Five More Questions with Helen McIlvaine, Housing Director, City of Alexandria

“There’s nothing more important than a home.”

Helen McIlvaine began her career as a lawyer and taught trial techniques to help  Hong Kong law students become more proficient in English before accepting a position with the City of Alexandria Office of Housing in 2006. (Photo courtesy of Helen McIlvaine).

ALEXANDRIA, VA – On Wednesday you heard Helen McIlvaine answered “10 Questions” from guest host Jane Hess Collins about herself, the City of Alexandria Office of Housing, and how Alexandrians can get involved in our great city during our Z-TV LIVE! show. But who was the best boss she ever had? Find out here: 

  1. What’s the status of the Granny Flat discussion in Alexandria? Converting buildings into rental units or making apartments exist within single-family homes? (asked by a viewer).

The City is exploring whether it should permit ADUs (“accessory dwelling units” or “granny flats”) to increase Alexandria’s supply of housing. This could mean a potentially more affordable option for renters, as well as a means for providing income to help homeowners maintain their homes. The ADU webpage includes FAQs and two video presentations which provide information about ADUs and how they might be created and regulated in the City. You can also contact one of the city planners at the bottom of the webpage if you have comments and feedback. Community outreach has been online because of the coronavirus, but community meetings are planned for this fall. I don’t know yet if those meetings will be virtual or in person.

  1. How do you stay motivated?

Every day I can’t wait to get to work! I think I’m wired this way, but I really enjoy what I do. One of the big gratifications is that I have the opportunity to see projects and policies get implemented. We will – and have – accomplished so much, including The Bloom at the   Carpenter’s Shelter, ARHA’s redevelopment of Ramsey Homes as The Lineage, and The Nexus at West Alex (King and Beauregard). We have also acquired Parkstone Apartments (formerly The Avana) for preservation as affordable housing. We can count about 475 additional units committed to the City’s long-term affordable stock this year! It makes me feel like we’re so doing many impactful things. People will benefit. There’s nothing more important than a home.

  1. What steps is the housing office taking to attract educators, other young professionals, and first responders?

We offer home ownership opportunities. If you live or work in Alexandria we provide financial assistance of up to $50,000 if you are income eligible.  Our down payment and closing cost funds are intended to be a soft second mortgage. You repay the loan without interest when you sell the home, and you pass on the discount you received to the new homeowner. It keeps housing affordable over time for first time buyers. We’ve offered maybe 840 or 850 of these loans, and we’ve helped over 1,000 people over the programs 30 year period because some of the loans have been repaid. And we have additional assistance to first responders if they want to live in the city.

  1. Who was the best boss you ever had?

When I lived in El Paso, Texas, there were only 18 women out of 800 bar members and a very established attorney, Mr. Pearson, hired me. He believed in me and let me handle the types of work and cases that usually required more experience. I got to try a lot of cases which was unusual as a young lawyer. He had grown up dirt poor and knew a lot about people. I still have a lot of “Mr. Pearsonisms” from that experience. He taught me that people sometimes make poor decisions out of desperation, and we shouldn’t rush to judge them. He really believed in me. For example, he knew my favorite color was pink, and he had my office painted pink while I was taking the bar exam. He taught me to respond to every call or letter I received by the end of the day, so I encourage my staff to be responsive.

  1. The city’s Housing Master Plan’s Housing for All goal is to create 2,000 affordable housing units by 2025. Is the city on track for that?

Yes, and we hope to  meet that goal a few years early. In March, the City also endorsed a resolution to set higher targets to support opportunities for economic development by creating more housing for its workforce. Based on this resolution, Alexandria will try to achieve 2,250 more affordable housing units by 2030. And I think we’ll do that, by the grace of God, and the support of our community. We need to.

SEE BELOW 10 QUESTIONS INTERVIEW WITH HELEN MCILVAINE