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Votes

Maintaining a Viable and Diverse Community

Maintaining a Viable Community

The following letter to Alexandria City Council concerning housing and human services budget recommendations from the Alexandria Budget Advocacy Coalition for Housing and Human Services is shared with the Alexandria Gazette Packet.

As you consider the FY 2015 proposed city budget, we urge you to make additional and needed investments in housing, health and human services programs. These recommendations were developed through a collaborative process of nonprofit housing developers, human service providers, and advocacy organizations identifying community needs and then making recommendations for the FY 2015 budget. Our organizations work daily with many vulnerable families who live and work in Alexandria. It will take both the public and private sectors, working together, to secure the resources critical to these working families and at-risk individuals in our community. We believe that strategic public investments in housing and human services can leverage significant amounts of private capital to provide an excellent return on the city’s investment to maintain a viable and diverse community. The guiding principles that informed our decisions are as follows:

  • No one recommendation takes priority over the others;
  • Each recommendation funds a program that is an essential component of a system of housing and services that offers individuals and families in need the optimum chances for success;
  • These recommendations support a wide spectrum of households along the housing continuum;
  • No funding for new initiatives is requested. Instead, these recommendations fund coordinated efforts between housing and service providers to deliver critical safety net supports with maximum efficiency and adoption of best practices.

Our recommendations are as follows:

Healthy and Thriving Residents

Rental Subsidy Program: We support the City Manager’s addition of $240,000 for Senior/Disabled Rent Relief in the proposed budget. The current budget for rent relief is $272,177, and has not changed since FY2007. This program supports approximately 80 households annually who are income-eligible elderly or disabled renters. The maximum subsidy will be capped at $500/month, serving households that earn no more than $25,600 annually. This funding will provide support for approximately 30 additional households.

Homeless Prevention Services: We request an addition of $100,000 for Homeless Prevention Services in the proposed budget. This program has expended approximately $293,000 YTD, and prevented 206 people from becoming homeless. While length of time for assistance varies, the average shelter costs for individuals are approximately $3,800 per person compared to the average subsidy for homeless prevention of $1,400 per person. Keeping families and individuals in their homes is clearly of greater benefit, and more cost effective. However, this program has run out of funding, and can no longer be strategic for providing prevention services. Therefore we urge additional funding for this program in FY2015.

Disposition of the Aspen and Grayson Properties: Two city-owned or city-financed properties used as transitional housing for eight CSB clients and clients dealing with substance abuse are no longer in use for those purposes, and the disposition of the properties is uncertain. As noted in the Housing Master Plan, “there is an unmet need of 795 affordable housing units for persons with disabilities in Alexandria, and locating residential programs for CSB clients and/or homeless individuals is a community challenge.” Currently, however, there is neighborhood acceptance for these two facilities. As a result, we urge the Council to direct the City Manager and appropriate staff to work with nonprofits in the community to continue their use for residential programs focused on these hard- to-serve populations.

Alexandria Fund for Human Services: We respectfully request that the funding for the Alexandria Fund for Human Services (AFHS) for FY2015 be restored to the FY2014 level, increasing the City Manager’s proposed budget by $111,829. A 5.5 percent decrease, following six consecutive years of level funding by the city, is a significant cut. City funds strengthen the ability of the nonprofit community to leverage private resources, in-kind donations, and volunteer hours from private citizens, the faith community, the business community, and foundations. This loss of funds will have a significant negative impact on programs delivered by our nonprofit organizations and, more importantly, those who are most vulnerable in our community.

JobLink Employment Services: We note the reduction in funding for employment services for adults through JobLink. Employment training and job placement are critical to the success of families and individuals to thrive and achieve greater self-sufficiency. However, this program was not helpful for many of the households we serve. We urge the city to support employment programs that address the challenges of very low income persons with high barriers to employment –language skills, life skills, basic educational deficiencies, criminal histories, etc. Initiatives that engage potential employers and community colleges with nonprofit organizations offer the best opportunities to train residents in the life and professional skills they need and place them in jobs. We would welcome the opportunity to work with city staff to explore new opportunities to address this goal.

