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Residents of the Chirilagua/Arlandria neighborhood been besieged over the last year.
As a largely Latino community disproportionately impacted by job loss during the pandemic, local residents have pushed back against rent payments. But even as Alexandria starts to pull out of the pandemic with an eye toward job recovery, the city is working through efforts to build a plan to save Chirilagua — less than a mile from Potomac Yard and Crystal City — from the gentrifying effects of Amazon.
“Many Arlandria residents have been candid in expressing fears about displacement and gentrification, anxiety over losing their community and the culture of their neighborhood over time,” said City housing planner Tamara Jovovic in a public forum earlier this week. “Addressing this will require an all-hands-on-deck approach.”
Jovovic said Chirilagua already faces a misalignment in housing needs and rent availability, with local families spending too much on rent and utilities. She said the city’s goal is to create housing affordable to individuals and families at roughly 40% of area median income (AMI). For individuals or small households, that ranges from $36,000 to $60,000 per year.
The city has started working on facilitating public-private partnerships to push for affordable housing development in the area, with Jovovic saying the city is looking at how to turn city-owned areas like a parking lot on Mount Vernon avenue into use for affordable housing.
“The deeper the level of affordability of units, the greater number of tools needed,” Jovovic said.
One of the questions raised by residents in the forum was whether the city would expand height and density restrictions. City staff said the plan is not to increase those restrictions, and that developers wanting expanded height or density will consequently be required to offer a maximum number of affordable housing units.
“We’re moving forward with the same heights,” said Jose Ayala, a city planner. “[W]e want to make sure anything proposed in neighborhood related to an increase in heights is related to affordable housing.”
Late last year, the city codified a long-standing trade in Alexandria development: You can get more height and density than is typically allowed in an area, but only if you add affordable housing proportional to that expansion.
“Development applications could request through [Development Special Use Permit], that’s an optional zoning tool,” Jovovic said. “[They can request] up to 25 feet of additional height in exchange for one-third of density associated as affordable housing
Jack Browand, division chief of Parks and Cultural Activities, said other feedback the city has received so far highlights the need for the city to make better use of parks as meeting spaces.
“Community feedback emphasized the need for social areas and to increase park facilities,” Browand said. “Including having picnic areas and established grilling locations. We don’t have a lot of public restrooms throughout, so [that means] being able to extend outdoor experience by having public restrooms for the public.”
Jovovic emphasized the importance of getting a plan into place before the area starts to feel the effects of Amazon.
“While affordable home ownership may not seem like a pressing need now, the plan will be recommending we expand home ownership training and counseling to make it geographically to make it more accessible and linguistically,” Jovovic said.
The plan is scheduled to go to the Planning Commission and City Council late this fall or in early winter.
The 50,000-square foot space is the sixth potential location for Amazon Fresh throughout the region, and Total Wine has also reportedly made moves to open next door at the former Pier 1 Imports, which closed more than a year ago.
Potomac Yard is managed by JBG Smith Properties and JPMorgan Chase & Co., which are both overseeing a massive mixed-use development of the area.
Amazon itself did not file the documents with the city, according to WBJ. Instead, Canadian architect NORR made the filing for “Mendel,” which is reportedly an Amazon code word.
Photo via Google Maps
The Arlandria-Chirilagua area of Alexandria is one of the last bastions of market rate affordable housing in Alexandria. With the arrival of Amazon on the horizon threatening that, the City of Alexandria is working on a plan to try to keep the area’s gentrification at bay.
A pair of Zoom meetings are scheduled for Tuesday, March 30, to present a drafted series of affordable housing recommendations. The first, at 6 p.m., will be held in Spanish with English interpretation. The second, at 7:30 p.m., will be in English with Spanish interpretation.
The majority of the area falls below the area median income (AMI). Around 95% of households surveyed in 2019 by Tenant and Workers United earned less than 40% AMI, less than the $35,280-$58,480 per year income range for households of one to six people. Many of them, around 28.5%, live in households with five or more residents.
Arlandria is one of the few areas in Alexandria — along with portions of the West End — with an adequately affordable housing supply. The study found that the majority of rental housing in the area is affordable at 60-80% AMI, most of which are one-bedroom units.
A document outlining themes in the upcoming plan said that while housing in the area is generally affordable, increasing rents are still a challenge. Protestors in Arlandria last year pushed for a rent freeze after many in the area were left unemployed by the pandemic.
“Residents struggle with the high cost of housing as rent impacts every family decision, including the need to share housing with unrelated adults and being able to pay for food, medical care, and childcare,” the plan noted. “More deeply affordable housing will help residents remain in their community and meet basic needs.”
