Post Content

A major affordable housing development in the city’s Braddock area is headed to the Planning Commission tonight.

Tonight’s meeting on the proposed Samuel Madden redevelopment comes after more than a year-and-a-half of back-and-forths between city staff and the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

ARHA wants to demolish the existing 66 units of public housing in 13 two-story apartment buildings at 899 and 999 N. Henry Street and replace them with two new six-story apartment buildings (75 feet maximum height) containing 532 residential units. Of those, 326 units would be affordable and workforce housing for a period of 40 years, in order for ARHA to qualify for federal tax credits.

The current public housing units were built for defense workers during World War II in 1945. The 65 families currently living on the properties will be provided temporary housing, their moving expenses will be paid and they will have the option to move back to the property once construction is finished, according to a city staff report.

If approved, the development would also be home to 13,800 square feet of ground floor retail space, as well as a 13,540 square-foot Hopkins House early childhood center and a 500-square-foot Alive! food hub.

ARHA expects construction to take two years and is also applying for special use permit approvals for a potential restaurant with outdoor dining, an athletic club/fitness studio and a medical care facility.

If approved by the Planning Commission, the matter will be voted on by the Alexandria City Council at its public hearing on Saturday, Feb. 25.

The north building

The first floor plan of the proposed Samuel Madden north building (via City of Alexandria)

The north building will be located at the highly visible intersection of N. Patrick and N. Henry Streets, and include 207 apartments. Residents will be able to parking in a single-level 127-space underground parking garage. The Alive! food hub would also be located on the ground floor of the building.

“The north building will include a 500-square-foot Alive Food Hub on the ground floor, which will function like a small market, allowing clients to shop for food, personal items, cleaning, and school supplies, and make connections to useful information/services,” according to a city staff report.

The City also wants ARHA to develop an oral history project for the site, and either contribute public art to the space or donate $54,000 to the city’s public arts efforts.

The south building

The first floor plan of the proposed Samuel Madden south building (via City of Alexandria)

While the project is part of a single community, ARHA intends on selling the south building to a private developer.

“(D)ifferent entities will own the two buildings,” City staff noted. “ARHA will be the fee simple owner of the northern block, allowing for certain fee exemptions, while the southern block will be sold to a private developer.”

The south building is proposed to have 13,300 square feet of ground floor retail use, in addition to the 13,300-square-foot Hopkins House daycare, will have up to 150 students and 23 employees, according to the city. Also in the south property, ARHA has applied for SUPs for a restaurant with outdoor dining, a medical care facility and an athletic club/fitness center.

6 Comments
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.”

20 Comments
Park Vue of Alexandria at 511 Four Mile Road in Arlandria has been renamed as The Square at 511. (staff photo by James Cullum)

The Alexandria Housing Development Corporation has been rebranded as “Housing Alexandria.”

No official word on the name change has yet to be released on AHDC’s website, but residents at its numerous properties were notified via email. Additionally, Housing Alexandria’s 14-story Park Vue apartment complex (511 Four Mile Road) in Arlandria has been renamed “The Square at 511.”

Housing Alexandria says that the strategic rebranding will mean a rollout of new logos.

“Along with this change in the company name, we will also adopt new logos to fully express our initiative of continued improvement,” Housing Alexandria told residents. “The re-branding, however, shall not affect the manner in which we operate our business, as well as the organizational structures of the company.”

The new logo for Housing Alexandria, formerly the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation (via Housing Alexandria)

The City of Alexandria website has also recognized the new name in its listing of affordable housing partners.

The rebranding is part of the organization’s 2021-2025 strategic plan, as it pursues “a brand that differentiates us from our peers and helps us more clearly express our values.”

“AHDC residents and community members will be able to identify our brand and work more efficiently,” the nonprofit said in the plan. “Increased presence will yield more community advocates, resident voices, and financial support for AHDC.”

Housing Alexandria is developing a 500-unit affordable housing complex at the intersection of Mount Vernon Avenue and Glebe Road in Arlandria as well as an affordable homeowner development on Seminary Road.

8 Comments
Alexandria City Hall was lit up for the weekend of Juneteenth 2021 (via Carol Jean Stalun Photography for Visit Alexandria)

Alexandria has kicked off the new year with a glimpse at some of this year’s biggest priorities.

A memo from Director of Planning Karl Moritz, published ahead of Planning Commission meeting this Thursday, lays out some of the work priorities for the city over the upcoming year.

