Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Funds for Housing in Alexandria

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Funds for Housing in Alexandria

On Wednesday, April 11, the Alexandria Housing Affordability Advisory Committee (AHAAC) submitted the following statement, outlining FY 2019 funding and budget recommendations, to the city council.

The deficit of affordable housing in Alexandria constitutes a “deferred maintenance” infrastructure crisis for our city’s families and overall socioeconomic health, resulting from inadequate past investment. In keeping with our mandate, AHAAC seeks to weigh in publicly with what we believe would comprise the handful of most decisive, impactful ways to strengthen the city’s affordable housing ecology. In doing so, we also seek to clarify the public discourse about housing affordability.


Sufficient, Consistent, Reliable, Annual

  • The city made a modest commitment to create or preserve 2,000 affordable units by 2025. A Dec. 19 memo from the city manager indicates a $66 million shortfall. Closing the gap would require an additional $10 million per year on average over the next 7 years, including FY 2019, for new unit development and preservation.

  • This invariably requires a combination of means: (1) supplemental dedicated revenue; (2) inclusion in the Capital Improvement Program; and (3) the study of potential opportunity costs. Of the five new revenue options presented to council on Feb. 25, we prefer, in this order, the meals tax, transient lodging tax, vehicle tax, and real estate tax. The voluntary “round up” proposal would not produce consistent, reliable, or sufficient revenue. The meals and lodging taxes appropriately focus on business sectors whose employees especially would benefit from affordable housing options.

  • The Housing Master Plan (HMP) states: “Addressing the goals of this [HMP] can best be done with a consistent, reliable source of annual funding.” Direct project funding, reasonably predictable several years in advance, remains the city’s highest impact tool to create and preserve units. While set-aside programs like bonus density are important and useful, they are secondary tools. Set-aside programs do not create enough units to be relied upon primarily to meet the HMP’s goals. We cannot escape the reality that this crisis requires more public resources.

  • We urge all stakeholders to stay focused on our commonly desired end, and to rise above an intractable disagreement about preferred means. Dedicated revenue and budget appropriation both have an affirmative role to play toward reaching our shared goal of a diverse housing stock; either method alone will likely not yield enough resources. The city’s objective urgently requires the give-and-take of aisle-crossing compromise. All methods have pros and cons. All are limited, in that council has the authority to revisit any prior decision about the budget, tax-and-fee structure, or specific mode of general obligation debt service at least once per year.

We request a fall work session with council to discuss these and potentially other recommendations.

Alexandria Housing Affordability Advisory Committee