Newsletter

(Updated 3:15 p.m.) As part of an ongoing mission to help boost the city’s economic recovery, a Virginia program being administered locally by the Alexandria/Arlington Regional Workforce Council offer to match signing bonuses for small, local businesses currently hiring new employees.

Liz Bolton, interim director of marketing and communications for the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, said the grants are available to any business with fewer than 100 employees in Arlington or Alexandria. The grant program provides matching grants of $500 to create a $1,000 bonus for the new W-2 employees who are paid $15 per hour or more.

The bonus is applicable for any employee hired after May 31 up to a maximum of 25 new hires.

“Employer must match the full amount and provide funds directly to new hires,” the program website said. “This can be in either one lump sum or in installments to cover the ongoing costs of childcare, transportation, or other barriers to re-employment. Verification of how funds are used by the new hire is not required.”

Arlington and Alexandria employers can apply for the grants online.

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As the nation was going through economic turmoil and the city’s unemployment reaching historic highs, at least 1,899 residents have also faced eviction threats from their landlords.

In a newsletter, Mayor Justin Wilson noted that from last July to this April, there were 514 eviction judgements in the city and 1,128 evictions that were pursued but eventually dropped or dismissed. There are 257 cases pending.

On the bright side, Wilson also noted that 845 residents were assisted by the city’s outreach efforts at the courthouse, and more were aided with the city’s rental assistance program.

“The City has assisted 3,458 households with $9.9 million of emergency rent and mortgage assistance,” Wilson said. “Our residents have received another $7 million in rental assistance funds through the Virginia Rent Relief Program.”

Most of that funding has come from local, state and federal funding, but Wilson said the city has also gotten support from churches and non-profits like Christ Episcopal, St. Paul’s Episcopal, St. Vincent de Paul, Casa Chirilagua and ALIVE!.

“We have had landlords who have partnered with the City to keep their tenants housed and a General District Court that has been committed to assisting throughout this process,” Wilson said. “While these efforts have not been perfect, the partnerships that have been developed, expanded and exercised have been absolutely crucial in keeping our residents housed and maintaining family stability during a horrific time for our community.”

Last year, residents in the West End and Arlandria protested against evictions and called for a rent freeze.

A CDC moratorium on evictions is set to continue through the end of June, but the moratoriums have loopholes and requirements that mean evictions have continued regardless.

According to the city website:

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has extended the Foreclosure and Eviction Moratorium for FHA-insured mortgages through June 30, 2021, and provides a 180-day extension to the deadlines for the first legal action and the reasonable diligence time frame from the date of the moratorium expiration.

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Alexandria has gotten knocked down, but is looking to get back up again in 2021.

In a report outlining the city’s response to the dire fiscal impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership (ADEP) outlined the allocation of grant funding to businesses in the city. Beneath lingering concerns about the years it will likely take to return businesses to a pre-pandemic levels of vitality, the report outlined some of the major new tenants and changes coming to the city in the next year or two.

AEDP’s optimism for these new economic boosts for the city is also twinged with a touch of uncertainty for what the future of the city’s office usage looks like.

Potomac and North Old Town

One of the biggest changes is the new Institute for Defense Analyses Headquarters under construction at 730 E. Glebe Road near the Potomac Yard Metro station. The building will be a 370,000-square-foot office space, relocating the offices from the Mark Center in the West End to a larger, more accessible site.

“It’s one of the things that’s visible as you come into Potomac Yard,” said Stephanie Landrum, CEO of AEDP. “The other two office buildings were delivered over the course of the last year behind it and behind that is the Metro. The cluster of those things is starting to visibly tell the story of what Potomac Yard is morphing into.”

Landrum said Potomac Yard epitomizes the kind of living, breathing change that’s part of living in a growing city.

A little to the south, Landrum said there is a similar transformation taking place in Old Town North.

“In Old Town North, where there’s a pretty significant cluster of activity,” Landrum said. “We’re starting to see this really cool mix of reimagined buildings, like conversion of the Crowne Plaza and 801 N. Fairfax — where chamber of commerce used to be — and conversion of American Physical Therapy building; and that sort of investment combined with brand new — like Gables, The Muse, and the bus barn construction.”

Unlike Potomac Yard, where much of the old commercial space is being demolished to make way for the newer development, Landrum said development in North Old Town requires a more subtle touch.

