The Council Connection
your connection to City Council by Mayor Justin M. Wilson
Initiatives and Updates
Landmark Mall Redevelopment
Tonight, the Alexandria Planning Commission will hear public testimony and make a recommendation to the City Council on a master plan amendment and rezoning of the site of the existing Inova Alexandria Hospital. This land-use decision is the first in a series of decisions necessary to bring to reality a long-awaited redevelopment of Landmark Mall and development of a new Inova Alexandria Hospital.

Days before Christmas, the City joined with a few partners, some familiar and some new, to announce the future of the Landmark Mall site. The new development plan will move Inova Alexandria Hospital from its home for the past 58 years on Seminary Road to a new modern facility on the site of Landmark Mall.

The site, one of the largest sites inside the Beltway awaiting redevelopment, will see a billion dollars of new investment, including a new Level II trauma center, medical office buildings, residential, retail, parks, a new fire station replacing Fire Station 208, new committed affordable housing and a new transit hub anchoring the City's new bus rapid transit network, DASH and Metrobus.

This will not only revitalize a site that many had given up on, but will also provide a catalyst for redevelopment and enhancement throughout the West End of our City.

If the Planning Commission makes a recommendation this evening, the application for the existing hospital site will come to City Council for final approval on Saturday June 19th. Later this month, the Planning Commission will then hear the land-use approvals for the Landmark Mall site. Those applications will come to City Council in July.

Despite over two decades of decline, it is not a mystery why we had been unable to spur redevelopment on this site in the past, It is a complicated site, with a complicated ownership structure requiring significant infrastructure investment.

Conquering those obstacles requires a unique partnership and financial arrangement. A local firm, Foulger-Pratt is leading a joint venture in partnership with Howard Hughes Corporation, the current owner of the mall site, and Seritage Growth Properties, the owner of the Sears site. They were able to bring Inova Health System into the arrangement to anchor this redevelopment.

The City will finance some of the infrastructure improvements required on the site and we will purchase the future hospital site to lease back to Inova. Inova's proceeds from selling their existing site on Seminary Road is financing their expenses related to the move.

Nearly 55 years ago, then-Virginia Lieutenant Governor Mills Godwin Jr. (later Virginia's 60th and 62nd Governor) came to Alexandria to open Landmark Mall. Today, the work to restore the Landmark Mall site to a productive use of real estate for our City is a top focus for our community.

In June 2013, after taking over ownership of the mall site, the Howard Hughes Corporation received approval by the Planning Commission and City Council for a redevelopment of their portion of the site . A slower than expected leasing market slowed their intentions to redevelop. 

In 2015, Howard Hughes Corporation was back at City Hall to apply for very minor amendments to the approval that was issued in 2013. These changes were approved by City Council in April of 2015.

There is no clearer demonstration of the City's financial challenges than the predicament that has faced Landmark Mall. 

Two decades ago, when the ownership of the properties at Landmark Mall received their tax assessments from the City, the actual mall site was assessed at $76.4 million. The Sears store was assessed at $19.7 million. The Macy's store site was assessed at $17 million

At the City's tax rate in 2000, these three sites alone generated $1.25 million in real estate tax.

Today, the three properties are assessed at $25.2 million, $14 million, and $12.6 million, respectively. They generate about $500,000 in real estate tax today, less than half of what it used to be. 

To make the situation even more severe, real estate tax is only a portion of the picture. The reduction in revenues from sales tax, dining tax, and other business taxes has also been dramatic at this site.

While no one should be convinced until they see bulldozers knocking down the existing mall site, we have finally assembled a partnership, financing and a plan to revitalize this site. Landmark Mall redevelopment has been complicated from the beginning, but I believe we can be cautiously optimistic that it is finally coming together with this exciting partnership.
Making Affordable Housing Happen
Last month, we welcomed 113 families to "The Spire" on the City's West End. This new affordable housing development creates new committed housing stock for residents earning 30% to 60% of the Area Median Income and will include 1, 2 and 3 bedroom units. You can watch the ribbon-cutting event online.

This project was made possible due to a mission-driven faith community, Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, which worked to share their land with those in need of housing in our community.

A little over a month ago, "The Lineage at North Patrick Street," the reborn Ramsey Homes, saw new residents move inDeveloped by the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA), this new development provides a total of 52 new units, again serving residents at 30%, 50% and 60% of our area median income.

At the beginning of December, Carpenter's Shelter and the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation (AHDC) celebrated the opening of "The Bloom." This unique partnership with the City provides a replacement homeless shelter for Carpenter's and 97 units of committed affordable housing (including 10 units for former Carpenter's clients) just south of the Monroe Avenue Bridge on Route 1. You can watch the ribbon-cutting event online.

