ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The City of Alexandria kicked off a new round of community engagement Tuesday to discuss initiatives that would bring in more affordable housing. However, a newly formed community group is already pushing back before formal proposals are introduced.
Zoning for Housing/Housing for All is a plan to explore a major zoning reform to make housing more accessible in the city. Council members accelerated the plan since last year, which included multiple community meetings and surveys.
"If we do not invest in affordable housing now and build more housing now and set up ourselves up for success in the next decades to come, we're going to have a housing crisis on the level of California," YIMBYs of Northern Virginia Founder Luca Gattoni-Celli told WUSA9. "The idea that this is being rushed is patently false."
However, Coalition For Livable Alexandria is worried changing zoning ordinances to allow for more mixed-use buildings and multi-family homes in certain areas could change the historic character of the city and impact density, infrastructure and sewage.
The coalition stressed it supports affordable housing overall but feels the plan is being rushed.
"We're concerned that this remedy is going to do more harm, that we don't see any guarantees that this will actually result in more affordable housing. It could potentially result in overdevelopment within Alexandria," said Coalition For Livable Alexandria Chairman Roy Byrd.
City officials are exploring nine different zoning ordinances, which include where multi-family homes are allowed and converting offices into condos. Among the recommendations also include changing height requirements so developers can add more affordable housing units and allowing more homes per lot in single-family zones.
"It's worrying that this is just a giveaway to developers to create more luxury housing and create single-family housing more expensive down the road," said Boyd Walker, a civic activist and business owner.
City leaders say one of of the main goals is addressing a huge disparity in homeownership between majority and minority communities and the segregation of where different groups are living.
Some of that comes down to income — where the median household income for the city is $105,000, but a single family home has an average assessed value of $940,000.
"We have not created a sufficient housing supply for the demand in our community," said Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson. "That is freezing people out — people who are unable to live here in Alexandria, people who have lived in our city for generations that are unable to make their home in our city. That's really this conversation."
He reminded everyone that right now, these are just recommendations. Formal proposals will be presented next Tuesday, and there will be a public comment section before the vote in the last week of November.
"The infrastructure is going to be there," added Gattoni-Celli. "Actually, new development is often the vehicle for infrastructure investment in Alexandria."