“With Old Town North, it’s not plowing everything and starting over,” Landrum said. “It’s a patchwork of redoing existing and building new stuff. [When it’s finished] you will see architecture from the 1940s and from the 2020s. It’s a cool and interesting story.”

West End

In the West End, the belle of the development ball has been Landmark Mall, where Inova is slated to anchor a large new mixed-use development with a relocation and expansion of its Alexandria hospital.

“All West end residents want is a central gathering place, a town center,” said Landrum. “Now, at Landmark, they will be able to replicate the same successful mix of uses [as Potomac]. What’s awesome about Landmark is having an economic driver in the hospital. There will be doctor’s offices and other health-related spin-off businesses that want to be in proximity.”

But Potomac Yard and Old Town are boosted by Metro accessibility that helps to make them regional destinations. Landmark doesn’t have that level of transit accessibility today, though development may benefit from the area’s close proximity to I-395.

Landrum said the city is currently working through plans of boosting transit accessibility to Landmark, though convincing Metro riders to hop from the train onto a bus is often a difficult prospect.

“The city is adding alternative modes of transportation,” Landrum said. “For bus rapid transit (BRT), there’s one in Potomac Yard that is still in its beginning stages of ridership. Before the pandemic, we started to see positive momentum there. For the West End, we’re hoping for a similar line to connect Van Dorn Metro to the Pentagon Metro. What we’re trying to do is provide people with as many options as possible.”

One of the advantages of the hospital is that it gives the surrounding developments what might cynically be called a captive audience.

“Honestly, that’s why landing Inova was critical,” Landrum said. “It’s a thing people figure out how to go to if they need to.” Read More

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A new report from the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership showed that the 22314 zip code — Old Town and Carlyle — received more funding in business grants than the rest of Alexandria combined.

A breakdown of grant dollars by zip code showed that Old Town and Carlyle businesses received $3.5 million in grant funding. The next closest was the 22304 zip code in the West End, totaling $1.1 million.

That funding would be centered in Old Town isn’t too surprising, considering that’s where roughly 50% of the city’s businesses are located. AEDP President and CEO Stephanie Landrum told ALXnow last year that’s also where around 60% of the grant applications come from, despite an effort by the organization specifically to reach out to non-Old Town businesses and encourage them to apply.

The rest of Alexandria, combined, received $2.4 million in grants.

In total, AEDP distributed $6.4 million in federal and local grant funding to 648 Alexandria businesses.

The grants were fairly evenly split between male and female-owned businesses — 46% and 44% respectively — with 9% not identifying their gender and 1% identifying as trans or non-binary.

Roughly 74% of the funding went to businesses with less than 25 employees, which were a focus of AEDP’s grand campaign.

The report also showed that 47% of businesses that received grants were white-owned, followed by 21% as Asian-owned businesses. Black-owned businesses in Alexandria comprised 11% of grant funding, and Hispanic or Latino-owned only 8%.

Overall, the report also took stock of the pandemic’s devastating impact on local businesses:

  • 81% of small businesses reporting very-to-extreme disruptions to business operations
  • 77% of small businesses reporting year-over-year revenue declines
  • 9.9% Alexandria unemployment rate in April 2020 (an increase of 7.9% from April 2019)
  • $30.2M projected loss of business and consumer-based tax revenue in the City

Photos via AEDP

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Low-income residents at Southern Towers (4901 Seminary Road) in the West End have been among those most affected by historic highs in unemployment and a sluggish economic recovery — but on-top of this, many of the residents face a new problem: a landlord pursuing hundreds of evictions.

At a meeting today between residents and elected officials, several immigrants living one of the city’s few remaining bastions of market rate affordable housing shared a sense of uncertainty and fear as new landlord CIM Group begins taking legal actions against residents.

“I used to work full time job, my husband worked two jobs,” said Betelihem Kebede, a resident at Southern Towers. “We had no problem paying rent, but during the pandemic, I lost my job and my husband lost both his jobs. To pay rent, we used up our savings. My husband took some part time jobs to still pay rent. It was hard but we were still trying to pay rent. We’re trying to think of our kids’ future, but we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. We’re still fighting.”