Planning and Zoning

There are some major items on the plate for Planning and Zoning, most of which involve updating some of the city’s older outdated plans for locations around the city.

  • Alexandria West Plan: With some major developments reshaping the West End over the coming year, the city launched last fall an 18-month planning process for a large swath of the neighborhood. The process includes updates to the 1992 Alexandria West Small Area Plan and the 2008 Beauregard Plan, combining them into a sort of super-plan for the West End. According to the memo, priorities for that plan include “addressing topics such as equity, housing, mobility, land use, parks, infrastructure and safety.”
  • Zoning for Housing/Housing for All: Another major project that started late last year and will continue through 2023 is the city’s Comprehensive Zoning for Housing and Housing for All Package” — a whole-cloth review of the city’s housing policy to try to work affordability into regulations from the ground-up. In a previous memo, Moritz said the goal is to remove policies and regulations that were intended to support exclusion and segregation, as well as creating new more equitable policies and boost the supply of both committed and market rate affordable housing. The goal is to complete the plan by the end of 2023.
  • Vision Plan: This planning process will look at documenting and updating policies established in the various Small Area Plans dating back to 1992. This process is set to start this summer if staffing and resources are available.
  • Duke Street Plan Update: This land use update is set to follow some of the ongoing plans around transforming transportation along Duke Street.

Read More

15 Comments
Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin speaks at the Safeway at the Bradlee Shopping Center on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022. (Photo via Eli Wilson)

The tension between Alexandria’s leaders and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin is not exactly a secret, but there have been a few surprising examples of overlapping policy goals.

Most recently, Mayor Justin Wilson shared vocal support for Youngkin’s new Make Virginia Home plan.

The plan includes a multi-pronged approach to affordable housing, with a focus on:

  • Increasing the supply of land for housing: the plan promotes discretionary state grant funding for localities to use for affordable housing. The plan establishes “guard rails” for zoning and land use review processes for localities seeking state assistance, along with requiring transparency in reporting on affordable housing and a comprehensive review of the state’s land use and zoning laws.
  • Remove regulatory barriers to housing development: the plan makes it easier for affordable housing to meet certain environmental regulations and streamline the permitting process, along with translating the building regulations into Spanish.
  • Align housing development with economic growth: the plan includes housing in economic development planning and site development processes. It also includes goals for establishing public/private partnerships that include workforce housing in site development.

The plan has gotten some support, including praise online across the aisle from Wilson. In particular, Wilson said city staff and affordable housing leadership attended a conference last month where Youngkin outlined potential coordination on affordable housing goals.

“As you noted in your speech, this is a multi-faceted challenge that requires policy coordination across local, state and Federal governments,” Wilson wrote in a letter to Youngkin. “We believe there is considerable opportunity for bipartisan agreement to advance good policy and we want to be partners with your Administration to make this happen.”

Wilson outlined some of the progress Alexandria has made in affordable housing, particularly in the use of private development to fuel public affordable housing.

“Given that success, we strongly support your proposals to strengthen the linkage between housing and economic development,” Wilson said. “As you have noted, employers will not locate jobs in the Commonwealth without the ability to house the workforce required, including new jobs at a range of income levels.”

Wilson also praised the proposals to direct future state funding to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and encouraged investment in the State Housing Opportunity Tax Credit Program and the Virginia Housing Trust Fund.

There was one area of concern about potential punishments for local jurisdictions that fail to meet certain state requirements. According to Wilson:

While we strongly support the provisions of your Plan that will incentivize new housing creation, link economic attraction to housing production, and use state funding as a “carrot” for the adoption of pro-growth land-use policies, we are concerned by proposals that purport to punish local jurisdictions for the diligent exercise of ministerial acts, or proposals that remove local control as a method to accelerate housing creation.

Wilson said piecemeal acts by Richmond to erode local control over land-use processes have had a negative impact on housing creation, and that aspect of the Make Virginia Home plan would only reinforce that problem.

“We would instead suggest more comprehensive reform to expand local capabilities to manage the externalities of development, while providing robust incentives for the adoption of pro-growth land-use policies,” Wilson wrote. “This will not only accelerate housing creation, including enhanced housing affordability and accessibility, but also maintain the critical public support required to sustain these policies over time.”

Despite the political divide between the Republican Youngkin and the largely-Democratic Alexandria, there have been areas of overlap between local goals and state leadership. Early in Youngkin’s campaign, Wilson expressed enthusiasm for Youngkin’s goals of holding Dominion Energy more accountable and state officials appointed by Youngkin have worked with Alexandria’s local and federal representatives on infrastructure funding.

