Alexandria, VA

It was a busy week in Alexandria, and there is plenty to talk about.

The city is moving forward with phase three of reopening its economy on July 1, and the news comes as the death toll from the coronavirus moved up to 50 and the number of cases steadily rise.

It also looks like the upcoming Alexandria City Public School school year and city services will continue to be impacted until the virus is held at bay, and school and city staff are developing plans to stagger teleworking and in-person schedules for students and staff alike.

Restaurants are reopening like never before, which is to say that customers are cautiously welcomed as Health Department restrictions are slowly lifted and many establishments have expanded their outdoor seating.

Here are the top 11 most-read articles this week in Alexandria.

  1. Del Ray Pizza Restaurant Converts Parking Deck Into Tropical Oasis Themed Bar
  2. COVID-19 Cases Steadily Increase as Alexandria Releases Phase Three Reopening Guidelines
  3. Large Residential Development in Braddock Goes to Planning Commission Tomorrow
  4. Alexandria Now Has 50 COVID-19 Deaths, Cases Climbing by Double Digits Daily
  5. East Eisenhower Avenue Project Returns With A New Senior Living Component
  6. Students Likely to Rotate School Attendance When ACPS Reopens
  7. Alexandria Preps for Phase 3 Reopening on July 1
  8. Lights On: Two Nineteen Restaurant Reopening Today in Old Town
  9. Developers Take Another Crack at Converting North Old Town Office to Housing
  10. Housing Affordability and Cost of Living Get Low Rating in Community Livability Report
  11. Inova Alexandria Hospital Now Treating 20+ Coronavirus Patients

Feel free to discuss these or other topics in the comments. Have a safe weekend!

Staff photo by James Cullum

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The Alexandria Housing Development Corporation is opening the waitlist on affordable rental units at The Bloom apartments at 930 N. Henry Street.

There are 87 units open to the public, and all are reserved for households making the following percentage of area median income:

“All interested applicants must submit their pre-leasing waitlist application between 9:00 AM on July 13th and 11:59 PM on July 19th,” Bloom said on its website. “The waitlist will then be randomly sorted.”

An additional 10 units are reserved for Carpenter’s Shelter’s New Heights redevelopment. The apartment building will be available for tenants this October, according to Bloom.

Alexandria is currently experiencing an affordable housing crisis, and the city has pledged to produce or develop 2,000 affordable housing units by 2025. The city has also agreed to produce an additional 1,950 units by 2030 in order to meet its regional housing goal set by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, which aims for the region to produce 320,000 affordable housing units.

Our partners at the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation have a big announcement: they will be opening the…

Posted by Office of Housing, City of Alexandria, VA on Thursday, June 25, 2020

Image via City of Alexandria

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After some early concerns and criticisms, the Alexandria Redevelopment Housing Authority‘s resident community praised the organization’s leadership and swift action through the pandemic, and vice-versa.

Kevin Harris, the president of the Public Housing Resident Association in Alexandria, praised ARHA’s leadership and CEO Keith Pettigrew in particular. Harris and Jeremy McClayton, an associate organizer with Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement, said it was a stark contrast to earlier experiences with ARHA.

“In ARHA is used to be that [residents] had to organize to make sure people weren’t living in black mold,” McClayton said. “It’s been a big turnaround.”

Harris said those residents organizing under the old ARHA also timed perfectly with new leadership coming into the association.

“It was a perfect storm,” Harris said. “As we were organizing, there was a changeover in ARHA and Keith really started out on the right foot… The pandemic wasn’t good, but as much as you’re able to help people: they did.”

So far, ARHA has no confirmed deaths from COVID-19. Pettigrew said he remains cautious about the path forward and a potential second wave, but said it was an overabundance of caution that left ARHA in a better place than some regional partners with the pandemic started.

“In terms of PPE, when [coronavirus] first hit in March and I told the staff we needed to get PPE like masks, even hazmat suits,” Pettigrew said. “At first, people were like ‘masks and suits?’ Then a month later were calling like ‘do you have any extras?'”

