From Justin M. Wilson <[email protected]>
Subject January 2023 Council Connection
Date January 1, 2023 12:20 PM
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The Council Connection your connection to City Council by Mayor Justin M. Wilson January 1, 2023 View this newsletter in your web browser In This Month's Edition: Bond Rating Renewed New Public Housing Freedom House Potomac Yard Metro Water Rates Guaranteed Income Pilot Legislative Package Fare-Free Transit LGBTQ Equality Leaf Collection Quick Links E-Mail Me Past Newsletters City of Alexandria Website Pay City Taxes Online Review Real Estate Assessments Crime Mapping & Statistics Alex 311 (Submit Service Requests to City Agencies) Board & Commission Vacancies Real-Time Traffic Data Alexandria Health Department Restaurant Inspections Report Potholes Schedule Child Safety Seat Inspection Smoke Detector Installation Request Real Estate Tax Receipt Calculator License Your Dog or Cat Report a Street Light Outage Report a Traffic Signal Outage Happy New Year! Welcome to 2023. It was exciting to celebrate in Old Town with so many Alexandrians last night. We rang in the New Year in style in Market Square, with a DJ, fireworks and a lot of happiness brought by First Night Alexandria. 2023 promises to be a significant year for our community. We have important work ahead to shape our economic recovery, the future of housing, the success of our kids, the function of our infrastructure and beyond. I look forward to continuing to work on behalf and in partnership with the residents of our City. After two years of doing virtual town-hall meetings, including weekly sessions during most of 2020, I am moving back to in-person, "Living Room Town Hall" meetings. If you would like to host a town hall in your neighborhood, please drop me a line and we'll get it on the calendar! Contact me anytime. Let me know how I can help. Initiatives and Updates Bond Rating Renewed At the end of October, I joined our City Manager, our Finance Director, our Planning & Zoning Director, and City staff to make our annual presentation to the bond rating agencies in New York. Last month, S & P Global Ratings and Moody's Investor Services both reaffirmed the City's bond ratings of AAA and Aaa respectively. The confirmation of these ratings, in advance of the issuance of new bonds, allows the City to access the lowest possible borrowing costs, saving the taxpayers millions over the life of our bonds. These bonds will be used to finance the Landmark Mall redevelopment, the build-out of our new Department of Community and Human Services facility in Mark Center and transit infrastructure. Shortly after the receipt of the rating, the City issued $143.4 million of tax-exempt bonds using a competitive bidding process. The lowest bid was offered by Citigroup with a true interest cost of 3.47%. Much like individuals must have a credit check performed before acquiring a mortgage, a car loan, or a new credit card, the City must go before Standard & Poor's and Moody's to have the two organizations assess whether we are doing a good job managing the City's finances. In May, the Council adopted our 10 year Capital Improvement Program, covering fiscal years 2023 - 2032. Over the 10 year period, the program calls for $2.72 billion in capital investment throughout the City. Over 45% of this funding goes to City and School municipal facilities. Our capital budget is funded primarily through a mix of debt and current year funding also known as "cash capital." Relating this to your home mortgage, the cash capital is the down payment. We also pay interest each year on the debt that was issued in previous years. In issuing the City's rating, Moody's cited Alexandria's "healthy financial position given strong operating trends and conservative budgeting practices and that the sizeable tax base will continue to grow and diversify." Standard & Poor's similarly cited Alexandria's "Robust economic growth and management team that proactively manages the city's economy, finances, and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks." The rating agencies have continued their focus on the City's ESG risks. The agencies cited the City's work managing these risks as a considerable positive, noting the City's work on climate change, flooding and racial equity. Over the past few years, I have pushed for new policies to make the City's balance sheet even stronger. Eight years ago, the Council unanimously adopted a new "cash capital" policy, which served to reduce debt levels and the risk of our borrowing. A little over 3 years ago, the Council approved amendments to our "Spendable Fund Balance," essentially expanding the amount of reserves we have available. This policy was recommended by the City's Budget and Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee, and it has been specifically cited by the rating agencies in support of our ratings. Alexandria is very conservative with our use of debt. Arlington County limits its debt to 4% of its Fair Market Real Property Value. Both Fairfax and Prince William Counties limit their debt to 3%. Alexandria's self-imposed limit is 2.5%, and this budget year we achieved 1.8%. The median for other similarly rated and sized jurisdictions is 2.42%. In fact, in the Standard & Poor's analysis, they noted that the City