Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The ARHA Files #2: The Numbers

Quel surprise! After a session taking notes from the incomplete ARHA files at Barrett Library on Saturday until 5 p.m., the Growler returned to the library last night and found a fresh copy of the ARHA Board's July 28 agenda and copious supporting materials. Someone at ARHA must be reading this blog.

Whoever you are, thanks and keep up the good work by ensuring that all ARHA materials are accessible to the public.

Today, the Growler wants to write about some of the numbers that have cropped up in the ARHA files. We'll leave it to the readers and others to interpret some of the nuances, but these figures are intriguing, to say the least.

Turnover

The latest report on public housing vacancies supplied to ARHA's Board for its July 28 meeting indicates that from January to June 2008, some 137 units were vacated for a variety of causes, such as death, evictions (including those for drug activity), and skips.

It appears from the monthly figures (broken out into detail by month in the report) that on average there are about 20 units vacated per month. That means that in the course of a year there might be 230 to 250 units that become available.

Any rental property is going to have turnover, and indeed Alexandria itself has a high turnover in residents, whether they are in public housing, private apartment buildings or single family homes.

But we have been told repeatedly that redevelopment and scattering of public housing would "break up the community," which implies there is a sizeable cadre of public housing tenants who have deep and permanent ties to the community and are unwilling to relocate.

Given these figures, though, it appears that 20% of ARHA's units turn over every year (240 out of 1,150 Resolution 830 units). At this rate, in a five year period theoretically all of ARHA's units would turn over.

While 100% turnover is probably not attained for a variety of reasons, these numbers raise questions about the notion of permanence in the ARHA "community."

This is further borne out by citizen activists those who participated in the shaping of the Chatham Square project. They told the Growler that there were very few individuals who could be described as permanent residents and who ultimately returned after redevelopment.

And a City consultant told the Growler that the handful of Bland residents who were most worried about relocation were older and ultimately would probably need to be housed in assisted living rather than general public housing. The younger residents seem remarkably open to the idea of moving.

Vacancy Rates

Putting aside Arlandria's Glebe Park project (which has a staggering vacancy rate due to intractable mold problems), it appears that Adkins has a problem with vacancy rates. According to the ARHA files, the unadjusted vacancy rate at May 1 for Adkins was 20% and an adjusted rate of 10%. For Bland the unadjusted as well as adjusted vacancy rate was 5%, and Bland Addition 4% unadjusted and 2% adjusted. HUD prefers a vacancy rate of 3% or less.

Are these rates in the Braddock Area due, as Melvin Miller once suggested at an ARHA Board meeting, to the fact that people on the waiting list would prefer to drop down the list and continuing waiting rather than live in these projects, known for their crime problems? Or are there other factors at play?

Bedroom Demand

In an April 17, 2006 Housing Operations Update, then-ARHA CEO William Dearman wrote "ARHA has many one bedroom applicants on the public housing list that continue to have a very long wait because of the unavailability of public housing one bedroom units. ARHA's Board of Commissioners should consider offering the one bedroom applicants a Section 8 voucher so the waiting list can be opened for all bedroom sizes some time later in 2006."

In September 2007, acting ARHA CEO Roy Priest wrote that there were 700 names on the public housing waiting list, and that the largest number of applicants were queued up for one bedroom units. The smallest number of applicants (zero) were waiting for three bedroom apartments.

This seems to suggest that ARHA could better meet demand by building and supporting smaller units. Yet Resolution 830, ARHA and Council seem obsessed with the notion of maintaining not just a fixed number of public housing units in the City but also retaining the same proportions of multi-bedroom units in its housing stock.

This is significant in terms of any future redevelopment of Andrew Adkins, which has a significant supply of four bedroom units and the only five bedroom units in the ARHA portfolio. Does Adkins really need to be rebuilt exactly as it was, and as large and densely, if public housing demand in Alexandria is greatest for smaller units and if (as suggested at a Braddock Road small area plan meeting) the size of public housing families as well as those of non-public housing is shrinking?

Vouchers

Here's an interesting chart on housing voucher use from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a leading liberal think tank devoted to low-income policy issues.

Scroll down to the table and you will see that in 2007 ARHA apparently had only 84% of the its authorized vouchers in actual use, down from 99% in 2004.

CBPP's numbers are supported by ARHA's reports for the July board meeting. The Section 8 "lease-up" rate is currently shown as 83%, with the following distributions:

1722 authorized
1431 under lease
1512 allocated
210 available
26 persons seeking vouchers

According to an excellent paper by CBPP on the Housing Choice Voucher program, "Research has shown that vouchers are more cost-effective than federal programs that build affordable housing for low-income households."

So why has ARHA's voucher utilization fallen?