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To Council: It's a Start

Coalition explores leveraging money for affordable housing.

City Council got a written thank you for its action on the recent budget adoption and an element of the tax package that accompanied it.

Housing Action, a citizen's coalition to create more affordable housing, presented a letter of "deep gratitude" to City Councilman Ludwig Gaines for the council's action to dedicate one cent of the real property tax and a portion of the recordation tax "to preserve affordable housing." The presentation took place during the group's meeting June 15 at Westminster Presbyterian Church.

"Council's action reflects the high priority that our entire community places on maintaining a supply of housing that can support a vibrant and diverse community," according to the letter signed by Nancy Carson and James Hoben, co-chairs, Housing Action.

"Already many of our community's workers — including firefighters, teachers, police officers, and health care professionals — are being forced to move out of town .... Without a coordinated, sustained effort to combat current trends, Alexandria will soon become a city of only two classes: the very wealthy and the poor living in public housing," it stated.

"It's because of organizations like you that we found the political will to do this. This is to protect many who have lived here all their lives and are now facing a potential moving van due to escalating property taxes," Gaines said in accepting the letter of thanks on behalf of the mayor and council.

The one cent dedication is estimated to produce approximately $3.65 million in revenue. "We are also hoping that other revenues will be freed up for this purpose," Carson said.

"We are very aware of how hard city staff is working to deal with all the things on their plate. And we are extremely honored and humbled by all the groups forming around the Housing Action coalition," Hoben said.

"No matter if we are poor or rich, we have to rally around this issue. Now we have to decide how to move from these very important decisions by council to a commitment to action," he said.

Hoben said, "About five percent of the apartments in the city have been bought by developers who are converting them to condominiums. We need to leverage this money from the tax into at least $36 million if we are going to buy property for affordable housing," Hoben said.

HE IDENTIFIED three areas of necessary action:

* Develop a housing preservation action plan.

* Multiply and leverage the one cent dedicated funds.

* Build new public/private implementation partnerships.

"One year from now we should be able to say we have saved 200 units," Hoben said.

"We are trying to figure out how we can acquire more units. It would be easy for this money to be used up on existing programs. We want it to go to preserve affordable units," Carson said.

"Developing a strategic plan to preserve affordable units is fine, but we are at such a crisis in Alexandria now we are losing," said A. Melvin Miller, chair, Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority. He suggested looking at ARHA's Glebe Park units as a possibility for increasing the inventory of affordable units.

"We [ARHA] can't continue to carry it [Glebe Park] with Section 8 funds due to HUD's recent rulings. Something's going to happen and it's not going to be nice," Miller told the group.

There are 152 total units at Glebe Park, according to William Dearman, ARHA executive director. Of that, 40 units are public housing and 112 are affordable market rate units. "The section 8 units are included in that 112," Dearman said.

Hoben asked Miller if the city had a team formed "to get the job done on housing."

Miller responded, "There isn't a set group. But, as a result of The Berg project we have established a working group ... it's an ad hoc thing."

Fran Becker of Carpenter's Shelter and a member of Housing Action's steering committee said, "What's critical is to talk about affordable housing within the various civic associations throughout the city." She urged all those present to become involved with their civic associations.

Both Carson and Hoben emphasized that since council "voted unanimously to dedicate revenue for workforce housing ... now all of us must share ideas and energy to produce units. We need education efforts, location surveys, consideration of new policy steps, and a lot of organizing."