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The city government could be opening up new swaths of Alexandria to taller buildings and more affordable housing.

Currently, the city trades bonus density in developments for more affordable housing, but only in areas with a height limit of 50 feet or above. Developers are allowed to exceed established height limits to a degree in exchange for affordable housing units or an equivalent contribution to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

Now, the city is hoping to drop that to areas with 45-foot height limits, which would open up new heights and housing options in places like Old Town, Arlandria and the West End.

At a meeting yesterday (April 12), the Office of Housing officials provided an overview of the proposed change along with a glimpse at where this change could affect the housing stock and height. Developments can not be increased more than 25 feet above previously permitted heights.

The change would open up the possibility for more height in several new areas, though staff warned that height isn’t the only factor determining which developments make that trade. Pre-existing limits on density, for example, make it unlikely for the trade to occur in some parts of the city where it would technically be allowed. Urban Planner Patrick Silva said, for example, that parts of the Parker-Gray neighborhood have site-specific limits rather than zone-wide regulations. Along Washington Street, there are federal rules limiting height in new construction.

But some of the areas likely to be opened up under the policy change would include: parts of Arlandria, some areas of the West End, particularly in the Van Dorn corridor. Some areas of Old Town, particularly along King Street and the Waterfront were listed as likely spots for the height-affordable housing trade in new developments.

City Architect Tom Canfield said the appropriateness of added height would vary by the site and would have to factor in the conditions of nearby buildings. One main consideration would be how the buildings scale with their surroundings. Canfield cited the new Sunrise Senior Living development at the corner of Washington and Princess streets as an example of a recent development that scaled well with its surroundings while throwing shade at Taco Bell Cantina and the former Irish Walk building at 415 King Street as an example of one that scales particularly poorly.

Examples in Alexandria and DC cited as “inappropriate stylistic relationships”, image via City of Alexandria

“There are still plenty of cases you can find around Alexandria where there are cases that just aren’t appropriate,” Canfield said. “Either for extreme variations in height or very oversimplified and non-contextual architecture. Where judgment comes in… are situations where there could well be that adding two floors could be acceptable to everyone and cases where no floors or one floor is the sweet spot.” Read More

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(Updated 7:15 p.m.) For a while now, there’s been a fairly straightforward trade between the City of Alexandria and developers: if you want more density, you need to build affordable residential units.

New development in Old Town North, however, has thrown a wrinkle into that system by opening up a second option. Now, developers can also get bonus density by opening up sections of new development to arts use — part of the city’s efforts to establish Old Town North as an arts district.

In theory, the two bonuses stack, trading greater levels of density for both arts and affordable housing. Housing advocates raised eyebrows when two of the initial developments only pursued the arts district bonus density, though newer developments have since pursued both types of density.

Karl Moritz, Director of Planning and Zoning for the City of Alexandria, told ALXnow the goal is to balance the two density trade-offs.

“There are multiple goals and objectives in every small area plan,” said Moritz. “[We’re] trying to balance objectives, and sometimes they aren’t competing, but sometimes they’re more competitive in the sense that everything takes money.”

Moritz said that if the standpoint is that housing should be a sole priority of new development, it would follow that density traded for anything else is space and funding taken away from housing.

“Are these conflicting goals? I think there are people with legitimate points of view on both sides of that question and I want to honor both perspectives,” Moritz said. “We are seeing both being maximized. That is at least a little bit of evidence that they are not competing so much as the market in Old Town North is strong enough that both are being maximized. But for anyone that feels affordable housing is a more urgent problem: that’s density that could have gone to affordable housing because they’re maximizing the affordable housing bonus.”

Moritz said the goal is to create a neighborhood that includes a variety of attributes, including both arts space and affordable housing. Part of that balance is ensuring that there’s not a significant cost difference between the two trade-offs.