Pettigrew credits some of his caution to the five years he spent working in housing in New Orleans, which he said helped prepare him for the kind of mobilization and flexibility the pandemic required. Hurricanes, Pettigrew said, were also a situation where housing organizations needed to mobilize and rapidly improvise to deal with changing situations.

Harris said one of the most helpful areas ARHA implemented rapidly was pushing back rent due dates and recertification — which meant that anyone who lost their income could file a notice to ARHA and they would not be charging rent. ARHA not only offered rapid and accessible online recertification, but Harris credited the organization with working to make sure residents throughout the various communities understood what was needed and could be guided through the process.

“It was a matter of getting the information,” Harrs said. “They had staff members knocking door to door. They were helpful in making sure that residents got outside services as well.” Read More

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Morning Notes

High School Student Assaulted Walking Home — “The assault occurred near the intersection of Russell Road and Rosecrest Avenue in the Del Ray/Rosemont neighborhood. The victim was a member of the T.C. Williams High School baseball team.” [Alex Times]

Officers Complain of Toxic Work Culture at Alexandria Police Department — “There are employees, including some who resigned after allegedly being subjected to retribution, who blame Chief Michael L. Brown for establishing an environment without discipline or accountability, where misconduct is swept under the rug. They say that under Chief Brown’s leadership, problems have gotten worse, which has fueled retirements and resignations from the department.” [Alex Times]

Vigil for Victims of Police Brutality Tonight in Arlandria — “Let’s join in solidarity with our Black community. Please bring a candle, poster, or other tribute to honor the lives lost at the hands of police. We will gather in the parking lot behind TWU’s building at 3801 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22305. For everyone’s safety, please wear a face covering.” [Facebook]

fibrespace Gives May 31 Profits to ‘Innocence Project’ — ‘Thanks to your shopping, we sent almost a thousand dollars today to this incredible organization who is working to exonerate the innocent and reform our broken criminal justice system.” [Facebook]

George Mason Elementary Donates Books to Community Lodgings — “The principal, Mr. O., was so generous to collect the books and spread them around the lawn at Fifer so that families could select books while maintaining a safe distance from one another.” [Facebook]

Virtual Concert Saturday Benefiting Senior Services of Alexandria — “100 percent of your contributions to the Löwball virtual tip jar for our June 6th webcast will go to support SSA Meals on Wheels program.” [Facebook]

Wesley Housing Closes on Affordable Housing Near Huntington Metro — “Located at 2317 Huntington Avenue, The Arden will be a seven-story building at the intersection of Huntington Avenue and Biscayne Drive.” [Zebra]

New Job: Brand and Public Relations Specialist — “The Specialist, Brand and Public Relations is a core member of the SHRM Brand and Communication team with responsibilities to support national TV commercials, brand activations, PR campaigns and earned media to amplify SHRM’s thought leadership and reputation.” [Indeed]

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Hundreds of Alexandria residents took to the streets of Arlandria early on Friday evening to protest against paying rent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lisa Hernandez lost her job two months ago, and can’t pay her $1,000 monthly rent for a small apartment that she lives in with her husband and young son.

“I have no savings,” Hernandez told ALXnow. “I don’t know what we are going to do. We can’t pay the rent. I have been trying to get food from everywhere, because we can’t afford to eat right now.”

Alexandria City Councilman John Taylor Chapman drove in a caravan of honking cars with his wife and infant son. The signs on his car read, “Cancel Rent!”

“I think we need rent cancellation in Virginia,” Chapman said. “I think there’s an opportunity for the federal and state governments to come together to give relief for folks and who will or have lost their jobs during the pandemic, and we need to lobby to get federal resources to landowners.”

Anna Diaz and her two roommates wore face masks as they drove in the caravan. Diaz lost her job as an administrative assistant in D.C. last month, and said that things are getting desperate for many in the Latino community.

“A lot of these folks work two or three jobs, and they still struggle,” Diaz said. “That’s why we’re here today, really, demanding for landlords to not profit off of people during this pandemic.”