The concern is that the arrival of Amazon in nearby Crystal City could sent housing prices in the area skyrocketing, as it has in Seattle.
“Residents are concerned about the impact of Amazon HQ2 and fear displacement from gentrification,” city staff said in a presentation. “Many feel that their undocumented status and limited English language skills prevent them from resolving landlord issues. Building community capacity to raise concerns without fear of retribution will help residents access services they need, including tenant relocation and displacement protections.”
The city launched a community feedback campaign in 2019, though the process was somewhat waylaid by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the draft recommendations generated from the outreach efforts will be presented at the upcoming meetings.
“During the live virtual meetings, City staff will present the draft recommendations,” the city said in a press release, “followed by a question and answer portion at the end.”
Amazon is giving an additional $1 million to Alexandria and other local families impacted by COVID-19 to help pay for urgently needed items, including food, school supplies and clothing.
The money is in Amazon’s Right Now Needs Fund, which is available for all 18 Alexandria City Public Schools, as well as all 41 Arlington Public Schools.
Back in March, Amazon donated $200,000 to ACT for Alexandria’s COVID-19 response fund as part of a separate $1 million donation across the region.
“The start of this school year has been difficult for many families across our new home of Northern Virginia, and we are determined to provide support to the students who need it most,” said Jay Carney, Amazon Senior Vice President, Global Corporate Affairs in a statement. “At Amazon, we are always looking for innovative solutions to tough challenges, and we are confident that the flexibility and speed built into our new Right Now Needs Fund will help ensure that more students from underserved communities can focus on their studies, and not fall behind as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.”
Amazon says that social workers and site coordinators will identify students needs, and that Education Assistance Product Vouchers will be given out as a prepaid payment to help with food, school supplies and clothing.
“By using the prepaid vouchers, students and families can redeem much-needed items in a dignified and convenient way,” Amazon said in a release.
This school year alone, Amazon also gave Northern Virginia students Mi-Fi devices, and donated $1 million for local emergency response efforts.
Amazon has given $200,000 to ACT for Alexandria’s COVID-19 response fund as part of a $1 million donation that the company is making to the region.
“The funds received by ACT will be used to support the nonprofits providing services to Alexandrian’s who are hardest hit by the COVID-19 outbreak,” ACT CEO Heather Peeler told ALXnow.
“The human service needs, economic impact and strains on our critical services will be with us long into the future,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “We have a resilient community and this contribution will help bring our City and our resident back stronger than ever.”
On Saturday, the Alexandria City Council allocated $100,000 in matching emergency funds to the ACT Now COVD-19 Response Fund with a goal of raising $200,000 so that nonprofits in the city can apply for and receive grants.
Council also approved an allocation of $20,000 to ALIVE! to buy bulk food equivalent to 17,000 meals. ALIVE! is currently working with the city and buying food to support the city should deliveries need to be made to people under quarantine without food reserves at home.
Amazon is contributing $1M to the DMV to support our community during the COVID-19 crisis. ACT is pleased to…
Thanks to Amazon.com for providing critical financial support to the ACT for Alexandria COVID-19 Response fund. Please contribute today to support the many in need in our community due to this crisis.
The full press release is below the jump:
There are nearly half as many homes available for sale in Alexandria as the year before, according to city officials.
A complicated mix of reasons is behind the decline, but one reason looms above others: Amazon.
“Amazon announced its arrival one year ago,” said David Howell, executive vice president for McEnearney Associates. “Since then, we’ve seen 46% fewer listings in Alexandria and 44% in Arlington… The inventory began to shrink literally the day after the announcement.”
At a City Council retreat on Saturday, marking the launch of the budget cycle, City Manager Mark Jinks highlighted the scarcity of homes for sale in Alexandria.
“Active listings a year ago were 450,” Jinks said. “There are only 208 active listings in June 2019. There’s not a lot of inventory on the market for people to purchase. There’s a lot of speculation about what that means. Are people not selling because they think they’ll be able to get more? Are people not purchasing because they can’t? There’s so much uncertainty.”
Jinks explained to the Council that many homeowners who might otherwise be selling their properties are holding out in hopes that Amazon will increase the home value.
“Do I sell my home now or wait another couple years with Amazon coming will I get ten percent more or 20 percent more?” Jinks asked, hypothetically. “It’s a lot of speculation for what may or may not happen. There is not a lot of property for sale and a lot of speculation about why.”
Both Howell and Jinks said there are other factors at play both nationally and locally.
