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After the end of the eviction moratorium, Alexandria’s City Council is looking to step up protection for locals facing eviction.

According to a docket item for tomorrow’s (Tuesday) City Council meeting, city staff are recommending that the city fund new services and positions aimed to support Alexandria households going through the eviction process.

The proposed supports are:

  • Two service navigators and two housing relocator positions ($307,000)
  • Storage assistance for household belongings ($50,000)
  • Additional legal services to assist those at risk for eviction ($50,000)

The service navigators provide support through outreach, including door-to-door knocking, community events, and outreach at properties with higher rates of eviction, a memo by City Manager Mark Jinks said. The service navigators also help applicants through completion and submission of rental relief applications. Housing relocators, meanwhile, help displaced residents secure stable housing — a service Jinks said is not currently available except at emergency shelters.

The suggestions came out of the city’s Eviction Prevention Task Force, which started last year and is comprised members of various city departments and outside organizations, like Tenants and Workers united and Christ Church.

“The housing crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has sharply increased the risk of long-term harm to renter families and individuals, disruptions of the market affordable housing market and the potential for foreclosure and bankruptcy, especially among small property owners,” Jinks wrote in the memo. “Following eviction, a person’s likelihood of experiencing homelessness increases, mental and physical health are diminished and the probability of obtaining employment declines. Eviction is also linked with respiratory disease, which could increase the risk of complications if COVID-19 is contracted. Instability, like eviction, is particularly damaging to children, who suffer in ways that impact their educational development and well-being.”

Even before the moratorium expired, some local landlords were starting the eviction process and laying the groundwork to evict tenants. Unemployment skyrocketed to record highs last year, though unemployment figures have gradually improved over the last year. In late August, the Supreme Court invalidated a federal eviction moratorium that would have halted evictions in some places through Oct. 3. The memo noted that Legal Services of Northern Virginia have provided legal assistance to 1,031 individuals through courthouse outreach and the Office of Community Services and the Office of Housing have assisted 3,717 households to successfully apply for rental assistance.

“The immediacy of this halt in the eviction moratorium has created devastating impacts to some households in our community, with an increase of eviction filings,” Jinks wrote.

The memo noted that since the pandemic started, 2,135 residential “Unlawful Detainer Summons” — which initiates the eviction process — have been filed. Of those, 599 (28%) were found in favor of the landlord and 1,307 (61%) were dismissed or classified as non-suited. In total, 283 writs of eviction have been issued.

“These cases could have been stopped by the CDC moratorium anywhere along the process,” Jinks wrote. “With the moratorium lifted, approximately 134 households are believed to be at immediate risk of eviction.”

Jinks wrote that for local residents that have been struggling to pay rent through the pandemic, the worst could still be ahead.

“The overall trends in the data do not indicate that there is an uptick at this time in eviction filings, but rather that there were many households over the past year and a half that started the eviction process but were legally protected by the CDC moratorium,” Jinks said. “Now that the moratorium has ended, staff anticipates that the pipeline will begin to move again, and the City will experience an increase in residents who need assistance in applying for state rental assistance and to find new housing, and who will require other resources.”

The positions will be funded by the American Rescue Plan Act for the next 12 months — $357,000 for City staffing plus eviction storage costs plus Legal Aid Justice Center $60,000. The memo noted its likely that the program will need an additional $500,000 in the next tranche of ARPA funding in the FY 2023 budget.

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Police outside the McDonalds where a shooting occurred, staff photo by James Cullum

What a busy week in Alexandria.

Our top story this week was on a juvenile who was shot outside the McDonald’s at the Bradlee Shopping Center on Tuesday, Sept. 21. There have also been a number of concerning incidents at Alexandria City Public Schools, including a juvenile who was arrested for trespassing and assault and battery at Alexandria City High School.

