Testimony: Alexandria Zoning for Housing

Mayor Wilson and members of the City Council. My name is Stewart Schwartz and I am the Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. We are a 26-year-old non-profit organization and our mission is to advocate for walkable, bikeable, inclusive, and transit-oriented communities as the most sustainable and equitable way for the Washington, DC region to grow and provide opportunities for all. We work in Northern Virginia, DC, and the Maryland suburbs.

We strongly support adoption of all eight Zoning for Housing proposals including the proposed zoning text amendments, housing master plan updates, and city policy updates. The city is to be credited for its extensive public engagement and the staff are to be credited for their detailed analysis of where the zoning code, plans and policies can be modified. In the end this is a modest package but one which will help to address the housing crisis. 

For Expanding Housing Opportunities in Single-Family zones we support the more flexible and effective options proposed by staff, specifically:

  • Option 2 to allow 3- to 4-unit developments in more zones; and
  • Parking Option 3 to remove costly and unnecessary minimum parking requirements for homes near transit. 

We also support all initiatives for more housing near Metro stations and the city’s bus corridors, and we recommend future actions to include: 

  • Removing parking requirements within 3/4 mile of Metro stations and ½ mile of frequent bus corridors;
  • Studying additional parking reforms that can foster more affordable, walkable neighborhoods; and
  • Expeditiously updating transit-oriented community plans for Metro stations and bus rapid transit corridors to provide more housing.

There are many benefits from these reforms for Alexandrians, for our health, and for our planet including:

  • More housing options that provide more affordable rentals as well as the possibility for the next generation to enter into home ownership. 
  • Reduced combined housing + transportation costs, reduced driving and greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, and reduced building energy consumption.
  • Providing people access to jobs without forcing them to commute into or through Alexandria in their cars. 

I lived in Alexandria for over 22 years, first buying a condo near Braddock Metro when I was assigned to the Pentagon. I valued Old Town because of its walkability and access to Metro. What I could afford at the time was a 700 square foot condo made possible by a 1980’s example of missing middle housing – 4-story condo buildings seamlessly integrated with new townhomes and across the street from single family homes. And just down the block in the 1990s an owner gracefully added two townhomes to the sides of a classic four-square home and this past year three well-designed townhomes were placed between that and another single-family home. 

My situation was an example of the benefits of more diversity in housing options, allowing me and others to step on the home ownership ladder. But this is much harder today because of fewer options. I recently compared my 1988 salary to the purchase price of that condo and the price was about 4x my annual salary. Then I compared the current market value of that condo to the equivalent (inflation-adjusted) salary of a staff member of similar age and experience and the price equals 8x that salary.

By providing a range of housing options in Alexandria we meet an important human need, ensure access to opportunity and a diversity of residents, and contribute to a more sustainable, inclusive, and competitive future. 

Please vote unanimously to approve Zoning for Housing. Thank you.