We want to thank everyone who joined our car caravan , we had more than 100 cars in Arlandria-Chirilagua and many more…

Posted by Tenants and Workers United – Inquilinos y Trabajadores Unidos on Friday, May 1, 2020

As previously reported, the City Council voted to direct $671,570 in federal funding to provide rent assistance for low-income families in Alexandria. Council also passed a measure asking state and federal officials for a rent and mortgage freeze. The federal funds are available through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and includes $1.1 million in block grants and $585,127 in Home Investment Partnership Program funds. The city is also continuing to work on a rental assistance program.

City funding can currently provide $500 in monthly financial assistance per home, and the funding is expected to help about 450 households. The city’s Office of Community Services also offers up to $6,000 per year to help low-income seniors pay their rent and utilities.

ALIVE! also helps low-income residents with help paying rent and utilities.

No job? No rent! #CancelRentVA

Posted by Jonathan Krall on Friday, May 1, 2020

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Tenants & Workers United will lead a rent protest in Arlandria today starting at 5 p.m., and the organization is asking low-income residents to make themselves heard by joining along in their cars or banging pots and pans from the windows of their residences.

The caravan is scheduled to assemble at 4:30 p.m. and will go through Arlandria with the message that rents in Virginia should be canceled during the pandemic. The protest is planned to last until 6 p.m.

“Make a sign with a message to the property managers to cancel rent,” Tenants & Workers United recently posted on Facebook. “Make noise with your pots & pans! Take pictures or videos and use #CANCELRENTVA on social media.”

On the West End, residents at the Southern Towers apartment complex are also threatening to strike, as the city is working with the landlord on a compromise.

A similar protest is also planned for Columbia Pike in Arlington. The protests coincide with International Workers’ Day, a day when labor movements traditionally protest to advocate for progressive reforms.

City Councilman Canek Aguirre previously told ALXnow that the city’s Latino community is deeply concerned about the pandemic, and hopes landlords take it easy on their tenants.

“There’s a lot of anxiety, and a lot of fear when it comes to having to pay rent that goes even beyond the fear of getting sick,” Aguirre said. “It’s difficult because the Latino community is facing multiple risks. We’re talking about a community that is likely working on the front lines, they’re having to take public transportation and they lack access to health care.”

Los vemos a las 4:30PM📍3801 Mt Vernon Avenu, Alexandria, VA 22305 🛺🚗🚕🚙O de sus ventanilla/balcón a las 5:00PM 🏠🖼🚪

Posted by Tenants and Workers United – Inquilinos y Trabajadores Unidos on Friday, May 1, 2020

Two weeks ago, the City Council voted to direct $671,570 in federal funding to provide rent assistance for low-income families in Alexandria. Council also passed a measure asking state and federal officials for a rent and mortgage freeze. The federal funds are available through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and includes $1.1 million in block grants and $585,127 in Home Investment Partnership Program funds.

As previously reported, the city is continuing to work on a rental assistance program.

City funding can currently provide $500 in monthly financial assistance per home, according to city officials, and the funding is expected to help about 450 households. The city’s Office of Community Services also offers up to $6,000 per year to help low-income seniors pay their rent and utilities.

ALIVE! also helps low-income residents with help paying rent and utilities.

¡¡La gente está lista!! La caravana se junta a las 4:30 en el parqueo de ITU, o participa en el cacerolazo de tu casa…

Posted by Tenants and Workers United – Inquilinos y Trabajadores Unidos on Friday, May 1, 2020

Photo via Tenants & Workers United/Facebook

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The City Council is figuring out who in Alexandria needs the most assistance through the coronavirus pandemic — and how to get them aid.

City Manager Mark Jinks is expecting roughly $20 million in federal assistance, all of which must be allocated to new programs not in previous budgets and must be spent this year. In a Tuesday night meeting, Council discussed grants and funding needs with various department heads, starting with some of the most basic necessities.

Food

Kate Garvey, director of the Department of Community and Human Services, said her department has seen an increase in “walk-in” requests for service. While she said the DCHS has been fortunate to partner with ALIVE! for food distribution, there is still prominent food insecurity not being addressed.

“We’re receiving more SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] applications in a week than we would in a month previously,” Garvey said. “We had 600 calls in March. We received 2,000 calls the first two weeks of April looking for service.”

