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Climate and affordable housing take centerstage in Alexandria’s first budget hearing of 2022

Nathaly Zelaya from Tenants at a City Council meeting on March 7, image via City of Alexandriaand Workers United

Alexandria kicked off a discussion of the FY 2023 budget with a public hearing last night (Monday), where climate and housing advocates pushed for the city’s budget to do more to address these issues.

There was little feedback from the City Council in the 45-minute session as the floor was mostly turned over to public speakers.

Kathie Hoekstra, chair of the Environmental Policy Commission, expressed disappointment that the budget didn’t do more to tackle the climate emergency declared in 2019.

“I’m confused because in 2019 you declared a climate emergency and… called for urgent action,” said Hoekstra. “You then committed to taking the following actions: ending greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible, underscoring the need for full community participation, inclusion and support, and being integral to and in the leadership of the mobilization effort. I’m confused because I don’t see that in the current proposed budget.”

Several other speakers at the meeting echoed Hoekstra’s comments, saying the city’s progress on its climate reforms leave something to be desired.

“So I’m left with a couple of questions: why have we not learned to integrate both climate issues and equity issues into all decisions the city makes?” Hoekstra said. “Let me be clear, there are solutions where you don’t have to choose between addressing the climate crisis or affordable housing or any other high priority item. You have incredible city staff members in planning and zoning and the energy apartment, they know the right thing to do they just need your support.”

Hoekstra called for a requirement that city staff integrates climate and equity considerations into every project, plan or proposal. Hoekstra also requested that all new developments asking for bonus density or height be required to certain energy use intensity standards.

The other topics pushed by several speakers were a higher priority on affordable housing support and a return of the old argument about eliminating school resource officers.

An Alexandria City High School student spoke about school resource officers, saying minority students shouldn’t have to see a police officer when entering the school.

Nathaly Zelaya, a community organizer with Tenants and Workers United, asked that the new City Council reverse the previous Council’s decision to reinstate school resource officers and dedicate that funding to mental health programs instead.

Zelaya and other public speakers also asked the City Council to invest more heavily in affordable housing with increases from property tax revenue and an increase in the city’s meals tax.

“We hope our community will be reflected as a priority,” Zelaya said. “We ask the council to prioritize deeply affordable housing for households earning 30% AMI and below in Arlandria and raise the meals tax from 5% to 6% and increasing property tax revenue dedicate to affordable housing from 0.6 cents to a full penny.”

Zelaya also asked that additional American Rescue Plan Act funding be invested into Alexandria Housing Development Corporation projects in Arlandria and the West End.

Budget adoption is scheduled for May 4, with several more work sessions and hearings planned before then.

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