Friday, May 16, 2008

No Credit Check Needed

First, some good news. After hearing neighborhood concerns about the structured parking planned for the multi-family buildings in the upcoming James Bland public housing redevelopment, EYA went back to the drawing board and found a way to stick it underground.

It requires a parking reduction under the Braddock Road Metro small area plan. But in the Growler's opinion as long as future residents and owners are not allowed to apply for district parking permits and if the City tightens up on the gaps in our parking district (as they promised during the final Braddock Road hearing) this solution is much better than a precedent-setting parking tower inappropriate for our historic neighborhood.

But make no mistake -- the neighborhood is not going to support the parking reduction without a significant further reduction in the number of public housing units remaining at the Bland site. We demand parity with Chatham Square and won't be satisfied until the City and ARHA give us what we want.

Now for the bad news. The Growler heard several disturbing things at the Tuesday work session between City Council and ARHA's board. There will be more postings to follow which will explore what the Growler has heard, but here's the most critical:

Readers may remember that in October 2007, the Council made ARHA a $6.5 million bridge loan to rescue the mold-infested Glebe Park project from imminent foreclosure by HUD. As a condition of the loan, the City and ARHA signed an historic Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which would supposedly give the Council more leverage to ensure proper long-range planning, budgeting and management practices were followed by the perpetually beleagured housing authority.

Oh, and don't forget that less than a year before, in December 2006, the City Council voted to extend another existing $1.2 million loan to ARHA for Quaker Hill and top it off with another $3.5 million in funds so the authority could buy the property from the original tax credit investors and keep the units affordable.

Yet on Tuesday it became clear that seven months after the original bailout and with more than $11 million expended in recent loans to ARHA, City officials still don't have a handle on ARHA finances. Despite numerous gingerly phrased questions by Council about whether ARHA was "sustainable" and Mayor William D. Euille's statements that most of his peers believe that HUD funding will continue to taper off in the years ahead, the politicians had nothing more to fall back on than the stubbornly reiterated word of ARHA Chairman Melvin Miller that the agency will be "sustainable" after the Glebe Park/James Bland redevelopment.

In fact, from the docket supporting material it appears Mr. Miller only signed the MOU in late March, five months after the original loan. Does this mean the City signed the check without getting a signature on the agreement first?

We are in the throes of charting the future of public housing in Braddock East, yet the strategic plan for ARHA hasn't even been started yet. How is it possible to forge ahead with land use planning for redevelopment without understanding the long-term financial requirements of ARHA, particularly since the Council once again ritually kowtowed to the sacred Resolution 830 on Tuesday night and continues to mandate that ARHA supports 1,150 units of public housing?

This lack of planning would be a disgrace in any other $550 million enterprise. Why are these officials willing to be backed up against a wall by an obstructionist ARHA board and why is the Mayor, who has both a background as a CPA and businessman, pandering to a historically dysfunctional agency that does not have its house in order and lurches from crisis to crisis?

And what does it mean for our neighborhood. A lot it, it turns out. It's starting to look like ARHA can sustain itself by redeveloping each property every few years, but only stay solvent if as many units as possible stay here rather than be off-sited.

Stay tuned for the next installment ...