The greatest way of benefitting local families in need of food assistance, Garvey said, is food gift cards.

“The demand for grocery gift cards has expanded exponentially,” Garvey said. “Those allow families to have their own choices in what they’re purchasing, not be exposed to large groups, and do their own planning.”

While Garvey said requests for Medicaid coverage have also gone up, it’s not at the same rate as SNAP requests. Garvey said her department is continuing to put out documents and other forms of information to let people know about how to apply for Medicaid.

Housing

One week after approving funding for rent relief for residents in the city’s affordable housing, the city council is preparing to look at funding for a citywide rent assistance program.

Helen McIlvaine, director of the city’s Office of Housing, said the goal of a rent relief program is not just to keep people housed during the pandemic, when evictions have been temporarily banned, but to help many of those residents avoid piling up payments deferred during these months. The prospect of piling up rent payments led to protests at Southern Towers earlier this month. Read More

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Morning Notes

Tenants and Workers United Organizes Rent Protest in Arlandria Friday — “Join our Caravan. THIS FRIDAY at 4:30 P.M.” ️[Facebook]

Here’s an Updated List of Alexandria’s Nonprofit Needs — “This list is updated on a regular basis, so check back regularly to see the latest items needed to support our most vulnerable populations during this critical time. Thank you for caring for our community!” [Volunteer Alexandria]

‘Let’s Meat On The Avenue’ Requiring Customers Wear Face Masks — “As of TOMORROW [Wednesday], we will REQUIRE all patrons to wear masks. ‘Most everyone’s already on board, but we had a nitwit or two today.” [Twitter]

Taqueria Picoso Donates Tacos to Police — “Thank you so much #TaqueriaPicoso for dropping off tacos for our officers and dispatch! From left to right: Capt. Ladislaw, Taqueria Picoso employees, and Officer Cushing.” [Twitter]

City Housing Director Wins 2020 Regional Housing Leaders Award — “This month we are honoring Helen McIlvaine for leading the Office of Housing in the City of Alexandria, developing creative solutions in land use and zoning, and supporting a dedicated source of revenue to address the growing housing needs in the city.” [Facebook]

Revolutionary Fitness Hiring Gym Manager — “Under the direction and guidance of the CEO, the incumbent has the general responsibility of managing the day-to-day operations of Revolutionary Fitness.” [Indeed]

Del Ray Cakery Makes Hospital-Themed Cookies — “Thank you to all our healthcare professionals during this pandemic. We are truly grateful for your efforts!” [Facebook]

DASH Hosting Online Meeting to Discuss Future Service — “Join us live on Facebook at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday 4/29 for our Transit Development Plan Community Meeting to discuss potential changes to FY2021 service, including to the AT-4.” [Twitter]

Group Give Meals From ‘The Warehouse’ to Alexandria Hospital — “These are crazy, uncertain times right now and the least we can do is support our favorite independently owned restaurants and bring some food to healthcare professionals! Cheers to supporting local, supporting each other, and showing gratitude for our community! [Facebook]

Method Acting Used to Teach Polk Elementary Students the Scientific Method — “Hello children of Polk Elementary School. I am professor Brainstein, and Mr. Palmer has invited me to speak to you about the scientific method. First, I want you to feel welcome in my laboratory…” [wevideo.com]

Alexandria Nurse Speaking in Church Online Sermon Series at Noon — “As part of our Finding Hope sermon series, this week, we hear from our very own Caroline Cheek, an Emergency Room nurse, who shares how she has experienced hope in the last 6 weeks.” [Facebook]

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As The Waypoint at Fairlington moves forward, some old traffic concerns and misconceptions about the project have resurfaced.

The Waypoint, and 81-unit affordable housing development at Fairlington Presbyterian Church (3846 King Street) was approved in 2018, but old criticisms of the project’s added density flooded the comment sections when the city applied for federal funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development HOME Investment Partnerships.

Some nearby communities are supportive of the project. The Fairlington Citizens Association, which represents roughly 7,500 residents near the project, was generally supportive of the project.