“Interest rates are low and the region is growing,” Jinks said. “There’s a demand for residential, as we’ve seen, but we’re not seeing price appreciation. At almost any other time like this, we would have seen single-family homes and townhomes move up appreciably, and we haven’t seen it. Some of the speculation is that people with student loan debt [make it] harder for people to afford the ownership market.”
While student loan debt could keep people from buying homes, Howell said he doubted that would impact the sellers. More likely, Howell said it’s a result of some after-effects of the housing bubble burst a decade ago.
“The big lesson is people aren’t selling for speculative reasons after the bust,” Howell said. “Appreciation is more modest and sustained because people are buying where they want to live rather than using the home as an ATM. People are staying put.”
Howell also said many of those homeowners were able to lock in low mortgage rates.
“We will see a sustained low inventory over time,” Howell. “That’s true nationally, but in Arlington and Alexandria especially.”
This fall, the city is launching its community engagement for plans to update the 2005 Mount Vernon Avenue Business Plan and the 2003 Long-Term Vision and Action Plan for the Arlandria Neighborhood. The city cites the nearby arrival of Amazon, the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus, and the North Potomac Yard Metro station as looming developments that could start to change the character of the residential and commercial communities to the west.
Neighbors and organizations in and around the area are invited to offer feedback to help identify the most important community issues and start to build a framework for the new plans — which will start taking shape next year.
At a joint meeting of Arlington and Alexandria, city officials recognized that there was frequent difficulty in getting responses from communities most prone to the effects of gentrification, so several of the outreach events are focused on going out into the community and interviewing residents rather than relying on those residents and business leaders to come to meetings.
The first event will be this Saturday, Nov. 9, from 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at Simpson Field (500 E. Monroe Avenue). City staff will be out at the field talking with local residents and will move up and down Mount Vernon Avenue to speak with people in stores and markets, according to the city’s website.
Additional outreach events are planned throughout November and December.
A community conversation for Arlandria is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 21, from 6-8 p.m. at Cora Kelly Elementary School (3600 Commonwealth Avenue). The meeting will be held in Spanish with English translation available.
A similar meeting for Del Ray is scheduled for Dec. 12 from 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m. at Mount Vernon Community School (2601 Commonwealth Avenue), this one in English with Spanish translation available.
Staff photo by Jay Westcott
This week’s Q&A column is sponsored and written by Jillian Keck Hogan of Jillian Keck Hogan Real Estate Group and McEnearney Associates Realtors®, the leading real estate firm in Alexandria. To learn more about this article and relevant Alexandria market news, contact Jillian at 703-951-7655 or email [email protected]. You may also submit your questions to McEnearney Associates via email for response in future columns.
Question: We have been reading all the headlines, but what really is the “Amazon Effect”?
Answer: The buzz of Amazon is something we have all been hearing and there is some truth to the stories being published, BUT as it relates to real estate, the effects are very situational with price point, condition and location.
We have been reading all the same publications, and we completely understand if all the news is making you a bit nervous as to when the best time will be to purchase or sell your home. Home prices have been increasing, but that is true of every year since 2010. There is a good chance you might be competing on a listing against another buyer, but that has been a possibility over the last 9 years, as well.
Here is a bit of advice from our COO, David Howell, at McEnearney Associates, Inc.: “Sell when you are ready to sell, and buy when you are ready to buy.”
The Most Competitive Markets
Now, competing as a purchaser is always a possibility in any price point. This is driven by a seller’s strategy. Some sellers can choose to market their home under the going market price in order to move a home sooner versus later. This does not mean the sellers are in distress or the property is falling apart. Sellers do this at times just to make their move easier and faster.
The Amazon Effect — in this case, the comparatively low number of homes on the market — has been the most notable in Alexandria and Arlington in price points under $900,000.
What Does That Mean?
Virginia selling tactics and competition have been progressively picking up, following the trend we see with the D.C. market having grown hotter and hotter over the last 5-7 years with increased new construction. With many agents in our area being licensed in D.C. and Virginia, the strategies to win out on a competing situation used in Virginia began to mimic what D.C. licensed agents had been doing for years: Escalating in price, waiving inspections (or completing them before the offer was submitted), and taking on more risk during the appraisal contingencies.
Sellers have a bit more control in negotiations and receiving multiple bids on their home over list price. As a buyer, this could mean that you write a few more offers, but do know that this does not mean you have to “overpay” for a home.
The Amazon Effect is nothing that our DMV has not seen before. If you are looking to purchase under the $900,000 price point, be assured that it is very possible to buy a great home at a great price when going in with a strong strategic offer. And sellers in this same price point, be sure to still give your home all the best finishing touches to show well and review your neighborhood comparable sales before selecting your final price.
