Monday, May 12, 2008

The Numbers Game

Over the past week, the online petition about the James Bland public housing project has garnered more than 40 signatures. The Growler urges readers to E-mail the link to neighbors so they can sign as well and boost the numbers again this week.

In the meantime, the Growler wants to pose this question to readers: is the proposed redevelopment of Bland — which calls for off-siting 60 units — really a shining example of the City's Fair Share policy and its commitment to deconcentrating public housing?

Or is it all a shell game?

The Growler is beginning to lean toward the latter interpretation. We all know that the deconcentration proposed for Bland is less than what it was at Chatham Square. When the "Berg" was redeveloped, only 52 units of public housing out of a total of 100 were included in the new site. That means 48% of the Berg were off-sited.

With a total of 194 units at Bland, ARHA is proposing only 60 to be off-sited. That's not only a smaller proportion — some 30% — than at Chatham Square, but it's where the units are going that needs to be analyzed.

We all know by now that 44 Bland units are going to Glebe Park, the Arlandria site whose redevelopment is being paid for by market rate units at Bland. Not very welcome to the community there, which argued that public housing was literally increasing in their neighborhood from 40 to 84 units. But on the surface the City and ARHA handled this quite cleverly, claiming that since Glebe Park originally had 112 units of public and so-called market rate housing, the market rate housing was of such poor quality it was only fit for Section 8 residents. So in essence, they argue, Arlandria is getting an absolute reduction in assisted housing.

The complaints of Arlandria don't concern us here — the community has had only one-tenth of the public housing density that we have in Parker-Gray — but it raises an interesting question: where's the Fair Share policy in all of this?

Basically ARHA and the City are moving units from one site to another, but not dispersing them throughout the City.

There's still 16 Bland units left unaccounted for, and much has been made of the fact that the City has agreed to pay for land for these units. But the Growler understands they are only going elsewhere in Alexandria because there wasn't enough room to squeeze them all onto the Glebe Park site. Had there been space, they would have gone back onto the Arlandria site.

Again, we in Parker-Gray aren't concerned about Arlandria. What is worrisome is that ARHA and the City are basically shuffling units between sites, not taking a substantial number and truly sprinkling them throughout the community.

Even more problematic is that the Bland configuration may set a precedent for other public housing redevelopments in the neighborhood. And what appears likely to happen is that the City and ARHA will push for massive density for projects like Adkins and Samuel Madden in order to keep the existing public housing units in place rather than disperse them.

And all the while, they will be excusing themselves by talking about the high cost of land and the difficulty of making the financials work.