Meanwhile, while the COVID-19 transmission rate remains high, public events are still happening in Alexandria.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Police: Juvenile shot at shopping center near Alexandria City High School
  2. Police dispatched three times for fighting at Alexandria City Public Schools in less than a month
  3. Police: Six hospitalized after overdoses on Alexandria-Fairfax border
  4. Poll: What do you think of Metro’s proposed Blue Line crossing to National Harbor?
  5. BREAKING: Flooding reported in Alexandria
  6. Interview: Port City Publius opens up about Alexandria
  7. BREAKING: Video shows brawl at Alexandria City High School cafeteria just two days after school starts
  8. Juvenile arrested for trespassing and assault and battery at Alexandria City High School
  9. Multiple violent charges dropped against Fairfax County man held without bond for assaulting police during arrest
  10. Preserving Arlandria’s affordability against gentrification could cost upward of $100 million
  11. JUST IN: One person injured after shots fired in West End Tuesday afternoon

Have a safe weekend! 

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Shared living room, photo via Nathan Van Egmond/Unsplash

The city is going through a process of opening up some limitations on co-living — units with up to six individual suites that all share communal amenities.

Co-living is a little different from most apartments; typically having more residents than apartments and at a lower cost. Co-living is currently allowed in Alexandria, but requirements to go through a development special use permitting process and public hearings, among other restrictions, have been hurdles city staff are hoping get rid of. The new policy would certain development in residential zones to build up to two co-living units — with up to six-total suites — by-right, meaning without the need for public hearings and the city’s extensive permitting process.

The goal of encouraging more co-living development in Alexandria is increasing the supply of market-rate affordable housing, which has been in a downward spiral for years. But while most of the public comment at meetings has been supportive of the changes, Alexandria Living Magazine also noted that there are some public concerns that the co-living housing could become “flop houses,” a term typically denoting squalor in crowded living spaces.

Photo via Nathan Van Egmond/Unsplash

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Apartment kitchen, via Naomi Hébert/Unsplash

Alexandria is moving forward with a proposal to make it easier to build housing that allows several unrelated adults to share amenities. While that sounds an awful lot like “having roommates” — which is allowed, in case you’re renting an apartment in Alexandria and started to panic — city staff outlined some of the distinctions in the new policy at a Planning Commission meeting earlier this month.

According to a city report, a co-living unit is defined as:

A portion of a building containing six or fewer housing suites. The total occupancy within each unit is not to exceed a total of eight people. If a proposal includes more than two co-living units on the property it will require a full-hearing Special Use Permit (SUP).

Within the co-living units are individual suites rented out to tenants — one or more bedrooms that may or may not have bathrooms. An important distinction, though, is that these units cannot have kitchens and each bedroom is limited to a maximum of two people. Alexa Powell, an urban planner with the Department of Planning and Zoning, said “kitchen” is generally interpreted to mean including oven, stove or range. The various suites share a kitchen and living spaces.

Co-living units aren’t prohibited currently, but building a co-living development requires a special use permit (SUP). Powell said the new ordinance would allow developments with two co-living units — a total of six individual suites with two shared kitchens — to be built without the need for a full hearing. City documents on the change emphasized it would not touch single or two-family residential zoning.

The aim of making co-living development more viable is to increase the stock of market-rate affordable housing in the city. These are units privately owned or leased that are considered affordable without the guarantee of the government or a non-profit. Currently, city figures show that over 10,000 households in the city with incomes of $50,000 or less spend over 30% of their gross income on housing. In some parts of the city, like Arlandria, there are concerns that gentrifying forces like Amazon could snuff out the already insufficient supply of market-rate affordable housing.

There was concern, though, that the change is not ambitious enough to actually incentivize the building of co-living units.

“What is the likelihood that in a commercial, high-medium density, mixed-use multi-family zone there would be a project that has only two co-living units?” Planning Commission member Melissa McMahon asked. “[Those zones] tend to have large buildings.”

McMahon said the city would be more likely to see co-living units if those units can be mixed in with regular apartment buildings without needing a full hearing SUP.

