The number of affordable housing units in Alexandria, Virginia, has seen a dramatic decline. Between 2000 and 2017, the city lost 90 percent of its affordable housing, according to a report released last month by its Office of Housing.
In 2000, Alexandria had 18,218 units of affordable housing. Now it has 1,749 affordable housing units.
Currently, more than two-thirds of Alexandria’s residents spend more than 30 percent or more of their incomes on rent or mortgage payments.
“A place like Alexandria needs to be a place that keeps housing for folks from every level,” said Alexandria Council member John Chapman in an appearance on “The Kojo Nnamdi Show.”
He said although some may consider the city to be affluent, people of various socioeconomic backgrounds should be able to maintain residency there.
Market rate affordable units are unsubsidized, privately owned units that families below the area median income can afford to live in. In Alexandria, affordable units are defined as units affordable to households that are earning 60 percent of the AMI or less which means roughly $46,380 a year for a single-person household and $66,180 for a household of four people.
Very few of the existing affordable units in Alexandria can accommodate larger families with 66 percent being studio or one-bedroom, 27 percent being two-bedroom and just 7 percent three-bedroom.
City officials have listed a number of factors contributing to the dramatic loss in affordable housing including a growing gap between housing prices and wages, a stronger demand for housing as more people move to the broader metro area and the redevelopment of buildings with new amenities driving up housing prices.
Unlike neighboring D.C., Alexandria does not have an inclusionary zoning program. In the District, inclusionary zoning requirements mandate developments that expand density beyond a certain point to set aside 8 to 10 percent of its residential space for affordable housing units.
“We cannot force developers to have a certain amount of affordable housing with a project,” Chapman said. “We actually have to sit down and try to negotiate to include [affordable] housing.”
The city’s bonus density program allows officials to negotiate with developers for density bonuses of up to 20 percent and height bonuses of up to 25 feet in exchange for affordable rental or for-sale units. Bonuses greater than 20 percent are permitted in small area plans.
A proposed amendment to the program suggests a bonus density limit increase from the 20 percent to 30 percent, and allow increases above 30 percent when appropriate.
“In my opinion, we’ve ended up on, unfortunately, the wrong side of some of those negotiations because we have very little bit of affordable housing coming back to us,” Chapman said.
He said the city council will be pushing more units of affordable housing in future negotiations and also look at opportunities to use public land to build affordable housing, a point of contention among the council.