“Our goal is, among other things, to make sure they are balanced so it’s not significantly cheaper over the long run to provide arts density bonus over affordable housing bonus,” Moritz said. “It is more expensive to provide affordable housing than an arts shell, but an affordable housing project gets up to 60% of rent whereas arts use is zero, so it costs more in the long term. We’re still looking at that issue.” Read More

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The City of Alexandria is hosting a community meeting for a plan to allow additional bonus height in new zones in exchange for affordable housing.

Currently, developers can only apply for bonus height in zones with height limits of 50 feet. The new ordinance would take that down to allow developers to apply for bonus height in zones with 45 foot high limits. It’s a relatively minor change on paper, but it opens new density options across the city as well as more opportunities for affordable housing.

The virtual meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, April 12, from 6-8 p.m.

“It will be an opportunity for staff to share information pertaining to this two-part proposed Text Amendment and to obtain initial community input with additional opportunities for the public to comment through email, letters, and phone calls,” the city said in a release.

Additional information is scheduled to be presented at the Thursday, April 7 planning commission meeting before going to public hearings in May.

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Elbert Avenue Apartments, image via Google Maps

Alexandria non-profit Community Lodging has announced plans to significantly expand affordable housing in Arlandria-Chirilagua with the redevelopment of a 1940s apartment complex.

Elbert Avenue Apartments, a set of three three-story buildings constructed in the 1940s, currently has 28 units affordable for renters making 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI) — the standard applied for evaluating affordable housing. But these buildings are in rough shape after what Community Lodging called years of “Band-Aid fixes”.

In a release, Community Lodging said the plan is to redevelop the site with 96 units available at various levels of affordability.

“The new property, currently proposed to include 96 apartments, would substantially expand Community Lodging’s impact,” the non-profit said. “The project provides a unique opportunity as Arlandria-Chirilagua faces challenges of rent increases and gentrification due to its location near Amazon HQ2 in Arlington and the upcoming Potomac Yard Metro.”

Community Lodging said affordable housing investments are particularly important for Arlandria-Chirilagua’s majority Latinx community where median household incomes are below 50% of AMI and are a “historically underserved and underinvested community.”

Financing for the project is being sought through a housing tax credit program. Households will be accessible for those at or below 60% of AMI. Of the new units, 20% will be dedicated to households at or below 50% of AMI.

Image via Google Maps

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Nathaly Zelaya from Tenants at a City Council meeting on March 7, image via City of Alexandriaand Workers United

Alexandria kicked off a discussion of the FY 2023 budget with a public hearing last night (Monday), where climate and housing advocates pushed for the city’s budget to do more to address these issues.

There was little feedback from the City Council in the 45-minute session as the floor was mostly turned over to public speakers.

Kathie Hoekstra, chair of the Environmental Policy Commission, expressed disappointment that the budget didn’t do more to tackle the climate emergency declared in 2019.

“I’m confused because in 2019 you declared a climate emergency and… called for urgent action,” said Hoekstra. “You then committed to taking the following actions: ending greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible, underscoring the need for full community participation, inclusion and support, and being integral to and in the leadership of the mobilization effort. I’m confused because I don’t see that in the current proposed budget.”

Several other speakers at the meeting echoed Hoekstra’s comments, saying the city’s progress on its climate reforms leave something to be desired.

“So I’m left with a couple of questions: why have we not learned to integrate both climate issues and equity issues into all decisions the city makes?” Hoekstra said. “Let me be clear, there are solutions where you don’t have to choose between addressing the climate crisis or affordable housing or any other high priority item. You have incredible city staff members in planning and zoning and the energy apartment, they know the right thing to do they just need your support.”

Hoekstra called for a requirement that city staff integrates climate and equity considerations into every project, plan or proposal. Hoekstra also requested that all new developments asking for bonus density or height be required to certain energy use intensity standards.

The other topics pushed by several speakers were a higher priority on affordable housing support and a return of the old argument about eliminating school resource officers.

An Alexandria City High School student spoke about school resource officers, saying minority students shouldn’t have to see a police officer when entering the school.

Nathaly Zelaya, a community organizer with Tenants and Workers United, asked that the new City Council reverse the previous Council’s decision to reinstate school resource officers and dedicate that funding to mental health programs instead.