was rated higher than the "sovereign" (the US Federal Government) because "we believe the City can maintain better credit characteristics than the U. S. in a stress scenario." Debt is a tool that allows us to balance the costs of large capital investments across the generations of Alexandria taxpayers that will benefit from them and to pay for our investments from the returns we reap from them. It is important for us to maintain the careful stewardship that will protect our taxpayers and our City's infrastructure long into the future. Public Housing Redevelopment In this newsletter, I frequently write about our efforts to create and preserve "affordable housing." The term "affordable housing" itself is imprecise to the extent of being nearly useless, in that it means different things to different people. We tend to deal with both "committed affordable housing" and "naturally-occurring affordable housing." The former are units that are restricted legally in some way to ensure that they remain affordable to those of moderate incomes for an extended period of time or in perpetuity. The latter are market-rate units that just happen to be affordable at current rates for those of moderate incomes. The latter is largely extinct in the City of Alexandria today. Most of the new committed affordable housing developed by the City is in partnership with non-profit affordable housing developers, or committed units that are provided by private developers as a development proffer, typically in exchange for density. Yet, if you ask most residents of our City what they think of when they are asked about "affordable housing," they think of public housing. While Alexandria does have a significant stock of public housing, our public housing authority has not been a significant entity in the recent development of new committed affordable housing in our City. That is about to change. Next month, our Planning Commission and the City Council will hear an application for redevelopment of Samuel Madden Homes. Samuel Madden is currently a 66-unit public housing development owned by the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA). This redevelopment would replace this property with 532 total units, 326 of which will be committed affordable units and 206 market-rate units. The redevelopment of Samuel Madden will be followed by the redevelopment of the Ladrey High Rise. ARHA recently selected new private partners to lead the future redevelopment and replacement of this important public housing facility. ARHA directly manages and controls 1,079 units of affordable housing. In addition, ARHA manages the City's Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, which utilizes Federal funding to provide assistance for another 1,906 low-income families to reside in privately-owned housing units. Together, this is approximately 4% of the City's overall housing stock. Over 41 years ago, the City Council adopted Resolution 830, which committed the City to "one for one" replacement of any public housing unit that was destroyed by redevelopment. The City has met that commitment in each redevelopment effort. As of three and a half years ago, Resolution 830 is no more, replaced by Resolution 2876. The new resolution, endorsed by the City and our public housing authority Board, modernizes the City's commitment to preservation for a new generation of challenges. Making the commitment stated in Resolution 830 (now 2876) is rather easy. Actually achieving that replacement, in an environment of dwindling Federal resources and rapidly-appreciating property values, is extraordinarily difficult. That difficulty was again demonstrated by the announcement over four years ago that ARHA and its private development partner could not come to terms to move forward with the redevelopment of the Andrew Adkins development. While not unexpected given the challenges of this project, this was a terribly disappointing turn of events that delayed redevelopment efforts by multiple years. The future state of Resolution 830/2876 and the future of the Andrew Adkins redevelopment effort are linked. The very same factors that prompted a review of Resolution 830 challenged the feasibility of redeveloping the existing Andrew Adkins. After a few years of reset after the failure of Andrew Adkins, ARHA is getting back on track with both Madden and Ladrey. The authority has worked to restructure the financing of existing public housing properties and better utilize available tools and capabilities. This will facilitate redevelopment beyond Madden and Ladrey. Alexandria Redevelopment & Housing Authority (ARHA) is an independent entity, with a City Council-appointed Board, but separate from the City, that utilizes Federal funding from the US Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) to provide housing to low-income residents of Alexandria. At the federal level, we have seen dramatic changes in how public housing is managed and developed. In the past, the Federal Government had been a proactive participant in bringing about the redevelopment of public housing. This was demonstrated in Alexandria when the City used HOPE VI funding to redevelop 100 units of Public Housing into Chatham Square. This mixed-income development incorporated both market-rate and public housing. With aging properties sitting on