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.

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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 all work to reduce the noise and vibrations from the station 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.

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Affordable Housing and Children: a Disproportionate Impact

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34% of AHDC’s population is under 20 years, compared to just 19% in the City of Alexandria as a whole. Further, AHDC’s population of 5-19 year olds – the school age population – is almost triple the rate of the city at large.  AHDC has as many residents under 20 as it does over 40. When we build, plan, and support our residents, we do so knowing full well AHDC’s work has a disproportionate impact on Alexandrian children.

Safe and affordable housing is of critical importance to those in this age group, and the people who are raising them. Stable and safe housing for children has long been recognized as one of the determining factors in their long-term well-being. In 2015-2016, homeless students in Florida missed around 15 days of school a year, compared to 11 for housed students on free/reduced lunches, and 8 for housed students with full price lunches. Low-quality homes contributed to 50% higher chances of an emergency room visit for asthma. Teenagers who live in affordable housing have higher young adult incomes and lower rates of incarceration.

But when the costs of rent and childcare combine, low income families struggle with an array of tough choices. In 2014, the cost of raising a child over 18 years for a middle-income family in the D.C. area was $342,552 – or roughly $19,000/year. (For comparison, 2-BR fair market rent in D.C. is $1,793/month, or $21,516/year.) For lower income families struggling already with rent, childcare costs can create an impossible burden. With a dwindling supply of naturally affordable or subsidized affordable housing in Alexandria, these families may be forced to choose crowded and substandard housing, which while keeping a roof over their heads, can result in long term health and educational consequences. 

AHDC works to combat this problem primarily through the provision and management of affordable homes in the city of Alexandria. Since the year 2000, the supply of naturally occurring affordable housing has decreased by 90%. Rental costs have gone up by 94%, while incomes have only increased by 33%. Against this tide AHDC works to provide housing that is high-quality and ecologically friendly, in addition to preserving existing affordable units threatened by market forces. When families can move into our units, they find stability and rent they can manage, and their children get to remain in place as they grow.

It’s not enough to just support children housing though – AHDC through its work is creating communities of people. To this end, AHDC hosts events for children centered around our community gardens, holiday events, and more. As well, AHDC is implementing a health and wellness program that will provide families of all ages access to fitness centers that provide youth opportunities and childcare.

It’s a privilege to serve Alexandria’s children and families – and one we take seriously. By supporting these kids now, we are making an investment in the future of our city and our region.

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Affordable Housing and Seniors


After having spent a whole life in a community, investing in its neighborhoods, sending your kids to its schools, working in its shops – it’s natural to want to age in place, and be surrounded by the familiar. There might be more logistical concerns as well, as older adults want to stay near doctors they know, and resources they trust. However, with the rising cost of living and unique concerns of aging, aging in place in Alexandria is a concern for many.

Living on a fixed income as rents rise

The average social security check issued nationwide today totals around $1,400 – with $1,440 in Virginia, and $1,340 in D.C.[1] In 2016, the Social Security Administration calculated that 21% of married recipients and 43% of single recipients over age 65 depended on social security for over 90 percent of their income.[2]

Meanwhile, the Fair Market Rent in the D.C. metro area for a one-bedroom unit (and not one necessarily equipped for senior living) is $1,561. To afford this unit in the traditional sense (by spending less than 30% of one’s income on rent), a single senior bringing in the average Virginia social security check would need to find an additional $3,763/month from other retirement income sources, generous family members, or part-time work.[3]

Social Security income might rise by 1-2% annually, but that can be easily dwarfed by increasing costs of housing, especially in major metro areas. Year-over-year rent went up by 2% nationwide in 2017, but by 3.2% in Fort Worth, TX; 4.7% in Denver, CO; and a whopping 5.8% in Orlando, FL.[4]

(And while other retirement earnings vehicles might be in the picture, it’s not the story for everybody: 42% of seniors indicate a pension plan is not a part of their retirement earnings, and a 401k or similar retirement savings account is not a factor for 38% of seniors.[5])

For seniors looking for greater care from their living spaces, the national median monthly cost of Assisted Living Facilities is $3,750. Medicare will not cover these costs, though Medicaid and VA benefits will.


Needs of seniors in retirement age living spaces
Where one ages is critically important, as it has long term effects on the accessibility of care and resources. Units designed with elders in mind feature no-step entrances, lever based faucets, wider hallways for walking aids, single floor living, lower-reach appliances, and more.[6] Access to medical care, transportation, and grocery resources is important, especially as seniors may face losing their driving capabilities, and being able to access community resources, places of worship, and variety of places to visit is vital to well-being. In assisted living facilities, some of these resources are coordinated, but for those wishing to age independently at home it may require more effort.

According to HUD, fewer than 4% of US residential units are accessible for individuals with mobility disabilities, and 44% of households need some type of accessibility modification to use their homes without difficulty.”[7] These modifications for seniors as they age can be costly, even prohibitively so even for those who own their homes outright.


Housing affordability is truly a family issue – impacting the well-beings of children, parents, and seniors in unique ways. Increasing our affordable and accessible stock will be imperative as the US population ages upwards.

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[3] FMR is $1,561, or $18,732 annually. It takes an income of $62,440 to spend less than 30% of income on this rent. If the average SS check for a single earner in VA is $1,440, or $17,280/year, you need to earn an additional $45,160 to make $62,440, or about $3763/month.





AHDC celebrates The Bloom and Carpenter's Shelter Groundbreaking event

"It takes a village. This is our village." - Governor Northam

On August 29th, 2018, Alexandria Housing Development corporation, along with project partners The Carpenter's Shelter, was thrilled to celebrate the groundbreaking of The Bloom and new Carpenter's Shelter.

Keynote remarks were delivered by Governor Northam and Congressman Beyer, with additional remarks from Mayor Silberberg, Dale Wittie, Director of Rental Housing Development with VHDA, and Joseph DeFelice, Regional Administrator of the Mid-Atlantic region of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Also in attendance were VA Senator Adam Ebbin, Delegate Mark Levine, Vice Mayor Justin Wilson, Councilman John Chapman, and Councilman Timothy Lovain.

This groundbreaking marks the start of the construction phase of The Bloom and Carpenter's Shelter, which will build a new, purpose-built homeless shelter and add 97 units of affordable housing to Alexandria. 



More photos will be added soon! Photos from AHDC/Kyle Reardon


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