A report prepared by Chris Bohner, a researcher with Radish LLC, showed that Southern Towers owner CIM has taken residents to court on eviction proceedings 541 times since August 2020, when CIM acquired the property. Bohner’s findings indicate that CIM is leading in eviction proceedings among Alexandria landlords over the last few months.

The proceedings have taken place despite a moratorium on evictions, and Bohner said that’s shown no signs of slowing down.

“Yesterday, there were 20 Southern Towers cases scheduled for court,” Bohner said.

Bohner said his findings were based on information from the Alexandria District Court. The number doesn’t represent the total number of residents affected, which is harder to pin down. Several are repeated proceedings against the same households — Bohner estimated there were over 200 distinct cases — but most cases were directed at families living in units rather than individual persons.

Several state and city elected representatives — including House of Delegates Majority Leader Charniele Herring– were on the virtual call. Some highlighted efforts being undertaken to help relieve the impending eviction issues, but others noted that the effort to force residents out of the complex likely isn’t accidental in the context of anticipated higher housing prices with Amazon’s impending arrival.

“You’re talking over 600 people out of about 4,000 residents,” Bohner said. “And of course the evictions have the impact of intimidating the other residents as well. The evictions proceedings are happening despite the eviction moratorium. They know they can’t evict for a little while longer.”

Bohner presented the findings on a call put together by African Communities Together and residents of the complex earlier today. The call also included elected representatives and residents of Southern Towers.

Residents said recent unemployment has made it difficult for families to pay their bills.

“I used to work three jobs, and I lost all of them during the pandemic,” said Sami Bourma, a resident of Southern Towers originally from Sudan. “I’m a father with three kids. I talked to the landlords and was told I had to figure out a way to pay rent. Then they stated to threaten us and send us letters.”

Bourma said he was among those who was hopeful new ownership of the property could help turn around a relationship so combative that residents launched protests against management last year. But if anything, Bourma said the situation has gotten worse, and others said management is harder to get in touch with now.

Ikram Meskaoui, a resident in the building, said despite promises that owners would work with residents on rental payment, management was difficult to contact and wouldn’t respond to resident communications. ALXnow called CIM Group but was directed to a line that had a full voicemail.

City Council member Canek Aguirre said city leadership was concerned by the eviction proceedings and said businesses coming into Alexandria have an obligation to be good neighbors and good community members.

Delegate Mark Levine said residents should talk to community organizers and make sure they don’t do anything like default or ignore eviction notices.

“I’m heartbroken to hear about what’s going on,” said City Councilman Mo Seifeldein, who said that he lived at Southern Towers for ten years. “You’re going to see this turn into luxurious apartments as part of gentrification of the West End. If you look at other apartments in the area you begin to see the full picture. You’re likely not going to see much protection other than minimal effort. This requires more pressure on elected officials.”

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Morning Notes

Beyer Praises Biden’s Economic Relief Plan — “Soon we will have a president in the White House, and Democratic leaders controlling Congress, who understand what economists have told us from the beginning–that in order to recover and rebuild from this pandemic you must first control the coronavirus and that rent and food are not going to trickle down to millions of unemployed Americans.” [Beyer.house.gov]

COVID-19 Self-Testing Kiosks Closed Today — “Stay safe on January 20. To ensure the safety of the community and Curative employees, COVID-19 testing kiosks in Alexandria will be closed on Inauguration Day. Pre-register for testing on Tues, Jan 19 or Thurs, Jan 21.” [Twitter]

Polk Elementary Principal Announces Retirement — “James K. Polk Elementary School Principal PreeAnn Johnson will retire July 1, 2021… Johnson was honored last year by Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) Superintendent Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings Jr. as ACPS Principal of the Year.”[Zebra]

ACPS Minority and Special Needs Students Struggle With Virtual Learning — “The report, compiled by ACPS’ Department of Accountability and Research, shows that middle and high school students earned D’s and F’s in greater numbers across all demographic groups in the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year compared to first quarter of the 2019-20 school year.” [Alex Times]

Accessory Dwelling Unit Decision Coming Up In Alexandria — “Accessory dwelling units, defined as small apartment-style residences sharing a lot with a larger house, would be allowed citywide under the proposal from the Department of Planning and Zoning and Office of Housing. Units are considered accessory dwellings when they provide a separate kitchen, bathroom and bedroom from the main house. They could be located in an addition of an existing home or a within separate on a lot, such as a detached garage.” [Patch]