valuable land, ARHA must look at the highest and best use of its land to preserve housing for low-income residents in our City. In 2008, the City Council adopted the Braddock East Master Plan, which called for redevelopment of several aging public housing properties. By allowing additional density near existing transit, it was designed to encourage private partnership in the redevelopment of this housing. Aligned with this Plan, James Bland Homes became Old Town Commons. Ramsey Homes became The Lineage at North Patrick. This redevelopment activity has proven successful in providing a sustainable model for mixed-income housing in our City. This is a significant undertaking and we will have a historic opportunity to partner with the private sector and provide new housing for a variety of income levels near existing transit in our City. This effort will also provide financial stability for ARHA in the face of continued change at the Federal level. The Future of Freedom House In May of last year, the City's Freedom House Museum reopened, with three new temporary exhibitions designed to unlock the history of this important site. Between 1828 and 1861, over 100,000 enslaved African-Americans passed through 1315 Duke Street in the City of Alexandria. This building was the headquarters for one of the largest domestic slave trading operations in our nation. As of March of 2020, the City of Alexandria owns the building, having purchased it from the Northern Virginia Urban League to ensure the preservation of this important historic resource. While the purchase was locally funded, the Commonwealth's approved budget in 2020 included $2.4 million of state funding to support the rehabilitation and development of the historic resources on the site. In furtherance of this effort, the City commissioned a comprehensive Historic Structures Report (HSR) to formally document the history, plan future interpretation and prioritize rehabilitation. Last fall, the firm commissioned to perform the study formally presented their findings and the final report. We are now working to prepare a Master Plan for the future of the museum. Through engagement with the public, this master plan will help shape our future efforts to interpret the history of this site. We would like your perspective. Please complete the survey on the museum in advance of January 13th. Operating from a prominent location, this human trafficking operation brought enslaved African-Americans from the Chesapeake Bay area to a holding pen surrounding the building, where they were then forced by foot or by ship to Natchez, Mississippi or New Orleans. This property is a significant piece of Alexandria and our nation's history. The history depicted in the museum today, and the history yet to be unlocked in the building is a story that must be told. I believe we must work to ensure this history remains accessible to the public. Additionally, private fundraising efforts are working to support this important resource. Please join me in donating to support this effort. I am excited about the opportunity that this museum presents for the City to better discover, interpret and educate the public on a vital part of American history. I am excited to see this museum open and serving the public again. Potomac Yard Metro Opening At the end of October, a Metro Rail train travelled through the new Potomac Yard station for the first time ever. This short trip on the brand-new section of track commenced a period of intense testing as the new track section was tested to ensure it was ready for revenue service. At the beginning of November, the Blue Line returned to Alexandria's stations after a shutdown to facilitate this cut-over. Last month, for the first time, WMATA announced that the Potomac Yard Metro station is on track to open for revenue service in May of this year, likely coinciding with the return of the Yellow Line. In the fall, WMATA announced an additional delay, of indeterminate length, for the planned opening of the Potomac Yard Metro. To say that the City is disappointed in WMATA's management of this project would be an understatement. Since that time, we made specific requests of new oversight, new accountability and transparency from WMATA and we continue to push the agency to complete this project as soon as possible, while addressing the significant financial impacts the City has borne as a result of WMATA's failures. For a quarter of a century, the City has been working to bring an inline Metro Rail station to Potomac Yard. Just before the end of 2019, we broke ground and formally began construction of that station. On the front page of the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Potomac Yard Metro Station are the seals of four entities: Federal Transit Administration, Department of the Interior, WMATA and the City of Alexandria. Later in the report there is additional input from the US Army Corps of Engineers, the US Environmental Protection Agency and the National Capital Planning Commission. The breadth of the entities involved clearly demonstrates the complexity of the project. This project is deeply complex and has been challenging to bring to reality for decades. The Potomac Yard Metro project will facilitate the creation of up to 26,000 new jobs and will bring up to $2 billion of new tax