Old Town Commons: Partnering to Create a New Mixed-Income Community in Old Town Alexandria

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Photography by Thomas Arledge

Located five miles from Washington, D.C., in the historic Parker-Gray District in Alexandria, Virginia, Old Town Commons is a $148.3 million redevelopment of public housing into 379 townhome, condominium and multifamily units. The project includes a mix of 245 units of market-rate housing and 134 public housing apartments concentrated in a five-block area.

Local housing and land use policies were influential in the development of Old Town Commons. Starting in the 2000s, city leaders aimed to reduce concentrations of public housing in favor of scattered site public housing that combined market-rate units and public housing in the same block.

This mixed-income project is the result of a successful collaboration between Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA), EYA and the City of Alexandria.

ARHA is a public agency charged with ensuring affordable housing opportunities for Alexandria’s low-income households. The affordable housing rental units are owned and managed by ARHA.

EYA served as the site’s land developer, home builder, and general contractor, and manages the market-rate housing. Specializing in walkable new townhome communities and mixed-use developments, the company has built more than 3,500 homes and 32 communities in the Washington D.C metropolitan area since its founding in 1992.

The transit-accessible location in a close-in Washington D.C. suburb helped contributed to the high land values that were a key factor in the success of the project.

The mixed-income project’s innovative financing leveraged the high land value and federal low-income housing tax credits, without the assistance of any subsidies. ARHA, in coordination with Boston Capital, secured $24.6 million in Low Income Housing Tax Credit equity for the project.

Market-rate units, including 159 townhomes selling up to $1 million and 86 condominiums in the mid-$300,000s – $400,000s, provided the necessary land value to offset the cost of rebuilding 134 ARHA units. Units range in size from one to four bedrooms.

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EYA, city staff and ARHA met regularly with residents and neighbors to discuss density, height, open space, parking, historic context and other areas of concern. ARHA also employed a consultant to facilitate outreach with public housing residents. Since the project is located in a city historic district, the historic preservation review process was an additional consideration.

Design considerations were crucial in a project that substantially increased the neighborhood density and height, required approval from the Board of Architectural Review, mixed single-family with multifamily units, and sought to ease concerns from area residents. Colorful paint schemes, pent roofs and trim details are compatible with the neighborhood’s historic character. Old Town Commons is also built to the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Homes and/or Earthcraft specifications with features that help residents save on water, heating and cooling costs.

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Rear-loaded parking garages, street-facing residences with doors that open directly onto the streets and wide sidewalks contribute to a vibrant streetscape. A nearby community center and public parks are other key factors that created this pedestrian-friendly, transit-oriented, mixed-income community.

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