No, home prices have not doubled — but you are in a very fortunate position to be getting some of the highest prices ever in your neighborhood and you can receive offers with less contingencies which otherwise could have cost you more money.
If you would like a question answered in our weekly column or to set up an appointment with one of our Associates, please email: [email protected] or call 703-549-9292.
McEnearney Associates Realtors®, 109 S. Pitt Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. www.McEnearney.com Equal Housing Opportunity. #WeAreAlexandria
In a rare joint meeting of top Alexandria and Arlington officials, the two communities laid the foundation for a closer collaboration on affordable housing.
Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson and the City Council met with the Arlington County Board last night (Tuesday) at Arlington’s Gunston Community Center after Wilson’s proposal to meet on a flotilla of lashed-together kayaks in Four Mile Run was shot down. There was very little set in stone at the meeting, but the gathering allowed both organizations to set priorities for policy goals as they prepare for Amazon’s HQ2, the new Virginia Tech Innovation Campus, and a new George Mason University School of Computing.
“The work around Potomac Yard is different and groundbreaking,” Wilson said. “If we’re not intentional and deliberate, things will just happen to us. We have a chance to get ahead of things. I’m hoping to set a course that our staff can get to work on all of these policy areas.”
“I’m very excited for this step,” Wilson continued. “This is the start of a journey for us and there are a lot of folks rooting for us.”
There was some early discussion of new governing bodies being established to facilitate collaborative efforts across local boundaries. Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey raised the possibility of establishing a community development corporation — a 501c3 with he described as being capable of a great deal of flexibility. The idea, however, was tabled for the time being.
“There are a few different concepts that have been tried elsewhere and have been put in place in our respective communities,” said Dorsey. “We can have a variety of governance models with a broad representation of stakeholders. There is an endless number of configurations we can use and get all the benefits of an independent nonprofit.”
For the most part, the two governing bodies mingled seamlessly — though frequent, joking barbs were traded back and forth, with Arlington at one point threatening to annex Del Ray. Both organizations shared almost identical concerns about the upcoming arrival of Amazon, particularly on the headquarters’ impact on local affordable housing.
Councilwoman Redella “Del” Pepper said many of Alexandria’s most vulnerable populations feel that the loss of affordable housing in the region is a foregone conclusion and some were starting to flee Alexandria before rising costs pushed them out.
Update 9/21 p.m. — A previous version of the article had a typo in Division Chief Carrie Beach’s quote
Housing preservation is a central pillar of the plan to save Arlandria-Chirilagua from the anticipated gentrification stemming from Amazon’s HQ2. Last week, city staff told the Planning Commission that effort will likely require at least $100 million from public and private sources to preserve or expand affordable options in the area.
“Diversity and culture is a thread that weaves its way through the entire plan,” said Carrie Beach, the division chief for neighborhood planning and community development. “The proposed housing policy at its core strives to preserve the ability of existing residents to stay in their neighborhoods.”
Beach said that the economic analysis of the housing situation in Arlandria gives the city an idea of what they can reasonably expect in terms of community benefits stemming from additional density and private development. Beach said private sources of support, like developer contributions in exchange for added density, will have to be supplemented by non-profits and federal grants.
“In this case, housing affordability is the highest priority, biggest price tag, and largest portion of community benefits,” Beach said. “The maximum we can expect from private sources… will have to be supplemented by many other sources.”
One of the biggest projects currently planned to that end is the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation’s proposed 500-unit affordable housing structure in Arlandria. Beach said the proposed AHDC project represents a significant investment in affordable housing in the area, but it’s still just a start.
Currently, Beach said the city is estimating $100 million dollars in “community benefit dollars” from both public and private sources to help invest in expanding Arlandria’s affordability.
“The housing challenges in the Arlandria community are immense and require nothing less than an all hands on deck approach,” said Tamara Jovovic, a planner with the Office of Housing. “We set an ambitious affordable housing target with the 2020 housing contributions policy update: an expectation of 8% of net new development to be affordable at 60% [of area median income]. Here, it’s 10% of new development at 40-50% area median income (AMI).”
Jovovic said that the realities of trying to finance units make producing anything at 30% AMI nearly impossible.
“We heard loudly importance of 30% AMI units, but to be candid, challenge of producing 30% AMI units is immense,” Jovovic said. “To boil it down to the economics of the building, 30% AMI rents can’t cover costs of operating building, much less cost of building [financing].”
Jovovic said that the city is working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development for permission to prioritize existing Arlandria residents — something typically not allowed under fair housing law, but Jovovic said the city is applying for an exception.