revenue to the City (over 30 years). It removes thousands of vehicles from one of the most crowded corridors in our City. It promotes the creation of the kind of walkable community our City has long desired in Potomac Yard. In 2008, along with then-Councilman Rob Krupicka, I proposed a new start to efforts to bring Metro to Potomac Yard. We included language in the City's Transportation Master Plan explicitly calling for a new station at Potomac Yard. We also tied the construction and funding of Metro to the development occurring in the Yard. The result is a funding plan for Potomac Yard Metro that not only leverages the development activity in Potomac Yard, but also does so without requiring the contributions of General Fund taxpayers. The total project budget is $370 million: $250 million is being derived from tax revenues generated in Potomac Yard $70 million is regional transportation revenues provided by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority $30 million was provided by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation to support the new southwest entrance $20 million was provided as part of Federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) to support the new southwest entrance The largest environmental, economic development, and transportation initiative in our City's history is being accomplished using one of the most innovative funding mechanisms used anywhere in the country. While we still have a few more months until opening, it is exciting to see this project nearing the finish line. Lower Water Rates Alexandria remains one in a relatively small list of Virginia jurisdictions who have a private water utility. Virginia American Water Company (VAWC), a subsidiary of a large national company, provides the water supply to Alexandria's residents and businesses. As a private utility, VAWC is subject to the authority of the State Corporation Commission (SCC) in Richmond. When VAWC seeks a rate increase, they must apply to the SCC with justification. The City has typically intervened in these applications seeking to protect Alexandria ratepayers from exorbitant increases. In November of 2021, VAWC applied again for a rate increase, this time seeking a 28% increase in rates and a variety of other charges and rate supplements. If approved, on average, Alexandria residential customers would see their bills increase by about 36%. After analysis, our staff determined that this rate increase was excessive and Council voted to again intervene with the State Corporation Commission to oppose this proposed rate increase. The SCC appointed a hearing examiner to review the case and provide recommendations to the Commission. Last month, the hearing examiner provided his report, which largely endorsed a proposed settlement between the City, VAWC, and the SCC. This settlement will lower the increase and provide for refunds to Alexandria ratepayers. Last week, the City provided input supporting most of the hearing examiner's findings. The SCC will still need to act on these recommendations later this year. I'm hopeful we can continue our efforts working with VAWC to improve our aging water infrastructure but respect our ratepayers and good processes at the same time. Guaranteed Income Pilot Last month, the City began notifying 170 Alexandria residents who were randomly selected to participate in ARISE, our guaranteed income pilot program. You can learn more about this pilot program on our site. The City had received 4,149 applications for participation in this program. A little over 52 years ago, the New York Times ran an article reviewing the concept of a guaranteed basic income and featuring a guaranteed income program that then-President Nixon had brought to Congress. The program was championed by Donald Rumsfeld, who was at that time Nixon's Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity. Rumsfeld was assisted in managing this program by Richard Cheney. The concept was relatively simple: what if we cut out the bureaucracy of public assistance programs and instead provided a guaranteed monthly income to lower-income populations, without any strings attached? It was driven at that time by a belief that in addition to being costly, the bureaucracy that had been developed to administer our public safety net programs was reducing efficacy of the programs themselves. Fast forward a few decades, and there is now a network of municipal governments around the nation experimenting with the concept. Alexandria has now joined this effort. The City Council approved the allocation of $3 million from a portion of the City's American Rescue Plan money. The City will provide 170 families with a $500 per month debit card. This program will last for 24 months. To gauge the result of this effort, the City will provide case management and engage a research partner. Ultimately, the goal of the effort is to improve the economic stability of lower-income families. I am hopeful that the City can also glean lessons from this experiment to better guide how we administer other programs designed to alleviate poverty in the future. Legislative Package Each year, the City adopts its Legislative Package. Essentially, this is a wish-list of legislative initiatives and budget requests we would like to see enacted by the Virginia General Assembly in