Affordable Housing Solutions: creative ways to make housing less expensive

 City of Alexandria Office of Housing, 2017

City of Alexandria Office of Housing, 2017

The costs of housing – from the single-family home to multi-family apartment buildings – have been on the rise for decades. As the average income rose 33% since the year 2000, 1-BR rent costs rose by 94% and home values by 178%. Discrepancies that large require innovative solutions from every corner of our housing system: construction innovations, tools for homeowners, and public agencies alike. Here, we’ve detailed just a few of the more discussed solutions to create more housing solutions, in addition to further sources for reading.

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) – an owner-controlled affordability option

An ADU is a unit designed within an existing property that can be rented and occupied by someone other than the property owner – often called a “mother in law suite” or “granny flat”. These units can be built into basements of homes with ground level entrances, above garages, or as separate buildings on a single-family home lot. They feature their own kitchens, bathrooms, and living spaces. Such units are well suited for older family members and neighbors who are downsizing, single students and young workers, and young families. Additionally, the ADU itself can create a revenue stream for the owner, which would allow older home-owners to support a fixed income using their residential property.

ADU regulations are governed by jurisdictions, and are currently not permitted in Alexandria (though they are in Arlington, Fairfax, and D.C.).  Concerns addressed in ADU regulations typically consist of limits on overcrowding, allowable size by lot, HVAC and plumbing requirements, and other quality of life elements.

Read more on Arlington’s recent changes to ADU regulations (Washington Post)

Pre-fab building innovations – reducing housing costs in the construction process

Pre-fab, short for pre-fabricated, homes are made of parts produced in a factory and shipped to a site, for multi-family or single-family buildings alike. The benefits of factory production can include streamlined production and insulation from weather effects, allowing for faster (and thus more affordable) construction times. Assembly via crane, and features like interior and exterior finishes, are completed on site. Downsides to the prefabrication process include figuring out how to ship (and insure shipping on) large construction pieces, limited customization options, and local/state regulatory requirements that aren’t addressed by the prefab factory.

Read More from Forbes and the Washington Post.

Public-Private Partnerships and other joint efforts– creative partner solutions to “make land” for multi-family housing

While the need for more housing in our area is ever growing, land acquisition costs can be prohibitively high.

Public Private Partnerships (sometimes referred to as P3s) allow for multi-family developers to save on the costs of construction by partnering with public agencies for land or other supports. For example, if a public agency has an old office in a high-opportunity location, they may opt to redevelop their office and support the inclusion of new housing or other public goods elsewhere on the site. AHDC’s The Station is a prime example of this type of partnership: the Potomac Yard developers donated land to the Alexandria Fire Department, who in turn worked with AHDC to add housing above their new fire station. Other non-housing examples of this include the Silver Spring Library in Montgomery County, which combines a library facility with other private uses.

AHDC looks for creative housing solutions in the City of Alexandria - like The Bloom, our partnership with Carpenter’s Shelter, and The Gateway, affordable housing in a mixed-use development. Want to learn more about what we do? Sign up for our monthly newsletter to get news about AHDC property openings and updates, Alexandria housing news, and other industry developments!

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Amazon HQ2, Virginia Tech Innovation Campus come to NoVA; housing affordability tops conversation

With the announcement of Amazon’s HQ2 in Arlington and the accompanying Virginia Tech Innovation Campus in Alexandria, the region’s housing affordability issues in light of the corporate move have come to center stage. As our new neighbors (literally, in the case of the VT campus) settle in, AHDC is eager to join the conversation around how we make housing affordable for all here in Alexandria.

What’s coming with HQ2 and affordable housing (from hqnova.com):

  1. A commitment from the Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA) to increase it’s rental program, homeownership program, and other allocations for NoVA.

  2. An estimated $7 million/year of additional affordable housing investments from Arlington, based on projected housing growth

  3. An estimated $1 million/year of additional affordable housing investments from the City of Alexandria from new revenue growth from the project

  4. The launch of the Washington Housing Initiative from JBG Smith, to both create new housing and fund other organizations who create new housing

Additionally, new state investments in our transportation network (including an expansion to the new Potomac Yard Metro Station entrances), K-12 STEM education, and in creating advanced tech degree programs at Virginia universities are also expected.

