Co-locating affordable and workforce housing is off the table at Douglas MacArthur Elementary School, but it will be considered at all future schools slated for renovation.
That’s according to Alexandria City Public Schools officials and city staff who spoke to parents and community advocates at the school on Monday night.
The school board is set to vote on a concept plan for MacArthur on Thursday, Feb. 6, and Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Jr., said that in order for the school to meet its construction timeline of opening in Jan. 2023, all discussions of co-locating housing at the school have been shelved. However, the upcoming staff presentation on MacArthur says that smaller-scale options like installing recreational programming and facilities is still being considered.
“Douglas MacArthur will not have affordable housing at this project due to the timing constraints that we need to really stick to,” Hutchings said, adding that ACPS needs to define what co-locating means on school grounds. “If it’s going to be at a school site, what would that look like? What are the outcomes we’re seeking, and what are the benefits as well as the challenges with that so that we are able to articulate that when times of discussing the projects?”
City Manager Mark Jinks also attended the MacArthur meeting, and said that the city is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis.
Co-locating services on school grounds has been done before, Jinks said, noting that William Ramsay Elementary School (5700 Sanger Ave) includes a recreation center and a nature center. Jinks has backed the idea of housing ACPS employees at schools that develop on-site housing alternatives.
“The whole idea is not new. The intent is to get the best use of our community assets,” Jinks said. “We don’t have a plethora of land to build horizontally that we would wish.”
Christine Coussens, a MacArthur parent, said Jinks’ example was a far cry from co-locating affordable housing on school grounds.
“We’re a school first,” Coussens said. “The examples that you have given are toward recreation. That supports our students. So, putting something forward, talking about co-localization and affordable housing is disingenuous to our community.”
Alexandria City Councilwoman Amy Jackson, who is also a MacArthur parent, said there has been a lack of transparency between the city and the public on the issue. Jackson is also a member of the MacArthur Modernization Design Advisory Committee.
“There hasn’t been the transparency — the communication — needed between the city and ACPS to actually say, ‘This is what we’re doing,'” Jackson told ALXnow. “There is a lack of communication and outreach in the community to get the word out. That’s it. If everybody knows what’s going on no one’s going to be frustrated, no one’s going to be annoyed, no one’s going to be upset and then be raging like the rest of the parents here at MacArthur.”
Alexandria has been challenged to produce or develop 2,000 affordable housing units by 2025, and an additional 1,950 units by 2030 in order to meet its housing goal. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments has set a goal for the region to produce 320,000 affordable housing units in that period.
The school system recently apologized to the community after board members appeared blindsided by news that ACPS staff had been working with the city to include co-locating housing at George Mason Elementary School and Cora Kelly School. Last week, Hutchings issued another public apology at a joint meeting between city and school officials, and said that the proposals that the school board will receive regarding MacArthur will not include housing co-location.
The MacArthur PTA released survey results on this issue last week, and found that 70 percent of respondents were against the co-location of affordable or workforce housing on school grounds. Days later, the city and ACPS released a joint statement that it was no longer under consideration at the school.
“A contributing factor was the need to develop more details about how housing co-location for ACPS employees might work,” the statement says. “We recognize that building housing on school sites is out-of-the-box thinking that could help address to a small degree both the City’s affordable/workforce housing production shortage, as well as ACPS employee recruitment and retention.”
Shirley Marshall, whose child attends Jefferson Houston School, attended the MacArthur meeting as one of the few supporters of weighing affordable housing on school grounds.
“I do think that Douglas MacArthur should be treated the same as the other schools in the system that need to have this considered,” Marshall said. “There’s a really desperate need for housing.”
Mignon Anthony, the school system’s chief operating officer, said that MacArthur’s schedule is too tight to add such a consideration into the mix.
“If we had additional time, we would then be able to explore to determine if it is feasible or not,” Anthony said. “We will have to pursue it on all the other monetization projects, though, that ACPS is currently undergoing.”
The city council and school board will discuss co-location at the March 4 budget work session.