the upcoming session. While the state government is certainly a significant financial supporter of the City's budget, Richmond also sets a legal environment that affects how we provide services to our residents. A year ago, I wrote about the changes that were coming to Richmond, as Governor Youngkin prepared to take the oath of office as our 74th Governor and Republicans took control of the House of Delegates, leading to divided government, after two years with Democratic control of the governorship and both houses of the General Assembly. As expected, the only legislation making it to the Governor's desk for signature, were changes that enjoyed bipartisan support. Most of the focus in Richmond surrounded the adoption of a new biennial budget for the Commonwealth. Both sides took advantage of the Commonwealth's flush finances to come to an agreement on the budget. The General Assembly and Governor Youngkin were able to agree upon a proposal made by former Governor Northam in his outgoing budget proposal to eliminate the state portion of the sales tax (1.5%) on groceries and essential personal hygiene products. The elimination of that sales tax goes into effect today. Along with Councilman Kirk McPike, I serve on the City's Legislative Committee, which recommends the Legislative Package each year to our colleagues. Last month, the City Council endorsed our Legislative Package. The package offers the City's perspective on broader policy approaches, including requests for increased local authority, expanded financial flexibility, and less reliance on local funding of mandates from Richmond. However, we do have specific asks within the package, including: Authority to establish a local health department (this is currently a state function in Alexandria) Increased investment in workforce development Increased investment in recovery from COVID-related learning loss in our schools Increased investment in the Housing Trust Fund Reforms to eviction policies to protect tenants Increased funding for early-childhood programs Increased funding for flood resiliency New authority to support public-safety hiring One policy area that has emerged as a potential opportunity for bipartisan cooperation has been in housing policy. Governor Youngkin has expressed considerable interest in adopting policies to support new housing creation around the Commonwealth. There is potentially overlap in some of the Governor's proposals and policy approaches that Alexandria is pursuing to increase the supply of housing, particularly affordable housing, in our City. In November, the Governor presented his "Make Virginia Home" Plan. While the plan is short on specifics at this point, it is promising. As such, I wrote to the Governor last month, to identify potential areas where I believe we can find alignment. I'm hopeful that this upcoming session will see the enactment of legislation in Richmond to support housing creation throughout the Commonwealth. The City is now represented in the State Senate by Senator Richard Saslaw, Senator George Barker, and Senator Adam Ebbin. In the House of Delegates, the City is represented by Delegate Charniele Herring and Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker. This will be our last session with this delegation. This November, all of the members of the General Assembly will be up for election, in the newly drawn districts. Alexandria will continue to be in the 8th Congressional District, will be entirely represented in the 39th State Senate District and will be represented by three members of the House of Delegates, those elected from the 3rd District, the 4th District, and the 5th District. While it will change soon, click here to determine who represents you today.. Fare-Free Transit At the beginning of September of 2021, Alexandria implemented a new route structure for Alexandria's DASH bus system. Existing routes changed and new ways to get around our City were established. This is the most significant rethinking of our DASH route structure since 1984. To coincide with the implementation of this new route structure, City Council unanimously approved my proposal for DASH to become the first transit system in the DC area to eliminate fares. Fare-free transit was estimated to expand ridership by an estimated 23%, bring riders back to transit following the pandemic, help achieve the City's environmental goals and disproportionately benefit our lower-income residents. With ridership depressed due to the pandemic, the initial cost to implement this change was dramatically reduced. The City was awarded $7.2 million in grant funding from the Commonwealth's Transit Ridership Incentive Program (TRIP), which supported the first few years of this program. Last month, the Board of Directors that governs DASH accepted the first annual report covering this fare-free program. This report showed: Average daily ridership doubled from August 2021 to August 2022, with large increases during off-peak periods September 2022 has 380,000 boardings, making it DASH's single-highest ridership month since 2015 Customer and employee feedback has been positive In approving the most recent budget, the City Council included funding to improve the service on the current DASH Line 30. The expanded funding will extend all weekday peak trips from King Street Metro