Zelaya and other public speakers also asked the City Council to invest more heavily in affordable housing with increases from property tax revenue and an increase in the city’s meals tax.

“We hope our community will be reflected as a priority,” Zelaya said. “We ask the council to prioritize deeply affordable housing for households earning 30% AMI and below in Arlandria and raise the meals tax from 5% to 6% and increasing property tax revenue dedicate to affordable housing from 0.6 cents to a full penny.”

Zelaya also asked that additional American Rescue Plan Act funding be invested into Alexandria Housing Development Corporation projects in Arlandria and the West End.

Budget adoption is scheduled for May 4, with several more work sessions and hearings planned before then.

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Rendering for Mount Vernon and Glebe, via AHDC

New affordable housing developments have a positive — if very slight — impact on housing values in Alexandria, according to a new report prepared for the City of Alexandria by the Urban Institute.

The report was presented to the Alexandria Housing Affordability Advisory Committee at a meeting earlier this week. The findings were presented by Christina Stacy, principal research associate for the Urban Institute. The presentation did start, though, with a notable disclaimer that Stacy is a board member at the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation (AHDC), one of the most active affordable housing developers in Alexandria.

“There’s a lot of opposition to affordable housing developments, [there’s] often a fear that developments will cause nearby property values to decline,” Stacy said. “But really, research has provided very little evidence that this exists.”

Stacy said a team at the Urban Institute used real estate website Zillow‘s tracking of residences — single-family homes, duplexes, coops and condominiums — in close proximity to developments with affordable housing components created between 2000 and 2020. Other weighted factors considered in study were proximity to the new development and whether the affordable housing was a component of a broader housing development or entirely affordable housing, like the Carpenter Shelter redevelopment.

Stacy said the calculation also factored in overall housing value increases. The results, she said, showed that affordable housing has a slight but notable positive impact on housing values in the immediate vicinity, though with the expected diminishing returns beyond that.

“We were going into this kind of expecting to find nothing, we weren’t really sure,” said Stacy. “What we consistently found was a positive and significant correlation between affordable housing developments and nearby property values. Affordable housing units are associated with an increase in nearby property values of .09%. That’s very small, but it’s not negative and that’s what’s important.”

Stacy said the study used a “repeat sales model,” looking at homes sold more than once and comparing price changes before and after new affordable housing was built. The sales were also compared with other similar properties that aren’t located near affordable housing developments, efforts that Stacy said aimed to “isolate the relationship between affordable housing and home prices.”

Stacy said the research showed a statistically significant effect on properties within 1/16 mile of the development, but little effect outside of that.

“Which is actually comforting for us because then we’re really thinking we’re isolating the impact of the building rather than just picking up developments that are going into neighborhoods that are already growing,” Stacy said, “but the fact that we’re not seeing that is comforting.”

Stacy said when breaking out housing that was “set aside” from market-rate units versus developments that are all committed affordable housing, her team was surprised to that see non-set aside buildings were most of what was driving the positive results. The report also found that the new developments still had a positive impact in higher-income neighborhoods.

The committee also discussed narrowing of criteria — breaking developments down by the average median income of the housing, for example. Stacy said it was possible, but the only concern was that fracturing the data samples too much could impact the reliability of the results. Commissioners also asked about the impact of density on home values, which Stacy said is being looked at in a separate report.

“You don’t have to give the results if it doesn’t turn out right,” one commissioner joked. “You can lie with statistics.”

“I hope you all should trust these results because that’s one thing we don’t do at Urban,” Stacy said. “We let the results [speak for themselves]. That’s why I go into these with a stressed heart because I know what I’m hoping to find, but we report what we find, and I could give you examples of studies we’ve done where we’ve reported what I wouldn’t necessarily have wanted, but you can trust these results because we report what we find no matter what we find.”

