Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A New Day for Public Housing?

As expected, the City Council is set tonight to approve a $5.6 million bridge loan to free ARHA from HUD's threatened foreclosure on the mortgage at Glebe Park. (ARHA is current with the mortgage, but HUD was prepared to foreclose because so many of the units were uninhabitable due to mold.) Also on the docket are the final approvals for the site plans for the Arlandria properties that constitute the Glebe Park project.

But in return for the bailout the City has now extracted what appear to be significant concessions from ARHA in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding outlining new roles and responsibilities. According to an October 19 memo from City Manager Jim Hartmann to Mayor and Council, the MOU:

"... seeks to create a new partnership between the City and ARHA by borrowing from 'best practices' in many organizational areas such as budgeting, capital planning, organizational management, performance management. The MOU also represents an effort to improve the communication and working relationship between ARHA and the City by creating a new, more interactive and close partnership. It sets forth a process for better planning, coordinating and communicating in order to help develop a coordinated affordable housing strategy for Alexandria that includes the goal of sustaining and improving public and publicly-assisted housing within the City of Alexandria. The MOU is intended to provide a vehicle for the City and ARHA to work as partners to jointly undertake short and longterm land use and capital planning, including preparation of a comprehensive Strategic Plan. It will also help to monitor program performance and achieve a better long-term financial condition for ARHA, with the goal of improving the living environment for ARHA's residents."
What does this mean for our neighborhood? Potentially, we may see a better managed and more efficient ARHA. That's not to let the politicians off the hook about Fair Share and public housing dispersal, but we can only hope that with greater City oversight and control there may be the possibility of meaningful change and improvement in public housing operations that will benefit everyone.

ARHA's board was scheduled to approve the MOU yesterday evening, while many of us were at the third and last pre-HOPE VI application public meeting.

In another, smaller communications breakthrough, ARHA has finally launched its Web site. Kudos to acting ARHA CEO Roy Priest and staff for finally making this happen.