Later that same day, we broke ground on "The Waypoint." Wesley Housing, a non-profit housing developer began construction of this new affordable housing project that will be constructed in partnership with the City and Fairlington Presbyterian Church. This project, will bring 81 new units of affordable housing which will serve residents earning 30%, 50% and 60% of the area median income in our community.

All four of these development efforts were a continuation of the public/private partnerships that the City employs to create affordable housing. All four projects utilized City tax dollars and successfully competed for Federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) administered by Virginia Housing (formerly the Virginia Housing Development Corporation).

In September, the City Council unanimously approved the extension of pre-development financing to AHDC and Wesley Housing to explore three other affordable housing development opportunities:

Each of these projects is part of a pipeline of new affordable housing the City is working to create, using Federal and state financing tools, local funds and land-use policy.

In September, the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) unanimously adopted new regional housing creation targets. This was the first regional commitment to accelerate the development of housing supply as a means to address our affordability crisis. 

These targets, while voluntary, commit the City to the creation of additional units, with most of those units committed to be affordable for low to middle income households. To ensure that this housing creation does not exacerbate existing transportation challenges, most of this new housing must be located near job centers and high-capacity transportation infrastructure. 

In 2013, while adopting our Housing Master Plan, City Council set an ambitious goal to create or preserve 2,000 affordable units by 2025. We are on track to meet this goal.  

With Council's unanimous adoption of the COG targets, we will increase our current target of 200 units per year to 325 affordable units per year. 

I served on the COG Housing Strategy Group which developed these recommended targets, along with elected officials from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. The groundwork for this effort was laid In September of 2018, when the Board of Directors of COG accepted a report that identified that 100,000 additional housing units will need to be constructed within the region just to meet expected job growth. That is 100,000 units BEYOND what is already planned to be developed. 

The COG analysis focuses on the housing production required to meet the economic competitiveness and transportation efficiency goals for the region. Even with increased housing production at the levels recommended, it's unlikely to be sufficient supply to address affordability challenges. 

The recent Amazon and Virginia Tech economic development announcements have stoked concerns regarding the impacts on affordability that may result throughout the region. While analysis shows the potential for impacts on affordability, in a region with over 3.3 million jobs, an additional 25,000 jobs entering the market over a decade is not likely to have a dramatic impact. 

Yet these economic development "wins" have served to shine a light on an issue that has bedeviled our City and this region for decades. As the region's job supply has grown, the housing supply has not sufficiently grown to match

While the paired announcement of Amazon and Virginia Tech presents risks for affordability in the region, it also provides some critical opportunities:
While the national media has highlighted the potential impact of this new growth on Arlandria and other vulnerable neighborhoods, the City working to conclude a long-planned effort to update our plans in Arlandria and Del Ray. Housing affordability, namely how to preserve the market-rate affordability remaining in Arlandria, will be a significant component of that process. 

In response to requests by Council, our staff returned last month with revisions to our Interdepartmental Work Program to include a comprehensive review of zoning tools available to advance affordability. The so-called "Zoning For Housing" effort is now moving forward with findings scheduled to come to Council and the Planning Commission over the next few years. 

In the next 2 years, this includes study of:

When the City attempts to address housing affordability, it is going up against powerful economic forces. Employing market-based solutions to these affordability challenges is where the City can be most effective.

In late 2015, Jason Furman, then the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, made a speech that drew a direct connection between one of the most challenging issues for us in Alexandria to one of the most challenging issues facing our nation. 

He laid the blame for these challenges squarely at the feet of local policymakers. 

In this speech, Mr. Furman addressed the large and growing challenges of housing affordability in communities. He connected those challenges with growing income inequality around our country.  But most relevant to us in Alexandria, he assigned blame for a lack of housing affordability on local zoning restrictions. 

Said another way, our limitations and restrictions on development have driven the cost of housing to unaffordable levels thus exacerbating income inequality. He even traces the impact of these restrictions to reductions in employment

Furman writes  "Zoning restrictions--be they in the form of minimum lot sizes, off-street parking requirements, height limits, prohibitions on multifamily housing, or lengthy permitting processes--are supply constraints. Basic economic theory predicts--and many empirical studies confirm--that housing markets in which supply cannot keep up with demand will see housing prices rise."

All of this leads us to the fundamental question as to whether Alexandria's efforts to address affordability are helping, hurting or having no effect.

If Furman and other economists are to be believed, we in Alexandria have rarely tackled the fundamental root of housing affordability. Most of our efforts are aimed at creating or preserving housing that will ultimately be in the public domain or under nominal public control. However, it is through our zoning authority that we can truly impact housing affordability in privately owned housing. 

Obviously zoning restrictions have a place and serve a need to protect the quality of life within our community. I would also suggest that we have done some things right in tweaking our current restrictions to improve affordability. 

