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City Poised to Tackle Affordable Housing Head On

Recommendations made to City Council.

Achieving affordable housing in the city remains elusive, but in November, the affordable housing work group reported to City Council recommending the formation of a community housing development corporation to explore a variety of options in Alexandria.

The group has met for several months and was chaired by former Mayor Kerry J. Donley. He presented the recommendation to Council.

“We need a vehicle that can look at a variety of affordable housing options and put together approaches that are innovative, but we don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Donley said. “There are a number of housing corporations in the area, such as the one in Arlington, that have been very successful. We can use their expertise to help us in Alexandria.”

The mission of the proposed organization is to produce and preserve affordable housing — primarily, but not limited to, multifamily rental housing. It is intended that housing provided through the efforts of this organization will remain affordable in perpetuity. The City of Alexandria will be the organization’s primary focus.

This multifamily rental housing will be designed to serve households with incomes up to 60 percent of the metropolitan area’s median income and will be designed to serve a range of incomes within this category. Some projects may be of mixed income, with rents paid by higher-income, market-rate tenants helping to subsidize rents for others. For-sale units may serve households with higher incomes, but no greater than 100 percent of the area’s median income.

THE PROPOSED organization would carry out several types of activities. These might include development or preservation of affordable housing opportunities through acquisition/rehabilitation of existing properties; development of new affordable housing opportunities through site acquisition and new construction; and provision for the operation and management of such housing, which may include the provision of resident services.

The working group proposed that the new organization be run by a nine- to 13-member board of directors. “It is really important that this board have knowledge of how to put together housing deals,” said A. Melvin Miller, the chair of the Alexandria Redevelopment Housing Authority and a member of the working group.

“This type of organization needs much more than people who know how to go to meetings and talk. The composition of the board of directors will determine whether the organization is successful in fulfilling its mission.”

THE WORKING group proposed a first-year budget of $322,755. This covers an executive director and an administrative assistant, the hiring of technical assistance from outside experts and miscellaneous office expenses.

Funding for affordable housing projects would come from a variety of local, state, federal and private funds, including community development block grant money, ARHA, the City of Alexandria and others.

“This organization should by no means be considered the entire answer to all of the affordable housing questions,” Donley said. “It is one vehicle that can be used to facilitate certain projects.”

Miller agreed, saying, “It’s not a panacea. But it is certainly a good step in the right direction. I’m just sorry we didn’t do this 20 years ago.”

City Council will establish the new organization and appoint the board of directors sometime early next year.