Sunday, February 9, 2020
Affordable housing topics appear most weeks as news or opinion articles within the Alexandria Gazette Packet. An introductory economics course teaches that for scarce housing resources, supply and demand will reach a balancing point at which housing prices allocate the available supply. A drawback to economics is that not everyone who wants to live in Alexandria can afford to live here.
“Affordable Housing” is a concept based in the political environment which seeks to make housing available to those who cannot afford it without a public subsidy. If this is what Alexandrians desire, citizens will gladly pay for it in taxes. I am not making a judgment whether this approach is correct, but I do observe that all of the discussions to date focus upon when, where, and how much affordable housing will be supplied. Even as a political solution, the city will not escape the fact that not everyone who wants to live in Alexandria will be able to do so, even with “affordable housing” programs.
Any affordable housing proposal which affects the housing availability must address how to allocate the demand. These two aspects must be joined and not considered separately. Some approaches are based upon leveling income inequality while others are a lottery system by which allocations are made by chance or waiting long enough. My recommendation is that city planning consider an employment priority system. City employees who are in law enforcement, fire and rescue, and public school educators should be given preference for any new affordable housing. This can also extend to Alexandria contractors’ employees who are sanitation and construction workers with the city limits. These are heads-of-households who work in Alexandria, benefitting the residents and the city infrastructure. Any affordable housing available after being allocated to these employee categories can be available to others via other approaches.
Dr. Frank R. Scheer