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New regional plan offers significant steps to boost affordable housing in Alexandria

A rendering of Wesley Housing’s affordable housing project ParcView II at 5380 Holmes Run Parkway. (Via Wesley Housing)

(Updated 4 p.m) Alexandria and several other localities have released an executive summary for a Regional Fair Housing Plan that not only provides some goals for housing but comes with a look at specific zoning changes that can be made to help get the region to those goals.

The plan was put together by a team comprising representatives from eight localities, including Alexandria, along with a few partner groups. A 60-day public comment period is scheduled to run through March 31 to allow locals to submit their thoughts on the plan.

Many of the goals have been frequent talking points in Alexandria City Council meetings in recent years, but others are ideas that go significantly beyond current policy in the city.

The goals laid out in the Regional Fair Housing Plan are:

  1. Increase the supply of affordable housing for families earning at or below 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI) for the region – especially where there hasn’t been any.
  2. Change zoning and land use policies to expand access to fair housing. Increase the development, geographic distribution, and supply of affordable housing.
  3. Implement policies to preserve affordable housing and prevent displacement of residents. Keep the same number of existing affordable rental units in our region.
  4. Increase the number of homeowners in the region and reduce the unequal treatment and discriminatory practices that keep members of protected classes from buying a home.
  5. Protect the housing rights of individuals who are part of protected groups. For example, people of color, those with disabilities and seniors.
  6. Increase community integration and reduce housing barriers for people with disabilities.
  7. Make public transit easier to access and afford for members of protected classes.

Each of the goals also had substantial strategies listed to help localities achieve them, including a variety of zoning changes. Some of those changes, for example, involved not only reducing zoning limitations on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) but offering incentives to homeowners who want to build them on their properties.

Beyond just increasing the supply of affordable housing, there are several policy suggestions aimed at making housing more accessible to seniors, people with disabilities, and other protected classes.

Another strategy involved creating a loan fund to help tenants, nonprofit groups and local governments buy apartments and manufactured home parks that are for sale.

“Adopt design standards that require accessible units in new multifamily developments that receive public funds,” the document said. “10% of all units must be accessible to people with mobility disabilities and at least 4% for those with hearing and/or vision disabilities.”

There were also fair housing goals in the plan that were aimed at specific localities. For Alexandria, they were:

  • Prioritize public land for affordable housing.
  • Provide partial tax abatements for homeowners who rent their ADUs to low-and moderate-income tenants.
  • In accordance with Virginia Code § 15.2-2304. Affordable dwelling unit ordinances in certain localities, adopt an ordinance to institute mandatory inclusionary zoning city-wide and provide an array of incentives, such as density bonuses, special financing, expedited approval, fee waivers, and tax incentives.
  • Reduce the 20,000-square-foot minimum lot size in the R-20 zone or permit duplexes in this zone.

“We need local solutions to our challenges. But the region can benefit from shared visions and approaches,” the executive summary said. “They aren’t limited by city and county boundaries. The Washington region has many examples of effective policies and programs that can be adopted in more places. Inclusionary zoning and housing production trust funds are two of them.”

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