Where is AHDC located in this geography?

VT tech map.jpg

AHDC’s property The Station will be located across Route 1 from the new planned Virginia Tech Innovation Campus. Arbelo Apartments and The Bloom (opening 2020) are both located within a mile’s walking distance of the new campus as well.

Virginia Tech anticipates that 350,000 SF of it’s 1 million SF space will be set up as housing for students and faculty. Some students, and those who work the support jobs that come with a campus, will be looking to live in the area as well.

Resources about HQ2:

City of Alexandria’s official “National Landing” page

City of Alexandria Virtual Town Hall (Facebook Video)

The HQ NoVA proposal webpage, and its specific section about housing

Virginia Tech Innovation Campus - Location

The Washington Housing Initiative

News About HQ2:

Virginia Tech: Press Release about Innovation Campus

Alexandria Times: Amazon Selects Crystal City for HQ2

BisNow: A Look At Virginia Tech's $1B Potomac Yard Campus To Support Amazon

Greater Greater Washington: Crystal City is (probably) ready for HQ2’s transformation

Greater Washington Partnership (PDF): GWP Announces Launch of Regional Housing Framework

Fuller Institute:
What does Amazon’s HQ2 mean for the Washington Region’s Housing Market?

AHDC Board President wins "Housing Hero 2018" award for his work in Alexandria

AHDC’s Board President, Daniel Abramson of Abramson Properties, received one of the City of Alexandria’s “Housing Hero” awards last night in a ceremony at city hall. Danny has truly been a force for housing affordability in our neighborhoods. His work includes: chairing the Alexandria Housing Affordability Advisory Committee, supporting the voluntary contribution to the city’s Housing Trust Fund, his exploration of public-private partnerships for new housing, and of course, his work in leading AHDC’s Board of Directors for over a decade.

We’re lucky to call him a part of the AHDC team. Congratulations, Danny, from all of us!

 L-R: Councilman John Chapman, Mayor Allison Silberberg, Daniel Abramson, Vanessa Rodriguez, and Stephanie Oliver

L-R: Councilman John Chapman, Mayor Allison Silberberg, Daniel Abramson, Vanessa Rodriguez, and Stephanie Oliver

Building The Station at Potomac Yard: A model for public/private partnership

Since the year 2000, 90% of naturally occurring affordable housing units (NOAHs) in Alexandria have disappeared from the market, as housing costs continue to outpace incomes and our population grows faster than new development. While much of the cause of affordable housing includes preserving access to historically affordable properties, preservation alone is not enough. At the same time, the cost of new stand-alone developments can be prohibitively high and is growing higher, as construction, land, and other costs are factored in.

Public-private partnerships (often called P3s) and other partnership arrangements have emerged as a way to counter this trend, and have included in recent years creative collaborations with public agencies, multiple partnerships with houses of worship, and re-purposing existing buildings for housing (and other services, like schools and shelters).

Kicking off this trend in the City of Alexandria in 2009 was AHDC’s The Station at Potomac Yard, a first-in-the-nation collaboration between residential housing developers and a fire department, which created new housing and maximized land use in the growing Potomac Yard neighborhood.

Potomac Yard Early History:

  Potomac Rail Yard

Potomac Rail Yard

Potomac Yard had been a historical center for trade since prehistoric times, according to Francine Bromberg of Alexandria Archaeology. After it’s early Native and colonial inhabitants, Potomac Yard’s first railway was completed in 1857 to connect Alexandria to Washington. The rail yard grew and added lines, employing over 1,500 persons at its peak (White and African American laborers, though in segregated facilities, and including women), and populated the town of Potomac, VA (now the Del Ray neighborhood). After over a century of growth, however, the rail industry’s wane took its toll, and Potomac Yard rail operations ceased in 1987.

Following this, multiple mixed-use neighborhood proposals for the site emerged, including proposals for the Patent and Trade Office and Jack Kent Cooke stadium (now FedEx Field), none of which took off. Then, in 1992, a Potomac Yard Small Area Plan was approved, which made the area subject to the Potomac Yard Urban Design Guidelines and set the guiding vision for residential and commercial development in the area.

Beginning Stages: The Need for a New Fire Station

  An image from a City Planning Commission work session from June 6th, 2006, showing what the new town center might look like.

