Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Good, Better ... But Not Best (Yet)

Your growling ARHA correspondent shuffled down to Ladrey Highrise last night for the monthly board meeting (which was postponed from October 23), to hear some good news for the pessimists who think there is no hope on the public housing front.

Brian A. Jackson of EYA presented the latest plans for the redevelopment of three major ARHA properties, and revealed that the developer has now slashed the number of proposed public housing units at Adkins in half.

In September the draft plan envisioned 153 one and two-bedroom units at the ARHA site near the Braddock Road Metro, which would have nearly doubled the density of public housing at the site. Now the number in the proposal for Adkins has been halved to 90 dwellings.

Mr. Jackson also confirmed that more of the public housing density will now be shifted to James Bland and James Bland Addition.

At this stage, it looks like there will be two purely ARHA buildings with 36 and 45 apartments respectively (the latter at Wythe and Fayette). The Growler also heard that these will not be elevator buildings. Nine of the proposed 60 townhomes will be reserved for ARHA residents, with the other 51 to be sold at market rates.

On the surface it look like the plan for Adkins this is just a 1:1 replacement, since there are already 90 public housing units there. However, these new buildings will feature one- and two-bedroom apartments, not the three- or four-bedrooms units currently at the site. (The larger units will apparently be relocated to Glebe Park or Bland.) Viewed this way, the density of housing proposed in the latest round has decreased absolutely.

EYA is clearly listening — not just to the ARHA board, City Council and staff but also to some of the dialog on this blog from concerned neighbors.

That's good ... but still not best. EYA continues to claim that they cannot find appropriate sites elsewhere in the City where Adkins residents can be displaced in an effort to further reduce public housing concentration. But this was covered swiftly and with little detail.

Interestingly, it appears there's at least one new ARHA board member who is prepared to pierce the corporate veil of secrecy, and that was a surprise given the member's background. Peter H. Lawson, son of former City Manager Vola Lawson, pressed EYA about dispersal and about more financial detail to back up the claim that everything must be replaced on site. He also expressed concern that with the fast-track process for this redevelopment (which is being spurred by the dire situation at Glebe Park), the Board has not had a chance to sit down and talk to EYA in great detail about every aspect of the project.

That's worrisome to hear from a board member, but fortunately Mr. Lawson seemed to be able to gain support from his colleagues for a meeting to be scheduled sometime in November. The ARHA board also hopes to pull in a representative from Planning & Zoning, since they will have a major say in the project as well.

Mr. Lawson threw in an interesting tidbit: he noted that two of every three individuals or families on the waiting list for public housing reject openings at Adkins and Bland, preferring to return to the waiting list until another unit becomes vacant elsewhere in the City.

ARHA Board Chairman A. Melvin Miller then interjected, "It's because of the crime at Adkins."

Zowie! An admission at last! Even the clientele for public housing is concerned about these sites.

Mr. Miller went on to state that Alexandria does not have that high a concentration of public housing, compared to some cities where there is "block after block of public housing, with no services." The Growler actually believes him given the number of massive urban renewal projects in America's biggest cities.

But this is Alexandria, a city of only 135,000. More than 400 units near the Braddock Road Metro is certainly dense in our terms and on our scale. And its location near a now-prized Metro stop means something more creative needs to be done to maximize economic development opportunities.

So let's pose this question: why not halve the numbers again at Adkins? What about 45 units, with 45 off-site?

And as others have asked on this blog, where's the public housing at Cameron Station? Where's the public housing at Potomac Yard? Where's the public housing on Eisenhower Avenue?

What is our fair share?