Creating a New Mixed-Income Neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia
Development partners Pennrose and Community Housing Partners created the Residences at North Hill on an undeveloped site in Alexandria, Virginia, outside of Washington, DC. There are 279 units of affordable housing, including 63 units for seniors, plus 175 market-rate townhomes.
In the city of Alexandria, Virginia, located across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., a public-private partnership helped transform an undeveloped 33-acre site long owned by the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority into a new, mixed-income community featuring affordable rental housing, including housing for seniors; townhomes for sale at market rates; and a 12-acre public park. Transforming the site was possible thanks to Virginia's Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act (PPEA), which facilitates the private development of certain projects that further the public interest on publicly owned land. The new development consists of 454 new units of housing, including 175 townhomes, 63 units of independent-living affordable apartments for seniors, and 216 units of affordable multifamily housing. The affordable units, known as the Residences at North Hill, are helping to achieve the county's goals for increased access to housing and opportunity across income levels with construction wrapping up in September 2023.
Mixed-Income Housing at North Hill
Philadelphia-based developer Pennrose partnered with Virginia-based Community Housing Partners to open the Residences at North Hill in June 2023. The units are spread among five 4-story buildings and include one-, two-, and three-bedroom units. All apartments in the development are affordable to households earning between 30 and 60 percent of the area median income (AMI). Sixty-eight project-based vouchers are available to offset rental costs for extremely low-income households. Funding sources for North Hill include both 9 percent and 4 percent low-income housing tax credits, bonds, and funding from the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME Investment Partnerships programs, among other sources. In addition, proceeds from the sale of the market-rate townhomes, which sold for between $700,000 and $850,000, helped offset the costs of the affordable units. In total, redevelopment of the site cost $174 million, of which the affordable multifamily portion cost $124 million.
From Undeveloped Tract to New Neighborhood
The Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority first acquired the North Hill site in 1981 for $5.8 million, purchased in part with $5.4 million in CDBG funds. The original site was just under 50 acres, 15 of which were eventually dedicated to the Woodley Hills Mobile Home Park. In 2010, the county adopted a master plan for the site, articulating a vision for housing alongside a new public park.
Several years after adopting the master plan, serious new proposals began to emerge. Facilitating the development of the North Hill site was PPEA, which authorizes the city of Alexandria to enter into public-private partnerships that will help speed up (or reduce the costs of) creating certain qualifying projects. Crucially, PPEA allows developers to submit unsolicited bids, and, in 2012, the North Hill site received such a bid. Under PPEA, when the city receives an unsolicited bid and wishes to advance the process, it must seek out competing conceptual proposals from other private entities. Pennrose and Community Housing Partners responded to that call with their own proposal in 2015, and the city ultimately selected the two development partners to complete the transformation of North Hill. Although the site was undeveloped, the development team encountered challenging soil conditions and environmental contamination from an unidentified subterranean tank discovered onsite. Construction of the townhomes began in 2020, followed by the affordable units. The 12-acre park is being developed by the city's Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Activities department and is expected to include trails, an open lawn area, courts for basketball and pickleball, a playground, and an exercise area.
North Hill incorporates significant environmental features. Before its development, the site was heavily wooded; in creating the new townhomes and apartments, the developers exceeded mandated targets for tree preservation and for the tree canopy on the site. The buildings themselves were constructed to meet EarthCraft certification standards. Pennrose and Community Development Partners incorporated drought-tolerant native plants into its landscape design; used environmentally conscious waste management and recycling protocols during construction; and installed high-efficiency water heaters, appliances, lights, and fixtures. In addition, the buildings’ heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems are ENERGY STAR® certified and incorporate an energy recovery ventilation system.
As in many jurisdictions in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, Alexandria lacks adequate affordable housing for its residents. The addition of more than 450 new housing units — including the market-rate homeownership opportunities — on the formerly undeveloped site demonstrates the efficacy of policies such as PPEA, which allow private partners to efficiently leverage publicly owned land to create and advance projects that serve the public need.
Interview with Whitney Ellis, developer, Pennrose, 12 July 2023; City of Alexandria. 28 September 2022. “Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act Guidelines,” Accessed 6 September 2023; Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development. n.d. “North Hill,” Accessed 6 September 2023; Fairfax County Park Authority. n.d. “North Hill Park Development,” Accessed 6 September 2023; Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development. 29 December 2021. “From the Ground Up: Affordable Housing at North Hill is Coming Along Nicely,” Accessed 6 September 2023; Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development. 16 June 2023. “Fairfax County Celebrates the Grand Opening of the Residences at North Hill,” Accessed 6 September 2023; Pennrose. n.d. “Residences at North Hill,” Accessed 6 September 2023; Correspondence with Whitney Ellis, 14 September 2023. ×
Interview with Mark Buenavista, director of design, development and construction, Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development, 11 July 2023; Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority. 4 June 2020. “North Hill Affordable Housing Development Moves Forward,” Accessed 6 September 2023; Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development. 16 June 2023. “Fairfax County Celebrates the Grand Opening of the Residences at North Hill,” Accessed 6 September 2023; Interview with Whitney Ellis; Pennrose. n.d. “Residences at North Hill,” Accessed 6 September 2023; Community Housing Partners, 19 June 2023. “Officials Celebrate Grand Opening of Residences at North Hill,” Accessed 6 September 2023. ×
Interview with Whitney Ellis; City of Alexandria. 28 September 2022. “Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act Guidelines,” Accessed 6 September 2023; Interview with Mark Buenavista; Fairfax County Park Authority. n.d. “North Hill Park Development,” Accessed 6 September 2023. ×
Christina Stacy and Christopher Davis. April 2022. “Assessing the Impact of Affordable Housing on Nearby Property Values in Alexandria, Virginia,” Urban Institute. Accessed 6 September 2023. ×