This year’s Democratic primary race between current Mayor Allison Silberberg and current Vice-Mayor Justin Wilson will decide who will be our next mayor. That, it appears, is a sad choice when it comes to affordable housing. Both have served on City Council as 12,000 units of affordable housing have been lost over the last decade, despite affordable housing being a “top strategic initiative” for the council.
There is no shortcut — affordable housing costs money.
Now before the council is a plan to raise $4.75 million for affordable housing. A 1 percent increase in the meals tax would bring 70 percent of its money from non-residents. It adds 30 cents to a $30 meal. Alexandria’s meals tax is below meals tax rates in 40 other Virginia jurisdictions. Despite all this, both candidates for mayor are coming up with transparently bad reasons not to increase the meals tax.
Mayor Silberberg has suggested a “voluntary” contribution for housing at restaurants instead of a tax. What’s next? Voluntary property taxes? Voluntary parking meters? A budget reflects the council’s values and priorities. It’s what left after all the rhetoric is boiled away. When it comes to affordable housing Mayor Silberberg suggests the equivalent of a basket and a bell ringer at each restaurant.
Vice Mayor Wilson’s suggestion is much more subtle. He argues against any set asides, proposing that each year the council should debate anew — without its hands tied — where to spend our money. Meanwhile, affordable housing has all but disappeared in the City of Alexandria. While the city falls far behind its own affordable housing goals, the vice mayor is using a technocratic excuse against set asides. He needs to get off the fence. Will he support the $4.75 million or more annually needed for affordable housing? Will he support increasing the meals tax to pay for it?
Failing to make tough choices is failing the range of people who are being priced out of Alexandria each year. Let’s hope one or both candidates for mayor step up to the plate and support the meals tax increase.
Board Member, Tenants and Workers United, Alexandria