Alexandria, VA

Tying affordable housing funding to meals tax seemed like a safe bet in 2018, but with restaurants facing a dramatic loss in revenue due to coronavirus, affordable housing is out $1 million in the new budget.

According to the budget:

Due to the re-estimate of anticipated revenue from the Restaurant Meals Tax, the associated expenditure for the dedicated 1% for Affordable Housing will be reduced accordingly.

While the $1 million loss hurts, Helen McIlvaine, director of the city’s Office of Housing, said that there’s still some funding — notably $5.8 million (page 2.13) related to Amazon — that will allow the office to continue pursuing affordable housing goals.

“We’re not taking anything for granted, we’re pleased that the money we will start the year with is mostly intact,” McIlvaine said. “The million dollars, while we’re sorry not to have that, given the impact on local business it’s an accurate reflection.”

Alexandria is currently experiencing an affordable housing crisis, and the city has pledged to produce or develop 2,000 affordable housing units by 2025. The city has also agreed to produce an additional 1,950 units by 2030 in order to meet its regional housing goal set by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, which aims for the region to produce 320,000 affordable housing units.

The $1 million budget loss doesn’t give the Office of Housing any room to slow down.

“Like we saw with the recession, there will be even more people who are in precarious positions,” McIlvaine said. “On Saturday there is a public hearing and one of the items on the docket is (that) we’ve received $671,000 in additional federal money as part of the COVID stimulus and we’re going to ask the council to allow us to use that to provide rental assistance to help sustain property operations at nonprofit properties.”

McIlvaine said her office has been working with nonprofit partners and property owners to buy time for payment plans and to get access to the right resources.

“We had been making calls this week and most of the property owners are doing that,” McIlvaine said. “People understand that this is a really hard time.”

Still, as much as the Office of Housing can work to try to keep people in their homes, McIlvaine said the economic impacts of coronavirus means there’s likely to be even more people after this is over who need access to affordable housing.

“We want to make sure we are poised to act if there are opportunities,” McIlvaine said. “This will shift the landscape, and sometimes that’s our opportunity. People say ‘I don’t want to be in this business anymore’ or whatever it is. There was some of that during the recession but we weren’t really in a place where we were able to be proactive.”

The budget is docketed (Item 3) for discussion at tomorrow’s (Saturday) City Council meeting.

Photo via City of Alexandria

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