“There might be a disconnect between what is actually a feasible project and what’s an attractive project in a commercial zone,” McMahon said. “The picture of what could be a co-living unit looks a heck of a lot like a regular apartment. It’s really just a couple apartments sharing a kitchen area… I think that we should be open to having a mixture of those in a residential context that could be higher density without having them require a full hearing SUP for it. I’m not seeing the obvious increase in any kind of community impact that would be shifting us from one to the other.”

Planning Commission chair Nathan Macek said he had additional concerns about a requirement that the co-living units be either owner-occupied or have a designated manager on-site.

“I tend to think that’s probably a little over-restrictive on this,” Macek said. “I think that’s the poison pill. If we put that in, we’re never going to see any of these built. I’d be very careful about putting that in. We do this all the time in Alexandria, where we get these proposals and we get these very permissive things, but we put one requirement in that makes it so impossible for anybody to carry it out. I think that’s really what something like this would do. I would caution us about including a requirement like this.”

The proposed co-living changes are scheduled to come back to the Planning Commission on Tuesday, Oct. 5, and to the City Council on Saturday, Oct. 16.

Via Naomi Hébert/Unsplash

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AHDC’s proposed Arlandria housing development (image via AHDC)

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.

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Morning Notes

Friday Night Lights debut at Alexandria High School stadium — “A ribbon cutting for the newly renovated Parker-Gray Memorial Stadium will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 17 ahead of the Titans’ first home game at 7 p.m. Speakers will include Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings Jr., School Board Chair Meagan Alderton, Mayor Justin Wilson, and more. Gates will not open to the public until 6 p.m.” [Patch]

City Council extends State of Emergency to January 2022 — The Alexandria City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to extend the state of emergency to January 31, 2022. [ALXnow]

Affordable housing could replace Alexandria Land Rover dealership — “The Beyer Auto group is vacating its Land Rover dealership at the intersection of Duke Street and Telegraph Road in favor of new, larger digs on Van Dorn Street just over the Fairfax County line. And now, there’s information about what could become of the original Land Rover Alexandria dealership: An organization is interested in building affordable housing there, according to Washington Business Journal, which first reported on the development.” [Alexandria Living]

Wegmans announces May 2022 opening in Eisenhower East — “Wegmans is building an 81,000 square-foot store in Alexandria just west of Hoffman Town Center off of Eisenhower Avenue. The grocery store at Carlyle Crossing is part of a mixed-use project on a 5-acre site.” [Alexandria Living]

Today’s weather — “Rain showers in the morning with scattered thunderstorms arriving in the afternoon. High 81F. Winds NE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 60%… A few clouds from time to time (in the evening). Low 68F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New job: Crew at Trader Joe’s — “Our Crew Members create a warm and friendly shopping experience in our stores. We answer questions, offer suggestions and ensure our customers know they are welcomed and cared for. We entertain customers and make grocery shopping an exciting adventure.” [Indeed]

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Apartment kitchen, via Naomi Hébert/Unsplash

At an upcoming meeting on Thursday, Sept. 9, the Planning Commission is docketed to look at over a new policy that would open up more “co-living” across the city.

Co-living, as defined by the city, is a residential use which allows housing where private bedrooms can be connected to shared spaces, like kitchens, bathrooms and living rooms. Suites can have private bathrooms, but no private cooking facilities are allowed in individual suites or bedrooms under this use.

For anyone thinking “that just sounds like having roommates” — one of the notable differences is co-living spaces typically have individual leases for the tenants rather than a master lease for all residents.

Currently, co-living arrangements are required to go through the city’s special use permit process. The new city policy would:

Allow up to two co-living units in ALL multifamily, high/medium density residential, mixed-use, commercial, and office zones with an administrative Special Use Permit. More than two co-living units or proposals in townhouse zones require a full-hearing Special Use Permit (review by Planning Commission & City Council).

New co-living units are headed to neighboring D.C. and have been a popular option in other cities. A city presentation noted that co-living is not allowed by-right in Arlington County but can be approved in some multi-family development with a full special use permit hearing. Co-living is allowed in Montgomery County with some restrictions.

