Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Show Us the Money!

The City Council is a lot like Old Mother Hubbard when it comes to the deconcentration of public housing: the cupboard is always bare, and there's not a penny to be found, not even in the cookie jar.

We hear that argument frequently whenever our community starts talking about the desire to offsite more public housing units from the James Bland site. (There need to be another 33 units dispersed to achieve the same formula that was employed for deconcentration at Chatham Square — a formula that Growler learned from Old Town activists was suggested by former City Council member and former ARHA Commissioner Joyce Woodson.)

The City moans and groans that it is already burdened with the job of finding and paying for land for the 16 Bland units that can't be shoehorned into the Glebe Park redevelopment site in Arlandria. Forget about another 33 units coming off Bland.

But take a gander at this: the City recently funded an $8 million loan at 2% annual interest rate to Bonaventure Realty Group, the new owner of Olde Towne West, to rehabilitate and preserve affordable housing.

There were a couple of other items on the docket for the Council's last meeting of the fiscal year that should give Parker-Gray residents pause.

First, the City Council agreed to loan another $1.5 million from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to Alexandria Housing Development Corporation for the Potomac Yard fire station project, a mixed-use development which includes affordable and workforce housing units. The loan is needed to cover a gap in tax credit financing.

(Note: Readers who sift through the staff memo will note that the voluntary developer contributions from the Potomac Yard development are part of the financing package for the station. Apparently in Potomac Yard, developer contributions are plowed back into the community from which they were derived. Where is Parker-Gray development money going? Will we ever know what the City ultimately did with the $1 million contribution from the Monarch?)

Anyway, back to the bailouts. The Council also provided another $500,000 (augmenting an existing $1.5 million loan) to Wesley Housing Development Corporation for the Beverly Park Apartments project in Arlandria. This loan is also being made to cover up a tax credit gap.

In fact, the Bonaventure loan pushed the City's total bond commitment for affordable housing from $15.0 to $23.0 million, nearly $1 million higher than a 2005 Council authorization. In the same final session of the legislative year, the City Council in fact voted to amend its 1997 formula for calculating debt policy guidelines so that it can issue more debt and still maintain a triple A bond rating.

Where is our community in the receiving line for these funds? At the tag end?

It's time to press the City about making the 33 additional Bland units a priority.

Show US the money!