5 Comments
Organizers outside Southern Towers lead residents in a protest against CIM Group (staff photo by Vernon Miles)

As the City of Alexandria gets ready to kick off its advocacy for the upcoming general assembly session, one of the main talking points is how the city could use more help from the state in handling affordable housing.

Meronne Teklu, speaking on behalf of the Economic Opportunities Commission, the Landlord-Tenant Relations Board and the Alexandria Housing Affordability Advisory Committee, told the City Council this weekend that each of the groups expressed concerns about the rising rate of evictions.

Teklu said that this year, there were 873 eviction notices filed, a roughly 172% increase from 2021 — when many landlords were legally prohibited from filing evictions. Of those being evicted, Teklu said only 13% of tenants receive legal representation.

Additionally, a count of Alexandrians experiencing homeleness recorded 120 people, an increase of 13% over the previous year.

“We’re glad to see legislative packet prioritizes legislation to provide diverse housing opportunities and budget items preventing evictions, protecting families and individuals facing various housing challenges,” Teklu said.

Among those positive priorities in the legislative package, Teklu said, is a reinstatement of a 14-day requirement to pay-0or-quit notices.

Teklu’s commentary was underscored by testimony by testimony from residents of Southern Towers — a largely workforce-affordable housing complex in the West End where rent increases are outpacing wages.

Residents of Southern Towers spoke at the City Council and described the dire situation of residents working multiple jobs and still being unable to keep up with rent payments in one of the city’s last bastions of market affordable housing.

Sami Bourma said residents are putting together a new organization called Southern Towers United.

“it’s not easy to do so, with most of us working two jobs with up to five family members,” Bourma said. “For most of us, our rent is not what the city would call naturally affordable. In the West End, affordable [qualifies as] an income up to 60% of the area median income. I have five family members, and I do not come close to that level of income even if I had two members… and I have two jobs.”

Other residents said called the situation in Southern Towers “inhumane” and begged the City Council to intervene. Bourma said the hopes to get the developer to not increase rents above 2% annually. Residents and community organizers protested against building owners The CIM Group last month.

2 Comments
Samuel Madden redevelopment rendering (image via Torti Gallas + Partners/City of Alexandria)

There’s nothing unusual in Alexandria financing an affordable housing project, but one specific request from the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA) could set a notable precedent.

The Samuel Madden redevelopment would replace the 66 affordable housing units with a new mixed-use development featuring around 530 units. Two-thirds of those units would be available at various levels of affordability, while the other third would be available at “market rate” –rents without any affordability baked in.

In a report to the City Council from the ARHA redevelopment committee, Mayor Justin Wilson said plans for the Samuel Madden redevelopment project include a request for a tax exemption on the property. While ARHA properties are generally tax-exempt, this project is in partnership with private developers Mill Creek Residential and The Communities Group.

“ARHA properties owned by ARHA are tax exempt, those are off the tax rolls, but when they do a redevelopment that involves a private entity, those projects would go on the tax rolls,” Wilson said. “All the affordable housing projects that exist in the city that are owned by nonprofits do pay taxes. In this case, ARHA is partnering with a private entity, so the ownership structure is a little bit complicated.”

Wilson said that while the city is supportive of the redevelopment project and could contribute additional funding, a tax exemption might open the door for other private affordable housing developers to ask to have their projects taken off the tax rolls.

“Depending on how we sort through that, may or may not be creating a precedent that will have other affordable housing developers and nonprofits come forward and request similar disposition,” Wilson said. “So we need to be thoughtful and careful in how we approach that decision.”

The tax exemption is just one of the financial questions around the redevelopment.

Wilson said the question facing the City Council is whether to loan the money or offer it as a grant. Traditionally, Alexandria loans funding to ARHA, which eventually pays it back to the city with a revolving fund that then goes to fund future affordable housing loans.

“As with any project right now, ARHA is seeing increases in costs,” Wilson said. “The request that we have received and that staff is working on relates to relief for a couple different aspects — some of it is development fees, some of it is questions around whether we are extending a loan or extending grants to support it. ARHA had initially not intended to request city financing, I think they have had to change that approach and they are requesting financial assistance to keep the project viable.”