The city said in a fact-sheet on the new co-living policy that the goals of the policy are to preserve or even enhance the supply of market affordable units — residences considered affordable without being part of the city’s committed affordable housing development. The city’s market affordable housing supply has been in dramatic decline for years.

According to the city, the hope is co-living policy can help:

  • Provide additional flexibility for the creation of market rate affordable units
  • Streamline the approval process for these living arrangements to provide the market with more predictability
  • Expand housing choices by allowing this use where appropriate

The policy is not planned to impact single-family or two-family residential zoning. Currently, four unrelated persons are allowed to live together as a “family”.

Via Naomi Hébert/Unsplash

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The last three years on the Alexandria School Board have been marked by a pandemic, social strife and a soured relationship with the City Council, but Michelle Rief is still proud of it.

“I’m running for School Board because I care deeply about our public schools,” Rief told ALXnow. “It would be an honor to serve in the leadership capacity on the School Board.”

After a term marked by the pandemic, Rief is one of only three incumbents seeking reelection on the nine-person body in November. She represents District A and faces incumbent member Jacinta Greene, former City Councilman Willie F. Bailey, Aloysius Boyle and D. Ohlandt.

“If I’m fortunate enough to serve another term, I’ll definitely prioritize relationship building with the new members of the School Board and City Council,” Rief said. “I think when you come on to the School Board, you quickly learn that it is a collaborative process. There’s a big learning curve, and there’s a lot of information to digest.”

She’s also interested in the vice chair position (determined in an internal election between Board members), and despite strong feelings and difficult memories from the past term, Rief gives ACPS high marks for its work during the pandemic.

“More than 60% of our students are on free and reduced lunches, and we immediately pivoted to provide all of our students with free meals,” Rief said. “Pivoting to teaching children virtually on a massive scale was a lot of work for our senior leadership team to figure out.”

Rief continued, “We sent the kids home with Chromebooks and our IT department secured home internet access for every student in our school division who needed it. There are many school divisions in Virginia and the United States where that is not the case, and our teachers spent countless hours transferring their curriculum materials online.”

Rief, who has three kids in the school system and has lived in the city for 15 years, said continuity of leadership is important. She was raised in Iowa, California and Florida in a military family, and got her bachelor’s degree from Florida State University and doctorate in African American Studies from Temple University. She is also a history and sociology professor, and taught at Borough of Manhattan Community College in New York and later at Northern Virginia Community College.

“What I remember in early March of 2020, is receiving lots of frantic emails from parents who wanted us to close the schools,” she said. “Just the uncertainty of what was happening, and when we made the decision to close on March 13, everyone thought it would be a short-term thing. It was a scary time.”

She’s taken some controversial positions, like voting against school resource officers, and despite the wishes of City Manager Marks Jinks feels that public housing should not be co-located on ACPS grounds. The Board was also criticized for taking too long to fully reopen schools — something that only recently occurred on August 24.

“Given the overcrowded nature of our schools right now, I think it’s important that we make sure that we use our school property to make sure we’re adequately meeting our own needs within the school division,” Rief said.

Rief said the unpredictability of the last few years has been challenging, and that she is most proud of the Board approving the ACPS Strategic Plan.

“It’s a lot,” she said. “Our community demands a lot from our elected officials, and we’re here to do the best we can to serve the community. It is a lot of work and a lot of responsibility.”

Rief said that the last day of school in June was emotional for her. She was picking up two of her kids from Mount Vernon Community School, and as the kids and teachers walked outside, their parents who waited for them spontaneously burst into applause.

“I think it was just a sense of relief that we made it through the school year, and also an appreciation for what the teachers did to get our kids through that year,” she said. “Because many of them have their own challenges with childcare, health considerations with family members, and they made a big sacrifice and there was just a lot of appreciation.”