“While the FCA Board takes no position on the specific design of the pending proposal — though we have heard no complaints about it from any of our residents — we believe it aligns well with the church’s history and mission,” the FCA said in a statement to city staff. “The FCA also supports the effort to provide affordable housing, which is essential to the sustainable growth of our community, and believes that the proposal would make an important contribution to expanding affordable housing in this part of Alexandria.”

Others like Carter Flemming, president of the Seminary Hill Association, which represents many of the neighbors nearest to the church, said the lingering discontent is a result of residents both feeling like they were ignored during the civic process and a general fear that the project will only exacerbate problems at the intersection of Van Dorn Street and Menokin Drive.

“It’s a tricky intersection at best,” Flemming said. “Adding this many cars coming out from a garage, people are concerned about that.”

A traffic study by contractor Wells and Associates looked specifically at that intersection, and found that traffic levels were within acceptable parameters, although there were some delays at the site.

Read More

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The City Council voted on Saturday to direct $671,570 in federal funding to provide rent assistance for low-income families in Alexandria.

The catch, however, is that this funding will be used for rental assistance only for those living in the city’s assisted housing developments, like those managed by Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority, and including non-profits and set-aside affordable units the city received through the development process.

The $671,570 comes from the recently approved CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act. The funding includes $1.1 million in block grants and $585,127 in Home Investment Partnership Program funds.

“Our allocation of regular federal funds this year will be over 1.6 million, the bulk used by housing to support the multifamily rental development program and our home rehab loan program, both targeted to help very low and low-income families,” said Helen McIlvaine, director of the Office of Housing.

McIlvaine said the CARES Act funding will allow the Office of Housing to make payments up to $500 per month on behalf of tenants in low-income housing to landlords. The funding will help an estimated 450 households, she said.

“We feel that this is impactful for future rent repayment burdens when their situation may still be perilous,” McIlvaine said. “We also hope to be able to deploy the money quickly. If we do, we think we would be well-positioned for future grant funds.”

McIlvaine added that the funds do not have any strings attached related to the beneficiary’s legal status, meaning they will be available to residents regardless of their documentation.

There was some worry on the City Council after the PPP loans ran dry, as concerns rose that the same might happen for affordable housing funds.

“I know these are two different pots of money, but we’ve just seen the small businesses run out of money in two weeks,” Councilwoman Amy Jackson said. “That was $350 billion. What do you think the odds are that we will get all of the money we’re asking for and be able to sustain that into the fall? Do we have a plan B?”

McIlvaine said the current $671,570 is already in the pipeline and that the funding should be available within the next 30-45 days, after which the Office of Housing will begin providing assistance. In many cases, McIlvaine said it will just be enough to operate a unit and keep the lights going over the period when rents might not be paid.

“It’s not all we need,” McIlvaine warned, “but it’s a start.”

Staff photo by Vernon Miles

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Updated 4:40 p.m. — Adhering to proper social distancing protocol, tenants and other supporters rallied outside of Southern Towers in cars making slow circles through the parking lot with signs and chants of “No pay! No Rent!” and “No job! No Rent!”

“How are people going to be able to make a rent deferral plan work?” asked Sarah Jacobson, organizing director for UNITE HERE Local 23 DC, a food service workers union operating out of D.C. “Even if people went back to 100% employment tomorrow, that would be challenging. Uber drivers won’t be getting the kind of pay they had before.”

The strike, and other types of protest, had been talked about for weeks — from the hallways of Southern Towers to the City Council chambers. At 10 a.m. today (Monday), a handful of protestors took to the sidewalks outside the building while dozens of others drove in circles around the property with blinkers on and signs displayed. The protest lasted until around noon.

Southern Towers is a large residential complex in the West End, where many of the residents are local service industry workers laid off during the shutdown. Several of the cars in the protest were taxi cabs and many of the signs were written in both English and Amharic. Without pay, some of the residents say they are unable to pay their rent. While city staff said Bell Partners, the property manager of Southern Towers, has offered a deferred payment plan to residents currently unable to make rent payments, some on the City Council and others in the community have been critical of this approach and said residents are unlikely to be able to pay back a deferred rent.

