Nine City Council candidates each spoke briefly at Thursday’s Alexandria Housing Action forum. They included four Democrats, Paul Smedberg, Ludwig Gaines, Redella Pepper and Timothy Lovain and five Republicans Pat Troy, Ken Foran, Bernie Schulz, Townsend Van Fleet and Craig Miller who attempted to define their positions on housing in response to comments raised at the forum. Mary Riley read a prepared statement from Democrat Robert Krupicka.
The candidates, who were forced to speak quickly because of the timer that measured their allotted three minutes, were unanimous in their support for Housing Action’s Agenda, but sometimes differed over how to achieve its goals.
The key is getting the community behind the initiative, Smedberg said. "The majority of people are not convinced that affordable housing is something the community should do."
But Gaines disagreed with the need to wait for the public, and stressed the urgency of the problem. "This is a problem that goes to the core of who we are and who we will be as a city," he said. "I don’t care about convincing communities," Gaines continued. "In our desire to convince we become immobilized. We need to act."
Miller took issue directly with Gaines’ assertion, citing the need "to get the public behind you." He approached the problem from the perspective of a former loan officer, whom city workers would visit to enquire about finding "a creative way to get [them] into a house in Alexandria." He said this was becoming increasingly difficult to do.
Van Fleet focused on the "Hunting Towers fiasco" as a microcosm of the housing issues that plague Alexandria. He stressed that the City Council must work to prevent a similar situation, in which VDOT took control of a large apartment building, from occurring again. He also expressed his support for Housing Action. "I applaud everyone who has something to do with this organization," he said.
Several candidates suggested specific ways to address the housing shortage. Schulz promised he will "work to address the double digit [tax] assessments that have plagued this community for years."
Speaking for Krupicka, Riley cited a new housing loan program for city employees, and called for more investment in Metro and DASH, as well as reform of the "regressive property tax system."
Lovain brought up "the dedicated penny," the one penny out of each dollar raised in property taxes that would go toward funding affordable housing, as one example of the work the council had already done to address the issue. He also pointed out the need to talk to the people who actually needed the housing, "before we decide what they want."
Pepper focused on the energy with which she herself confronted the problem and which she saw the forum participants bringing as well. "We have a Yes Team," she said.
Troy said he agreed with everything, condemned unaffordable housing as a cause of bad traffic, advocated standing up for the poor and ended by saying, "Whatever it takes, we’ve got to do it."
Foran raised the topic of students who graduate from universities such as James Madison or Radford, find well-paying jobs in the city, and arrive only to discover that they must share an apartment with three other people. He pointed out that Rome fell when wealth disparities made city life unsustainable. "I’m not suggesting Alexandria’s going to fall," he said, chuckling, "but it’s a bad sign when your workers can’t live in your city."
For more information on the City Council candidates’ position on affordable housing, visit www.housingaction.net.