Stacy said there are a few factors that likely contributed to that positive correlation in Alexandria where others have had the opposite effect. One of the biggest, Stacy said, is that Alexandria has fairly strict requirements for design, development, maintenance and operation of affordable housing developments in comparison to other localities — Stacy singled out Norfolk in this — where city leaders said they often feel like they don’t have proper oversight.

“My interpretation of all of this is, given the well documented and proven benefits of affordable housing… we think these results support the development of additional affordable housing and I think other cities could learn a lot from how it’s done here in Alexandria,” Stacy said.

Helen McIlvaine, director of the Office of Housing, said the impetus for the report was public discussion surrounding a new AHDC project on Seminary Road. McIlvaine said one of the main questions from neighbors was how the new development would impact home values.

“We always get a question about ‘what will this do to our property values’ and this gives us some really great data to point to,” McIlvaine said.

Stacy said the full report is expected to be released in a month, with additional information on how the findings of the study can be reviewed and cross-checked.

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A 14-story Arlandria apartment complex has been acquired by the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation, the latest move in an effort to preserve affordable housing in an area facing significant development pressure.

AHDC recently announced that it bought the Park Vue of Alexandria apartments from Florida-based ZRS Management with support of $51.4 million from the $2 billion Amazon Housing Equity Fund, and conditionally will reman affordable for at least 99 years.

The announcement of the sale comes as developments progress on Amazon’s HQ2, Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus and the Potomac Yard Metro station — all projects that have raised concerns of gentrification.

“AHDC’s goal is to ensure that those who are currently living in this community have the chance to stay, and that households of all incomes will be able to enjoy the benefits of this vibrant neighborhood well into the future,” AHDC CEO Jon Frederick said in a statement. “As a non-profit that is dedicated to community development in Alexandria, the acquisition of Park Vue of Alexandria helps us achieve our mission of creating and preserving housing affordability here in our own backyard and allows us to create meaningful connections in the Arlandria-Chirilagua neighborhood.”

Earlier this month, City Council also approved a $10.5 million loan to the nonprofit to begin development on more than 500 affordable housing units in Arlandria at the intersection of Glebe Road and Mount Vernon Avenue.

“The culture and diversity of neighborhoods like Arlandria-Chirilagua are what makes Northern Virginia such a wonderful place to live, work, and thrive,” said Catherine Buell, director of the Amazon Housing
Equity Fund. “But unique communities like this, with all its valuable contributions, could be otherwise lost to commercial development that does not factor in the affordability needs of the community. By teaming up with organizations such as Alexandria Housing Development Corporation, we are able to help preserve and grow the housing stock for moderate- to low-income households to help build more diverse and inclusive communities.”

No residents at the Park Vue building will be displaced by the sale, and the conversion to affordable units will take place over the next several years, according to AHDC. The purchase maintains “accessible” rents for households making up to 60% of the area median income.

“As a partner with the Amazon Housing Equity Fund, Park Vue of Alexandria will maintain a 99-year affordability covenant,” AHDC said in the release. “AHDC will work with Amazon and other lending partners to refinance the property in the coming months to help support the long-term affordability of Park Vue of Alexandria.”

Alexandria lost 90% of its affordable housing stock between 2000 and 2017, and 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

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A new acquisition will preserve some affordable housing in Alexandria’s Arlandria/Chirilagua neighborhood for nearly 100 years. Wesley Housing has acquired the six-building Parc Square Apartments buildings.

Wesley Housing will now make immediate safety repairs, with a long-term plan to redevelop the property. The 1940s-era properties were acquired after Wesley Housing got a $2.3 million grant from the Amazon Housing Equity Fund, and conditionally will reman affordable for at least 99 years.

Wesley Housing will likely start construction on the major phase of redevelopment in 2025.

Amazon’s HQ2 has raise concerns in the area of gentrification, and the purchase establishes the path for a multi-phased redevelopment plan. The $2 billion Amazon Housing Equity Fund is intended to create and preserve upward of 20,000 affordable housing units in Arlington, Alexandria, and in Washington State’s Puget Sound region — three areas experiencing Amazon’s growth.