Livable, Green and Prospering City

Homeownership

We support the City Manager’s addition of $214,000 for five additional loans to low and moderate income Alexandria residents, noting that this is an increase above the four loans made in the last fiscal year. A key provision of the Housing Master Plan is to “provide and support affordable and workforce home purchase opportunities for Alexandria residents and workers.” We hope that a way can be found to support a housing counselor, either by the city or outsourced to a third party. This homeownership education involving all aspects of home purchase and financing is critical to successful homeownership by reducing the incidence of delinquent mortgage payments or foreclosures.

Affordable Housing and the Adopted Goal of 2,000 newly committed units by 2025

Securing decent, affordable housing in Alexandria remains one of the greatest challenges for low and moderate income households, many of whom are employed full-time. Consider the following statistics from the Housing Master Plan:

  • Over 6,000 market affordable rental units lost from 2000 –2010;
  • Over 12,000 affordable ownership units lost to increased property values in the same period;
  • The analysis of future housing needs shows a net deficit of approximately 15,000 units by 2030 for households earning at or below 60 percent of the area median income;
  • The shortage of units in all bedroom sizes for households earning at or below 30 percent of area median income is approximately 3,500 units.

We applaud the Council’s unanimous approval of the Housing Master Plan, and adoption of the goal to preserve or build 2,000 units by 2025. Securing 800 units of committed affordable housing at Beauregard was a significant accomplishment, but given the tremendous documented need for housing that is affordable, we urge the Council not to include these units — which were committed in 2012 — in the 2000 unit goal beginning in FY2015.

To support new construction or preservation of affordable rental housing, we urge City Council to consider a long-term, annual investment in housing which can leverage private funding to meet housing goals. The proposed FY15 Office of Housing budget provides a total of $3.4 million available to develop or preserve new affordable rental housing, and increase the city’s committed affordable housing stock. This breaks down into the following categories:

  • Housing Trust Fund: $2,135,000
  • Federal funding: $833,980 (HOME funds)
  • General fund: $490,000 (.06 cents of real estate tax)

The majority of Housing Trust Fund monies is one time carryover funding from FY14, and 25 percent of this $3.4 million allocation is federal funding which is declining. We appreciate the continued commitment of the .06 cents of the real estate tax, and would urge allocation of additional funding in FY2016 as federal dollars continue to shrink. As affordable housing developers seek opportunities in the city, they will need an annual, reliable source of public funding to leverage their financing and bridge the gap to provide rents to moderate income households. The proposed funding for FY2015 is barely adequate for a 50-unit development, and would not support additional development opportunities.

This coalition appreciates the significant budget challenges for FY2015, and thanks you for your commitment to address our concerns for those in our community who are homeless, elderly or disabled, or simply low and moderate income workers who struggle to keep up with the cost of living in Alexandria. We stand ready to work with you to maintain the critical safety net of services and make the city a safe and prosperous place for all Alexandrians, regardless of income or ability.

AHC, Inc, Walter Webdale, President and CEO

Alexandria’s Economic Opportunities Commission, Dipti Pidikiti-Smith, Chair

Alexandria Housing Development Corporation, Daniel Abramson, Chairman of the Board

Alexandria NAACP, LaDonna Sanders, President

Arlington-Alexandria Coalition for the Homeless, Michael O’Rourke, Executive Director

ALIVE!, Ken Naser, Executive Director and Ellen Brown, Board President

Carpenter’s Shelter, Lissette Bishins, Executive Director

Community Lodgings, Lynn Thomas, Executive Director

Friends of Guest House, Kari Galloway, Executive Director

Governing Board for the Partnership to Prevent and End Homelessness, Pam Michell and Lissette Bishins, co-chairs

Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia, Jon Smoot, Executive Director

K.I. Services, Inc, Yvonne Williams, Executive Director

New Hope Housing, Pam Michell, Executive Director

Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance, Michelle Krocker, Executive Director

Northern Virginia Family Service, Mary Agee, President and CEO

Rebuilding Together Alexandria, Katharine Dixon, President and CEO and Donald Holley, Chairman of the Board

Wesley Housing Development Corporation, Shelley Murphy, President and CEO