For instance, in 2015, the City Council adopted new parking standards for multi-family housing. By rightsizing parking, we significantly reduced the cost of construction for multi-family residential development, provided new incentives for the use of transit, and freed up resources for alternate community investments. 

However, these new standards went even farther, by providing steeper parking incentives for restricted affordable housing units. The City essentially adopted our largest financial incentive for the creation of new affordable housing, while also reducing the overall cost of private housing development. 

In 2017, at the suggestion of Councilman Chapman and myself, the City expanded our "density bonus" program for affordable housing. The program essentially trades additional market density with landowners in exchange for new committed affordable housing. 

As we work to implement the City's Housing Master Plan, the new COG Housing targets and advance our "Zoning for Housing" effort, we must seek to comprehend and be willing to address all of the factors that challenge affordability in the City. Amazon's arrival and Virginia Tech's expansion doesn't dramatically change the affordability challenge in our region, but it does perhaps give us the impetus to make the difficult decisions to address it. 
Primary Day Next Week
Early voting is available every day this week until Saturday as Alexandria Democrats are voting to choose their nominees for statewide, state and local offices.

This November, Alexandria voters will elect a Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, members of the Virginia House of Delegates, Alexandria Mayor, Alexandria Sheriff, Alexandria Commonwealth's Attorney, all six members of the Alexandria City Council and all 9 members of the Alexandria City School Board.

On Tuesday June 8th, all City polling places will be open from 6 AM until 7 PM for the Democratic Primary.

The June 8th Primary will be used to select the Democratic nominees for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Alexandria Mayor, Alexandria City Council and the member of the Virginia House of Delegates representing the 45th District (the eastern end of Alexandria).

Last year, Virginia introduced "no-excuse" early voting, so voters have three choices to vote in the June primary:

  1. Any ballot that was received by mail can still be mailed back or dropped 24/7 at the drop-box located in front of 132 N. Royal Street.
  2. You can vote in person at the Alexandria Registrar's Office, from 8 AM until 8 PM tomorrow and Wednesday. Friday and Saturday voting will be available from 8 AM until 5 PM. This Saturday is the last day of early voting!
  3. You can vote in person at your precinct on the Primary Day of June 8th.

I'll see you at the polls!
Preventing Evictions
A little over a year ago, I mailed a letter to all of the multi-family landlords in our City requested that provide lenience and forbearance for their tenants, as the early economic events of the pandemic were beginning to challenge our most vulnerable residents.

Little did we know at that point that we were in for the long-haul in addressing the economic impacts of this crisis on our residents.

Shortly thereafter, we stood up Alexandria's Eviction Prevention Task Force, including City agencies, the Sheriff's Department, community organizations, non-profits and others, with the central focus to keep our residents housed during this crisis.

From July of 2020 through April of 2021, there were 514 eviction judgements entered in the City, 1,128 evictions pursued but dropped or dismissed, 257 pending cases and 845 individuals who were assisted through our outreach at the courthouse.

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

While most of these resources have come from local, state and Federal government sources, the City has also leaned heavily on the assistance of faith and non-profit partners, including 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.

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.
Partnering For Our Parks
Politicians of nearly every stripe extol the virtues of "Public/Private Partnerships," sometimes called "P3" for short. While the partnerships come in many flavors, it usually involves the blending of private and public resources to achieve a community good. 

The City is seeking partnerships to beautify, conserve or enhance parks, gardens, trails or recreation centers. Matching grants for up to $25,000 are available. Learn more and apply online. The deadline is June 25th.

Residents in Arlandria are continuing to raise money to support Four Mile Run Park, and have used private donations to create the park plaza that hosts the Four Mile Farmers and Artisan Market on recently acquired public space. 

Residents and business leaders worked together to raise significant resources to build the Alexandria Police Memorial

The Del Ray Citizens Association sponsored park improvements in the pocket park at the corner of Commonwealth and E. Del Ray Avenue, which was renamed the Judy Lowe Memorial Park. 

Residents and businesses have partnered to make improvements at Ewald Park

A few years ago, we dedicated a brand new playground at Maury Elementary School. The playground was the result of public money, donated money, donated services and the support of non-profit organizations. 

Another group of residents worked to match City funds and raise money to light up basketball courts in Potomac Yard.

Faced with dwindling public resources, and enthusiastic Alexandrians seeking to take matters into their own hands, I asked that we create a consistent approach to City participation in these partnerships. 

The summary report from FY 2019 shows all of the good this effort has launched around our City. 

Our City is fortunate to have residents willing to contribute sweat and resources to make our City a better place. I'm excited to see the City partner with them to make it happen. 
New Campaign
I try to keep politics out of this monthly newsletter. 

If you have not been receiving my campaign updates and you wish to receive information on this new campaign, please drop my campaign a line and we'll get you on the list for the campaign.