Los inquilinos de SOUTHERN TOWERS protestan esta mañana en favor de cancelar las rentas, muchos de ellos están sin trabajo y no tienen dinero para pagar la renta del mes de Mayo.

Posted by Tenants and Workers United – Inquilinos y Trabajadores Unidos on Monday, April 20, 2020

Some in the city had been critical outside elements helping to organize the strike, but during a City Council meeting City Councilman Canek Aguirre said many of the residents of the building were members of that union, which stepped in because Virginia does not allow unions. Jacobson said her organization’s role was providing infrastructure support for tenants, who were leading the protests.

“Tenants chose today because that’s the deadline that Bell Partners had made for people to pay their rent or make a rent deferral plan,” Jacobson said. “It’s not because people are willfully trying to not pay the landlord, people don’t have money and it’s illustrating a problem where wages and rents do not match in this region.”

Helen McIlvaine, director of the Office of Housing, noted that this was consistent with what Mayor Justin Wilson had asked property owners to do in a letter last month. Jacobson argued that Bell Partners is a nationwide investment company

“Bell Partners is a private equity company — this is an example of a company that is able to respond to these tenant demands,” Jacobson said. “It is going to take a complex solution to respond to this crisis in a way where the entire burden doesn’t fall on low wage workers without savings or essential workers most exposed.”

Jacobson said tenants are meeting again tomorrow (Tuesday) and planning a similar action on May 1.

In a letter to residents, Bell Partners said late fees for rent would be waived if paid by today.

“Payment plan options will be available for April and May, with proof of hardship (i.e. documentation of unemployment benefit or written statement from your employer),” Bell Partners said.

For those who can’t pay rent or afford a payment plan, Bell Partners told them to reach out to Alexandria’s Office of Housing’s Landlord and Tenant Division at 703-746-3078.

Staff photos by Jay Westcott

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Tying affordable housing funding to meals tax seemed like a safe bet in 2018, but with restaurants facing a dramatic loss in revenue due to coronavirus, affordable housing is out $1 million in the new budget.

According to the budget:

Due to the re-estimate of anticipated revenue from the Restaurant Meals Tax, the associated expenditure for the dedicated 1% for Affordable Housing will be reduced accordingly.

While the $1 million loss hurts, Helen McIlvaine, director of the city’s Office of Housing, said that there’s still some funding — notably $5.8 million (page 2.13) related to Amazon — that will allow the office to continue pursuing affordable housing goals.

“We’re not taking anything for granted, we’re pleased that the money we will start the year with is mostly intact,” McIlvaine said. “The million dollars, while we’re sorry not to have that, given the impact on local business it’s an accurate reflection.”

Alexandria is currently experiencing an affordable housing crisis, and the city has pledged to produce or develop 2,000 affordable housing units by 2025. The city has also agreed to produce an additional 1,950 units by 2030 in order to meet its regional housing goal set by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, which aims for the region to produce 320,000 affordable housing units.

The $1 million budget loss doesn’t give the Office of Housing any room to slow down.

“Like we saw with the recession, there will be even more people who are in precarious positions,” McIlvaine said. “On Saturday there is a public hearing and one of the items on the docket is (that) we’ve received $671,000 in additional federal money as part of the COVID stimulus and we’re going to ask the council to allow us to use that to provide rental assistance to help sustain property operations at nonprofit properties.”

McIlvaine said her office has been working with nonprofit partners and property owners to buy time for payment plans and to get access to the right resources.

“We had been making calls this week and most of the property owners are doing that,” McIlvaine said. “People understand that this is a really hard time.”

Still, as much as the Office of Housing can work to try to keep people in their homes, McIlvaine said the economic impacts of coronavirus means there’s likely to be even more people after this is over who need access to affordable housing.

“We want to make sure we are poised to act if there are opportunities,” McIlvaine said. “This will shift the landscape, and sometimes that’s our opportunity. People say ‘I don’t want to be in this business anymore’ or whatever it is. There was some of that during the recession but we weren’t really in a place where we were able to be proactive.”

The budget is docketed (Item 3) for discussion at tomorrow’s (Saturday) City Council meeting.

Photo via City of Alexandria

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