Monday, May 05, 2008

The petition is now online.

Sign it and tell the City and ARHA what you think.

This petition won't be taken seriously if people sign anonymously. Put yourself on the record please.

The Bland Alternative

Last Friday, the Growler posted an article about the future James Bland redevelopment that criticized the proposed above-ground parking garage and suggested there were other alternatives that could help reduce density and free up open space.

In addition, the question has been raised why more public housing units are not being off-sited, at least in the same ratio as Chatham Square (48% compared to the proposed 30% for Bland).

Currently EYA and ARHA propose moving 60 public housing units off the Bland site. But that's not equivalent to the dispersal ratio that was used at Chatham Square. If it were, some 93 Bland units would be moved elsewhere, not just 60.

Of course the City and ARHA are going to dig their heels in and say this can't be done. But there are alternatives.

What is driving the train at Bland and elsewhere is the notion of one-for-one public housing unit replacement. ARHA and the City are committed to preserving 1,150 units of public housing through the notorious 1970's era Resolution 830. If public housing concentration is reduced here in the Braddock Metro area, ARHA must find alternative locations for the off-site units. And both the City and ARHA cry loudly about the cost of land and how difficult it is to find suitable properties.

Well, those may be crocodile tears.

First of all, as part of the Bland/Glebe Park redevelopment the City has agreed to pay for the land for 16 of the 60 units that are coming off the Bland site. Apparently the City can come up with the funds when it must.

More significantly, even if Resolution 830 is regarded as politically untouchable, there have already been discussions among City leaders about changing the formula for how those 1,150 units are accounted for. In short, Resolution 830 doesn't need to be repealed in order to adapt it for a new and much different political and socio-economic climate in Alexandria.

And significantly, the politicians have themselves discussed the possibility that not all those 830 units need to be ARHA-owned.

The suggestion is to count low-income units such as those acquired by RPJ Housing at Arbelo Apartments in Northeast Old Town (34 units) and Lacy Court Apartments (44 units) in Del Ray as 830 units. That's 78 units, and it's possible also to throw in the 8 units at Shiloh Baptist's proposed Harambee senior housing and the 41 units at Wesley Housing Development Corporation's Beverly Park complex. That brings us to 127 units without even breaking a sweat. All of the non-profits who own these properties received City loans and grants to acquire the sites. So why not count them in the 830 mix?

Then there's the possibility of placing public housing units in new developments at Potomac Yard, Eisenhower Avenue and Van Dorn Street. Both Mayor Euille and Councilman Krupicka have talked publicly about this possibility, but as the Growler recently pointed out this was news to one ARHA Board Member, Leslie Hagan, who at a recent community meeting said the City has had no discussion with ARHA about public housing at the Yard.

One could surmise that the City and ARHA are tiptoeing around this possibility, and may still pitch a fit about the cost of land at these sites. But the Growler understands that the Housing Trust Fund will be receiving approximately $10 to $12 million in affordable housing contributions from Potomac Yard developers alone. While half of this is already earmarked for the workforce housing to be located above the new Potomac Yard fire station, $5 or $6 million would go a long way toward paying for new ARHA units, which we have now been told cost approximately $250,000 each to construct. Those units could be located in the Yard or elsewhere.

Let's not forget the Housing Trust Fund voluntary contributions that are being pulled out of this neighborhood. The Growler counts one million from Monarch and another approximately $777,000 from both the Payne Street condos and the Madison. That's $2.4 million more for the Housing Trust Fund.

There's yet another alternative. As readers have noted, there are condos in Alexandria that are priced under $250,000. Why are ARHA and the City adamant about building new units when they could more cheaply acquire scattered units in other condo buildings that are in reasonably good condition. There are bargains to be had right now with the crisis in the condominium market and not all ARHA units need to be located one over the other in a stack, as at Quaker Hill. That's a maintenance convenience but it's not strictly speaking necessary. Other jurisdictions are taking this route. Why not Alexandria?

So with creative thinking, there are multiple solutions to the Bland problem. The question is why the City and ARHA are apparently not considering them.