Former Mayor Recounts Taking Iconic Photo of Coretta Scott King — “Silberberg’s photo has been published extensively by many publications. The most memorable was after Mrs. King passed away in 2006, when the photo was used by Target for full-page ads the company took out in The Washington PostThe New York Times and other major metropolitan newspapers to commemorate King’s service to the country.” [Alexandria Living]

Today’s Weather — “A few clouds from time to time (during the day). High 44F. Winds NW at 15 to 25 mph… Clear skies (in the evening). Low 24F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Experienced Tax Preparer — “The ideal candidate will have A MINIMUM of 5 years of Public Accounting experience, working in a tax environment. The ability to accurately prepare and review tax returns for various types of entities is a must! A desire to assist in expanding business growth and efficiency with fresh ideas is also highly desired.” [Indeed]

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Data put out today by the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) shows that nearly 8% of the city was unemployed in July, only a fraction improvement over June’s figures.

The VEC data showed that the city had a civilian labor force of 100,938 in July. Of that, 93,084 remained employed while 7,854 had filed for unemployment.

The level of unemployment was marginally better than the 8,050 unemployed in June. While the figures aren’t in for August, data tracked week to week showed that the unemployment filings increased in July but dipped back down dramatically near the beginning of August. Last week, those numbers hit the lowest levels since April as the local economy starts to steadily improved.

Still, the unemployment numbers remain significantly higher than they were before the pandemic. VEC data showed that in July 2019, unemployment was only 2.1%. Kendel Taylor, the city’s Director of Finance, warned that full recovery could be two years away.

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For Alexandria businesses, things are better than they were, but data from Opportunity Insights shows recovery is a gradual process.

Alexandria’s consumer spending, which was down 25% from January numbers in July, has climbed to 14.8% below January spending levels. The data includes all credit and debit card transactions from an area, so that includes online orders.

Alexandria also no longer has the largest drop in consumer spending. Though levels are still lower than Fairfax County’s, the city is faring better than Arlington, which has seen 23.3% decline in consumer spending since January.

Small business revenue has also followed roughly the same trajectory, making a steady climb since mid-June when the stay at home order ended. Revenues are still substantially down, though, at 26.1% less than revenue had been in January.

While the improvements are promising, Kendal Taylor, the city’s director of finance, is warning that a full economic recovery could be at least two years away.

Meanwhile, the Virginia Employment Commission said Alexandria’s unemployment numbers have continued to decline. There were 4,443 continued unemployment filings in Alexandria the week of Aug. 22 — still substantially higher than the roughly 200 claims before the pandemic but the lowest those figures have been since April 11.

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After several weeks of staggering increases, both measures of unemployment in Alexandria are improving for the first time since early June.

Initial unemployment claims — the first time claims are filed by someone seeking unemployment — and continued unemployment — claims to continue receiving unemployment — were both down.

Alexandria’s initial unemployment claims fell from a peak of 932 the week of July 25 to 336 the week of August 1 after five weeks of continued increases.

Continued unemployment claims fell from 5,904 to 5,660, part of a slower but steadier decline in continued claims.

As with the increases, the decreases were part of a statewide shift in unemployment numbers, according to the Virginia Employment Commission.

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The number of new unemployment claims in Alexandria has reached levels not seen since early May, according to the Virginia Employment Commission.

The latest numbers show that the number of new unemployment claims — those making their initial unemployment filings — has gone up to 932 for the week of July 25. Between July 18 and July 25, claims increased by 201.

The number of new initial filings has been steadily increasing since June 20, when it hit a low of 386 new claims.

While initial claims have gone up, the number of continued claims have held steady or gone down. For the week of July 25, there were 5,904 new claims, the lowest claims have been since May 2.

The third phase of reopening at the beginning of July appears to have done little to impact unemployment in the area. Alexandria’s numbers are also part of a statewide surge in new unemployment claims.

“The Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) announced that the total number of initial claims filed from the beginning of the pandemic in Mid-March of 2020 through the July 25, 2020 filing week was more than double the average number filed during the last three economic recessions,” VEC said. “For the filing week ending July 25, the figure for seasonally unadjusted initial claims in Virginia was 42,966. The latest claims figure was an increase of 5,020 claimants from the previous week and rose to its highest level since May.”

Graphs by Vernon Miles

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