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U.S. Housing and Ubran Development Secretary Marcia L. Fudge was in Alexandria Friday to tour The Spire affordable housing complex and tout the Biden Administration’s Build Back Better agenda.

“There are so many people who live on the outskirts of hope in this country,” Fudge said. “I am in a community now… where the median value of a home is nearly $640,000. Most people can’t afford to live here. There is no place in this country today where a person making minimum wage can rent a two-bedroom apartment.”

Fudge continued, “This project makes me feel good about what I do every day,” Fudge said. “Affordable housing and low income housing was a problem before COVID. It is a bigger problem now.”

Fudge was accompanied on her visit by Congressman Don Beyer (D-8th) and Mayor Justin Wilson. The complex they visited has been praised, since the land was converted by the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection into a 113-apartment affordable housing community.

“We are so excited to welcome Secretary Fudge to the City of Alexandria, and to highlight this project especially,” Wilson said. “This is an exciting project in the city that has brought together so many city priorities.”

The administration’s $7 trillion COVID-relief plan would lower housing costs, raise wages for blue collar workers and would reportedly create millions of clean-energy jobs.

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

“We are one of the wealthiest jurisdictions in the world, certainly in America,” Beyer said. “We’re the best-educated, and there are many people still struggling and living in poverty among us… I believe we’re 150,000 affordable housing units short in Metropolitan Washington D.C.”

Public appearances from Biden Administration officials has become almost commonplace in Alexandria. President Biden visited the city in April and May to make discuss COVID-19, and, in March, Vice President Kamala Harris made her first official visit outside of the White House to stop by Old Town knitting shop fibre space. Also in April, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visited Ferdinand T. Day School.

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One of the most high-profile uses of American Rescue Plan funding in Alexandria is the city’s foray into providing a guaranteed basic income for some of the city’s lowest-income residents. At a meeting today (Monday), leadership of the program shared new information about how the program will work.

Kate Garvey, director of the department of community and human service, outlined the basics of the program in a Zoom meeting today.

“[Guaranteed basic income] raises the floor so that people can live with dignity and have the power to make their own choices,” Garvey said.

Garvey also specified that the city is pursuing guaranteed basic income — an income supplement that helps to elevate the standard of living for residents making below a certain income level — rather than universal income, which goes to eveyone equally.

The Alexandria program follows the work of other localities, and Garvey said the city is working off the model laid out by Stockton, California, in particular. The pandemic, Garvey said, was another push toward the program.

“The disproportionate impact [COVID-19] had on Latino and communities of color is profound,” Garvey said, “and it calls us to a different kind of action.”

Garvey said a guaranteed basic income is part of an attempt to close the gap in racial income disparities.

In the pilot stage of the city’s guaranteed basic income program, 150 individuals will receive $500 per month for 24 months. Other supportive services will be offered, Garvey said, but not mandated. Eligible residents will be those earning an income at 30-40% of area median income. Staff said the program will require that participants have some form of income other than the program.

Area Median Income levels, via City of Alexandria

Along with the group of residents receiving the funding, Garvey said there will a “control group” that is not receiving funding.

“Some of these things are challenging: the fact that we have a phenomenal project but only 150 individuals can be in that is one,” Garvey said. “We’re not normally comfortable with the idea of having a control group, but this will help inform: what’s the difference when you have a resource like this. It’s important as we’re pushing and pressing on policy makers for why it’s important.”

Lesa Gilbert, director of the Department of Community and Human Services Center for Economic Support, said the program’s success will be measured in how the funding impacts residents enrolled in the program.

“Success will be measured in better quality of life, quality time with family, paying bills and taking care of financial need without stressors,” Gilbert said.

There are still a few hurdles to clear before project implementation. Garvey said up next is that the project’s implementation plan will need to be reviewed and approved by the city manager. The city will also need to make decisions on how cash will be dispersed and monitor the future of the program.

“We will establish something we’re calling an economic mobility advisory committee to keep an eye toward the future on what transformation is possible,” Garvey said, “and looking at how individuals and families can be supported.”

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