“Committing these units to long-term affordability and making critical repairs will greatly benefit existing residents and the community at large,” said Wesley Housing Vice President of Real Estate Development Kamilah McAfee. “Our ultimate goals are to reduce the economic burden of housing in this community, improve the quality of living for residents, contribute to income diversification, and attract private and public investment to generate economic opportunities and access to desirable amenities and services.”

As a condition of Amazon funding, the 66 units will remain affordable for at least 99 years.

“We are so pleased to be a part of the solution by addressing the affordable housing shortage,” said Catherine Buell, Director of the Amazon Housing Equity Fund. “By teaming up with organizations such as Wesley Housing, we are able to help grow the housing stock for moderate- to low-income households as well as support our communities of color whose diverse contributions help make Northern Virginia such a wonderful place to live, work, and thrive.”

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

Via Wesley Housing

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Living room, photo via Patrick Perkins/Unsplash

At Planning Commission and City Council meetings next month, the city is looking to amend the zoning ordinance to allow for more co-living units to be built.

Co-living units are a type of shared living arrangement where individual bedrooms have shared amenities, like communal kitchens or bathrooms. These are usually rental units, for short or long-term stays. It’s the individual bedroom rented out, rather than the unit as a whole, in a co-living arrangement.

The ordinance change is scheduled for review at the Tuesday, Jan. 4, Planning Commission meeting and the Saturday, Jan. 22, City Council public hearing.

“Co-living living arrangements are known by many different names and take on a variety of forms, but all generally offer individuals who are unrelated a private living space as well as access to a communal kitchen, bathrooms, and living apartment and are usually rental units, offering flexible short or long-term stays,” the city said in a report.

Co-living units are technically allowed, but currently require the developer to get a special use permit, which the city says most decide isn’t worth the hassle.

The new policy would allow residential developments to have two co-living units, with up to three bedrooms each, to be built in medium-high density, mixed-use developments without needing a public hearing or special use permit.

There were concerns though, expressed at a previous Planning Commission meeting, that this change doesn’t go far enough.

“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.”

According to the report, city staff said they felt this limit was the best way to address site-specific impacts that an increase in the scale of development might pose to surrounding communities.

Overall, staff said the goal of the new ordinance is to expand flexibility for housing options in Alexandria.

If adopted this amendment will reduce the current regulatory barriers which limit who may share a household in all commercial, high/medium density residential, multifamily, mixed-use, and office zones. The proposal also gives more unrelated adults the flexibility to live together. Further, proposed changes streamline the approval process for these types of living arrangements to provide the market with greater predictability. Lastly, co-living dwellings have the potential to incrementally increase housing supply while maintaining the established character of the existing community.

Photo via Patrick Perkins/Unsplash

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The city is looking for public feedback on fair housing in Alexandria, with plans to incorporate that feedback into a larger effort to secure federal funds to make housing more equitable in the city and its neighbors.

Fair housing, in this context, refers to the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibits the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. The meeting will gather public responses to see what difficulties or barriers still exist in regard to fair housing in Alexandria.

The feedback from the meeting will be going into the Regional Housing Equity Plan — a region-wide analysis of the effectiveness of fair housing policy. The forum will be virtual and is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 9, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Attendees must register online.

A press release from the city said the program is being organized with the Urban Institute and the Ochoa Urban Collaborative and will include data on existing housing and demographic conditions in the city.

“Participants can join breakout sessions and discuss specific fair housing issues and their effects on communities. Information gathered from this public meeting will be used to develop the Regional Housing Equity Plan,” the press release said. “This plan is intended to help direct federal funds to make housing more equitable and accessible for individuals and families in Alexandria and neighboring jurisdictions.”

The plan is being put together by the City of Alexandria, Arlington County, Montgomery County and D.C., with similar forums scheduled for the city’s various neighbors. The press release said the plan is being designed in an effort to ensure that local fair housing goals are consistent with neighbors and more likely to be effective.

Photo via City of Alexandria

 

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