Alexandria Planners Recommend Affordability Measures for Arlandria

  • March 31st 2021

by Nena Perry-Brown

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Neighborhood context map, courtesy of Alexandria Planning Commission. Click to enlarge.

In northern Virginia, the housing and affordability crisis, the pandemic, and the gradual arrival of Amazon intersect, creating a sense of urgency around protecting residents from displacement.

The neighborhood of Arlandria-Chirilagua has been engaging in a planning process to address this intersection and are now presenting their recommendations for how Alexandria can ensure that affordable housing remains available.

On Monday night, neighborhood planners presented their recommendations at two consecutive meetings, one in English and one in Spanish, in recognition of the neighborhood's large Hispanic and Latino population. Preserving this level of diversity is one of the planning goals established, along with ensuring residents are not displaced, have access to more open space, and have more walkable neighborhoods.

The Station at Potomac Yard. Click to enlarge.

Here are some of the recommendations that focused specifically on housing affordability:

Explore Opportunities for the City to Buy Down Rents

The majority of the rental housing supply in the Arlandria-Chirilagua neighborhood is naturally affordable in the 60-80% of area median income (AMI) range. However, the median household income in the neighborhood is $53,000, putting the majority of households in the 40% AMI range and creating a housing mismatch similar to that seen in DC. The planners recommend that the city be proactive in finding ways to deepen the affordability of the existing housing stock, perhaps by subsidizing or "buying down" rents at properties that are already naturally affordable.

Use Redevelopments of Public Land to Co-Locate Affordable Housing

In a strategy that may seem familiar to DC residents, another recommendation is that Alexandria use development of city-owned land as an opportunity to build affordable housing, co-located with other public services where applicable. A relatively recent example is The Station at Potomac Yard, where affordable apartments sit above a fire station. A separate recommendation encourages Alexandria to provide gap financing in developments that include affordable housing.

Exchange Affordable Housing for Additional Density

In instances where developers want to build above the allowable height or density, 10% of the additional portion of that development would be required as affordable housing, half for households earning up to 40% of AMI (roughly $50,000 for a family of four) and half for households earning up to 50% of AMI (roughly $63,000 for a family of four). Under the current Small Area Plan, developments within the zoning envelope are subject to requirements to contribute to an affordable housing fund or provide affordable units on-site; for developments that exceed height and density maximums, the portion that remains within the zoning allowance is subject to those more lax requirements.

Consider Tweaking Parking Minimums 

To incentivize and make affordable housing production more feasible, the planners recommend the city create more flexibility around parking minimums so that developers can repurpose funds that would typically go to building parking spaces.

Other recommendations include provisions like using right of first refusal to ensure affordable housing gets needed repairs, bolstering tenant services and training tenants to advocate for themselves, and exploring other mechanisms like community land trusts. There are also some variables that the recommendations do not address; for example, over half of the neighborhood's rental units are one-bedrooms, leading to overcrowding. There are no provisions as of now to incentivize or in any way codify the need for family-sized rental units.

The recommendations will be presented to the city's Planning Commission in April in anticipation of an initial public hearing in late spring. There will also be a series of meetings held around other areas of planning focus like open space, transportation, land use, and infrastructure through September.

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/alexandria-planners-recommend-affordability-measures-for-arlandria/18069.

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