16 Comments
ARHA and the City of Alexandria host a ribbon-cutting event for the Lineage, a new 52 unit affordable housing complex on North Patrick Street. (Staff Photo by Jay Westcott)

Over the next year, Alexandria will launch an ambitious affordable housing overhaul that could reshape the city’s zoning code with a renewed emphasis on affordable housing.

The overhaul is following in the footsteps of years of zoning reforms in Alexandria that aim to get developers to help produce more housing. The city is pushing for committed affordable housing units — buildings with residences set aside specifically for those making less than the area median income — to try and keep up with the loss of 14,300 market-rate affordable units over the last two decades.

In Alexandria, around 20% of households are paying over 30% of their income in housing, and around 10% are spending more than 50% on housing.

“Alexandria’s 2022 population is approximately 163,400 with approximately 71,500 households,” a report on the new overhaul said. “City and federal U.S. Census data documents 15,000 Alexandria households are paying more than the federal standard of 30 percent of income on housing. Additionally, nearly half of those households with incomes up to $50,000 are paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing.”

But affordable housing has also recently been pitted against other city interests. As the city works to make Old Town North into an arts district, trading density for a public art space is being offered in addition to trading density for affordable housing — though there are concerns that developers could choose to add arts uses in lieu of adding affordable housing.

0 Comments
The Arden concept rendering (image via Wesley Housing)

The Arden, a 126-unit residential development just south of Alexandria, is opening early next year.

The development from housing nonprofit Wesley Housing is set to host a grand opening on Jan. 13, marking the completion of a major affordable housing project for an area in desperate need.

“The celebration marks the completion of 126 affordable units,” a release from Wesley Housing said, “including 10 efficiencies, 26 one bedrooms, 76 two bedrooms, 14 three bedrooms, and 11 fully accessible units in the transit-oriented neighborhood.”

The development has two-bedroom units available to lease starting at $1770 and studio apartments starting at $1435. The units are available to those making 80% of the area median income or below. In Alexandria, the area median income for one person is $99,700, or $113,900 for two people.

“Resident amenities include a community room, outdoor courtyard patio, bike storage, on-site laundry facilities, garage parking, and free in-unit and common area Wifi, to name a few,” the release said. “In addition, the ground floor hosts 7,500 sq. ft. of office space, where Wesley Housing’s new main office will be located.”

5 Comments
Kamilah McAfee, senior vice president at Wesley Housing, speaks at Agenda Alexandia discussion on building heights and affordable housing, October 24, 2022. (staff photo by James Cullum)

After five years of rapid growth, Wesley Housing’s new CEO says that the organization has no plans to expand beyond the D.C. Metro area.

Kamilah McAfee was promoted to lead the organization last month, and will take over for longtime CEO Shelly Murphy on January 2. She has been the vice president of development for Wesley Housing since 2018, and before that was the deputy director of real estate development for six years.

“We’re starting to look at opportunities in Prince George’s County in Maryland, but not really beyond the DMV proper,” McAfee told ALXnow.

Wesley’s portfolio has grown to 2,800 affordable rental units throughout the region, and McAfee is credited by Wesley for leading the organization in a five year period of unprecedented growth.

“I want to challenge ourselves to do more in areas pertaining to diversity and equity and inclusion for our staff as well as the communities that we serve… We’re running out of emergency assistance funding from the federal government coming off the pandemic, so we’ve been working with right-sizing our rents to make sure people can stay housed.”

This year, Wesley will finish construction on seven affordable communities that will house more than 1,500 people. In Alexandria, Wesley is developing the 200-unit ParcView II apartments (5380 Holmes Run Parkway) in the West End, as well as the 66-unit Parc Square Apartments in Arlandria.

“I’m committed, I’m energized, I’m here,” McAfee told ALXnow. “Expect it to be for the long haul. I’m hoping that I will continue to honor Shelley’s leadership and commitment and respond to our board of directors a vision for opportunities in the future for Wesley and our relationship in what we’re doing in the City of Alexandria.”

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

The nonprofit was founded in 1974 by Virginia Peters,

A new Jersey native, she moved to the D.C. area to attend Georgetown University, where she earned a degree in finance and new and small business development. She also has a master’s degree in business administration from American University. Her career includes five years as director of public finance for the District of Columbia Housing Finance Agency, as well as two years as a project manager for Forest City Enterprises.

Alexandria is currently experiencing an affordable housing crisis, and lost 90% of its affordable housing stock between 2000 and 2017. Consequently, 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

0 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list