An image from a City Planning Commission work session from June 6th, 2006, showing what the new town center might look like.

The Potomac Yard planning commission began the early work envisioning the “new town center” in 2005. This would build a new neighborhood that would incorporate housing, retail, office, and open space integrated together to create an unified town character. In 2006, however, the issue of emergency services delivery was raised – with the layout and design of streets proposed for Potomac Yard, the City’s ability to deliver emergency services to this new neighborhood would be impeded. The solution, according to the Arlandrian: “[Potomac Yard Developers] would provide a parcel of land adjacent to the first neighborhood, as well as $6.6 million, to construct Alexandria's first new fire station facility in more than 30 years”.

Enter the affordable housing component. City Manager Mark Jinks, speaking in 2018, said that the one-story fire department proposed in the neighborhood seemed like “a real waste of that airspace in Potomac Yard, where we’re just about to start building a Metro station”. While the identity of the person who proposed adding the housing is uncertain, according the a City presentation developed in support of the project, planners didn’t want to let the opportunity to use the land to its maximum potential pass by: “The Developer’s recent proposal to provide land and a fire station offers an opportunity to maximize the use of donated land to create a substantial number of affordable units above a civic use.”

 

A Model for Public – Private Partnership

  Station Rooftop Terrace Garden, 2018

Station Rooftop Terrace Garden, 2018

With the donated land parcel, the construction of the new station and residential community began to take shape. According to architects Lemay Erickson Willcox Architects, the “21,953 SF fire four-bay station incorporates offices, day spaces, operational support spaces, including HAZMAT response, private bunk-rooms with pass-through lockers for 15 fire fighters, on-site training features, and 20 reserved parking spaces in the below grade parking garage”. The residential community of the Station includes the 64 one-, two-, and three-bedroom units, a community meeting space, underground parking , and a garden terrace that now hosts an organic community garden, with free produce for residents.

Station_Ext Apt Bldg V6.jpg

The Station also features elements designed for livability. Environmentally friendly, the fire station is LEED certified, and the residences are EarthCraft certified, a standard measure in the housing construction industry. Additionally, to mitigate noise from the fire station inside the residences. A concrete layer of padding between the first and second floors, window and frame design, and spring-based ceiling attachments in fire station reduce the noise and vibrations from the work below.

This public-private partnership was a first-of-its-kind moment for collaborations. The Washington Post wrote about it in 2007, saying

“But housing and a fire station on the same site? It is an unusual combination, except in the places where firefighters bunk upstairs when they are not battling blazes.

"It's definitely unique," said Greg Toritto, associate publisher of Chicago-based Fire Chief Magazine, which follows firehouse design trends. "We've never heard of residential housing combined with a firehouse."

 

This sort of work in “making land,” or finding creative ways to use collaborative solutions for housing infrastructure in already developed areas, continues to grow in our region. Combining residential with fire stations in particular has been replicated in other places in the US, including in D.C., but the collaboration has spread beyond fire stations. (One example, AHDC’s upcoming project The Bloom, combines affordable housing with a homeless shelter.)

Efficiency of space, efficiency of cost

When The Station opened it’s doors, now Mayor-elect, then Del Ray Citizens Association member Justin Wilson said, “It's a win-win situation for the city -- 64 housing units and a new fire station coming at little expense to the taxpayer”. Employing resources from the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, as well as this City’s Housing Trust Fund, and with the donation of land, The Station was an opportunity well seized, and ushered in a new way of doing housing in Alexandria, and the region. As the area of Potomac Yard grows (with Amazon HQ2 speculation, planned development of housing and office space, and the Potomac Yard Metro Station in the pipeline), affordable housing will always have a place in the neighborhood’s history.

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Free produce to AHDC residents this Harvest Season

If you supported AHDC during Spring2ACTion last April, you’ll know that we revamped our gardens and expanded our offerings to residents this year - and it’s time to literally collect that harvest. With free produce to AHDC families, garden events and education, and more, we’re so excited with what we were able to do in these first six months, and eager to see where we go as we add more gardens and continue to on to full year work.

And, as always, this wouldn’t have been possible without our community’s generosity. So as we reflect on this season, we invite you to consider yourself part of this story too. Thank you.

 
harvest season.jpg