Tuesday, February 27, 2007

City to Neighborhood: Drop Dead!

Yep, last night ARHA dropped the big one. Da bomb.

It looks like Andrew Adkins is not going to be redeveloped in the near or even distant future.

What with the discussion of bedbugs, problems evicting tenants with illicit roommates, and allocations of administrative costs between Section 8 and public housing programs, the Growler nearly nodded off at last night's ARHA monthly board meeting.

But then the board eased sideways into the topic of the EYA redevelopment proposal and the Growler was all furry ears.

The board was discussing EYA's March 9 deadline for submitting tax credit application paperwork to redevelop the troubled Glebe Park housing project. Several members pressed chairman A. Melvin Miller to schedule a meeting to let them review the application. Apparently they are still in the dark about details of the Glebe Park redevelopment and in fact all of the other properties in the EYA package.

Not satisfied with Chairman A. Melvin Miller's cryptic suggestions that EYA might or might not make the deadline, Kerry-Ann Powell started to pick apart some of the numbers in the secretary/treasurer's report, aided and abetted by veteran Ruby Tucker. Ms. Tucker complained that the City, EYA and one or two members of the ARHA board seemed to be making all the decisions (which Mr. Miller denied) and then asked repeatedly, "Is Adkins in or out?"

And that's when the Growler heard Mr. Miller state that Adkins had been "pulled off" and the story came tumbling out in pieces.

It appears EYA is now yoking the Glebe Park project (which will be almost exclusively public housing) to the redevelopment of James Bland, which will include market units as well as replacement public housing. There will be fewer bedrooms at Glebe Park and fewer families served, but the shortage will be made up at Bland.

And EYA is now backing off Adkins, which in the first discussions last year was portrayed as the jewel in the crown owing to its proximity to Metro.

Mr. Miller and board vice chairman Carlyle "Connie" Ring attributed this plot twist to the Braddock Road Metro Small Area plan, stating that the reason is that the plan is pushing for higher density than is currently in place with Adkins.

If you remember, readers, the idea floated in the draft Braddock plan was to compress Adkins into a taller, more compact structure, leaving room for a market rate building and open space on Fayette.

But Mr. Miller noted that EYA is not experienced building high-rises and ARHA doesn't want to manage a four or five story building.

This wouldn't be an issue, the Growler thinks, if the City was willing to disperse some or all of the housing currently at the site. Sell the land and use the profit for dispersion and maintenance of other properties.

But Mr. Miller observed, "Andrew Adkins will stay there until they find somewhere else in the City of Alexandria [to put the units]. And it will never happen."

Another "problem" which Mr. Ring mentioned is the presence of privately owned homes on the Adkins block bounded by Wythe, Fayette, West and Madison. Apparently ARHA is being told (and we're guessing by P&Z) that a developer would want to assemble the entire block as a parcel and that the City is not about to exercise eminent domain to take those homes, some of which have recently been remodeled and expanded.

How does this play into EYA's plans? The Growler isn't quite sure but suspects that if ARHA wants to keep low-density public housing like Adkins on the block, the only way a developer can wedge market rate units into the site is to acquire the western fringes of the block. That, apparently, is too costly for EYA, which after all still has to make a profit.

So as Mr. Miller concluded "City approvals for the Andrew Adkins redevelopment may not be forthcoming."

And to add to the indignity of it all, the City is going to be called on to make two bridge loans of $2-3 million each to get EYA started on Glebe Park. We're told that's necessary because EYA won't reach payday until they develop the market-rate units in Bland. But at least the City had a fit of decorum, deciding it would not look good to loan money directly to developers. Now the money will be washed through ARHA.

What are we to make of this turn of events?

First, it's clear that the ARHA board is dysfunctional and suffers from serious communications issues. The Growler weighs in with Ruby Tucker in thinking that most of the group is being left in the dark, and the Growler suspects the reason is Mr. Miller. If there was a willingness to consider a transition to Section 8 vouchers and to permit attrition in projects like Andrew Adkins, we could have our cake in a few years and eat it too.

It's time that the ARHA board was really shaken up and that Mr. Miller and some of the other stale thinkers step down. We need fresh minds to tackle the topic of public housing.

Second, the politicans are not off the hook. In fact, the Growler believes they are driving the train, particularly Mayor William D. Euille and Council Member Rob Krupicka (he of the semi-secret affordable housing task force).

The Growler believes there's not just an absence of political will to deal with Adkins. The Mayor and his cohorts on City Council are actively keeping this neighborhood down and using it as a dumping ground for everything they don't want elsewhere, especially Del Ray.

This turn of events also exposes the Braddock Road plan for the sham it really is. It's not about the creation or improvement of a "vibrant" neighborhood, it's just a mechanism for granting developers more density and greater profit without solving the fundamental problems that keep the area from prospering.

And the Del Ray mafia on Council are being aided and abetted by the silence of the residents here, particularly the high density advocates who it seems have now been skewered on their own spear.