to Braddock Road Metro, which will provide 10 minute peak headways in Old Town. These enhancements will also extend all weekend trips from Landmark Mall to Van Dorn Metro, to provide 30 minute frequency on South Van Dorn Street, instead of the current 60 minute service. These changes were implemented in October. The tool our City has used for decades to serve the transit needs of most of our neighborhoods has been the bus. The Alexandria Transit Vision Plan was the City's effort to rethink our buses. At the end of 2019, DASH approved this significant "re-imagination" of its route structure. The route structure approved has a short-term vision and a longer-term 2030 vision. This restructuring is designed to: Increase the number of Alexandrians near frequent transit (a bus or train arriving every 15 minutes or better) from 27% to 79%. Increase the number of jobs in Alexandria near frequent transit from 40% to 75%. Increase the number of jobs accessible by transit (within 45 minutes) to Alexandrians by 18%. Increase the number of residents in poverty near frequent transit from 29% to 89%. Increase the number of seniors near frequent transit from 23% to 74%. Earlier last year, DASH celebrated 35 years of serving Alexandria. What started with 17 buses and served less than a million passengers, today serves over 4 million passengers with 85 buses. While new routes have been added, and existing routes tweaked at times, the basic construct of DASH's route network has largely been unchanged. Communities around our nation have done the difficult work of rethinking their bus route networks to improve frequency of service, reduce route duplication, and ultimately serve more riders. Houston's overnight route network transformation helped spur growth in ridership at a time when transit ridership was dropping elsewhere. Our effort is similar, designed to re-imagine our bus routes and ultimately increase ridership and route efficiency. To provide a factual basis for this effort, a "Transit Choices Report" was developed. This report is a compendium of data on our existing transit network, designed to support this significant undertaking. Free or not, passengers will not ride a bus unless it is going where they want to go when they want to go there. Increased taxpayer subsidy and more relevant and frequent bus service has made DASH a better mobility tool for our residents. It has also inspired other efforts around our region. This effort was an important step forward as we create a transit system that serves more of our community with more efficient and relevant service. So far, it looks like it's working. Equality For All Last month, Alexandria was notified by the Human Rights Campaign that for the third time in a row, we were awarded a perfect 100 score on the "Municipal Equality Index." We join only 4 other Virginia localities in this distinction and only 117 other localities nationally. While we are not perfect, this is an external recognition that Alexandria is a community that works to ensure equality for all. A little over 34 years ago, Alexandria became one of the first jurisdictions in the Commonwealth of Virginia to amend our Human Rights ordinance to include protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Passed on a divided vote of the Council, this action empowered the City government to seek out and eliminate discrimination in our community. Since that action, the City has continued its work to extend protections against discrimination, oftentimes going beyond what state law would allow. Three years ago, the City Council unanimously adopted an ordinance amending our human rights ordinance again, this time to include protections against discrimination based on gender identity and expression. This proposal, originally suggested by my former colleague Councilman Seifeldein, expanded upon protections that the City had provided for its employees. During the 2020 General Assembly session, Virginia adopted a comprehensive non-discrimination legislation, providing protections across Virginia for our LGBTQ residents. This provides localities around the Commonwealth with the tools to protect our residents. I am pleased that the City has received this recognition, but far more importantly I am pleased that Alexandria is a place where we embrace our LGBTQ community. Leaf Collection Continues Alexandria's annual leaf collection is wrapping up over the next few days. We make three passes on each street. Check online to learn your final collection date. Leaf vacuuming will proceed to each of the designated zones beginning on the scheduled dates. Each zone will take several days to complete. Additionally, the City is making up to 15 leaf bags available for each residential household. The bags can be picked up at City Hall, the City's self-service shed at the corner of Roth and Business Center Drive or at Charles Houston, Chinquapin, Patrick Henry or Mount Vernon Recreation Centers. These leaf bags can be placed out for collection on your regulation collection day. Paid for by Wilson For Mayor | ‌ ‌ Mayor Justin M. Wilson | 301 King Street, ALEXANDRIA, VA 22314 Unsubscribe [email protected] Update Profile | Constant Contact Data Notice Sent by [email protected] powered by Try email marketing for free today!
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