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New Report Recommends Making Voluntary Affordable Housing Contributions Mandatory in Alexandria

If you want to build bonus density, office-to-housing conversions, or continuum of care facilities in Alexandria, a new report says you should have to pony up a little extra cash to support affordable housing.

Trading density and other exceptions to zoning code for a contribution to the affordable housing fund has been a longstanding practice in Alexandria and other localities, but the new “Update to the City’s Affordable Housing Contribution Policies and Procedures” being presented at Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting includes a recommendation push for that system to be codified.

“Over the past decade the voluntary monetary contributions based on development potential has become a standardized formula within the City and it is a practice by which most developers abide,” a memo attached to the report said. “However, contributions pertaining to bonus density (particularly when a rezoning is involved), office to housing conversations, and continuum of care facilities were vague and open to negotiation.”

The memo continued, “This uncertainty makes it difficult for the development community to build these contributions into their land costs and provides for various outcomes among different projects. While not everyone agrees on the level of contributions for each project type, the recommendations as drafted by staff provide clarity on the anticipated contributions for various project times and will result in additional affordable housing monetary contributions or units, particularly when additional density is provided.”

The staff report notes that the last time the plan was updated — in 2011 — the contribution required for bonus density was left to be determined on a case-by-case basis. The report noted that this did little to provide clarity for developers, so a new system was devised in the current update that broke additional density into sections requiring different levels of contribution. The amount of contribution scales directly with the amount of bonus density sought.

The report also outlines requirements for contributions in converted housing developments or in senior care facilities, neither of which had been previously codified.

But even if the recommendations are approved by the Planning Commission and City Council, the update notes that the Dillon Rule requires that the changes be taken to the state.

“Staff recommends that Planning Commission review and City Council approve the implementation tasks and next steps identified in this report,” the report said, “including a recommendation that the City seek legislative authority through the Virginia General Assembly to make affordable housing monetary contributions mandatory.”

Staff photo by Airey

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