Affordable housing advocates rally outside Alexandria City Hall

Tsehayinesh Menberu says that she and her West End neighbors often choose between buying groceries and paying their rent.

Menberu has lived at the Southern Towers complex in the West End for more than a decade. On Saturday, she and about 50 others demonstrated for increased affordable housing outside City Hall during City Council’s public hearing on the fiscal year 2025 budget.

“It is especially difficult to uproot a family from their home, school and friends,” she said. “You can imagine that difficult decisions parents are having to make when they have to decide between moving out or paying a ridiculous amount of rent, which they can barely afford.”

The protest was organized by African Communities Together, a D.C.-based nonprofit that has advocated for Southern Towers residents over the last several years.

About 50 people chanted “ALX is all of us!” and held signs as they marched to the stage in front of City Hall.

“Today we stand at a pivotal moment in Alexandria,” said ACT’s DMV director Solomon Ayalew. “As we work toward creating more affordable housing, we must remember that developments take time, time that our community does not have. We are being displaced now, we are being pushed out now. You may not feel it in the rest of Alexandria, but we do.”

Ayalew said that the city needs to make permanent its guaranteed basic income pilot, and to approve housing voucher fund grant program.

There was a 62% decline in market-affordable rental units in Alexandria between 2000 and 2021, according to the city. The city has pledged to produce or develop thousands of units to meet 2030 regional housing goal set by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

According to the city:

According to U.S. Census figures, nearly twenty percent of Alexandria’s 80,000 households with incomes up to $75,000 are cost burdened. Approximately 19,000 households are paying more than the federal government indicates they should for housing, leaving little in their households budgets for necessities. The City projects that the number of households in Alexandria will rise to about 100,000 households by 2035. The longstanding imbalance between housing supply and demand, exacerbated by stagnating wage growth particularly in low to moderate-wage sectors, is a key factor underlying the high cost of housing, imperiling our ability to grow an economy that depends on a diversity of skillsets.

Celianna Gunderson, the lone Republican running against six Democrats for City Council this November, observed the protest.

“I’m looking into affordable housing,” Gunderson said. “Being a single mother to teenagers, I’ve gone through a lot of struggles with having to pay my rent as well. In the past, I’ve had notes on my door from the rental office telling me I had so many days left. Luckily, I’ve never been to the point of eviction, but I know that it’s difficult for a lot of people, even when you’re making a decent paycheck.”

Jonathan Huskey, a Democrat running in the June 18 primary, said that the city needs to get more creative to solve its affordable housing woes.

“I want to make sure it’s not just temporary affordable housing, but actually lasts,” Huskey said. “That’s going to require the city to get involved in a new and different way. Things like limited equity, cooperatives, new models for building construction — there’s lots of different things that this council has not yet implemented.”

If you or anyone you know is experiencing a housing crisis or homelessness, contact the city’s Department of Community and Human Services at 703-746-5700 or text 703-346-5599.