that city employees should be familiar with the issues and shouldn’t have to be subsidized for home purchase or rental. How many city employees have actually left because they have a long commute? It seems to me that they receive generous benefits with health and retirement insurance and don’t need housing subsidy.”

Richard Klingermaier agreed, saying, “Federal and private sector employers don’t subsidize rental or purchase of homes. It’s the way things are in the area today. If you can’t afford a home near where you work, you stay in the home you have or move. The average city employee makes $52,000 and even if you include this program in your charter, city employees won’t be able to afford to live here.”

LOCAL ATTORNEY Duncan Blair, supports the charter change. “As the city begins to adopt affordable housing initiatives, it’s important that the vehicles be in place to provide such programs,” he said.

“The question of providing loans and grants to city employees requires an ethical analysis,” Simmons said. “Such a program may benefit the city but at what cost to the taxpayer? What is the cost to the city and what is the quantifiable benefit?

“I do not believe that the city government should be involved in the housing business. If you wish to make homes in the city more available to city employees, pay them more,” he said.

Robert Kubal had a different perspective on this. “Taxes are the price you pay for civilization,” he said. “All the city Council is asking is for the right to make this kind of decision here and not have it made in Richmond. It’s up to us to decide whether we want to support our teachers. Richmond has too much authority already. Bring it back to Alexandria. Take back your charter rights.”

Euille assured everyone that nothing would be done without a thorough discussion with the public. “Right now, this program is simply a concept,” he said. “Nothing will be done without through analysis and public discussion.”

The proposed charter change is part of the city’s legislative package that will be considered during the upcoming session of the Virginia General Assembly.