Thursday, August 28, 2008

Achilles' Heel

In reviewing the plans for the James Bland public housing development, a couple of sharp-eyed readers have noticed that the City is not following its own self-proclaimed formula for mixing income types, a formula that officials repeatedly say will ensure the project's success.

The issue is not with the townhouses. The ARHA flats are well-integrated with market rate single family homes, interspersed between market rate units and mostly occupying corners of each block.

The problem is with the three multi-family buildings fronting on N. Patrick St.

According to the latest City fact sheet on Bland, there will be 62 ARHA multi-family units and 86 market rate multi-family units in the three buildings, for a total of 148 . That translates to 42% ARHA and 58% market rate.

Hasn't the City been drumming into our heads at the Braddock East Advisory Group meetings and elsewhere that a successful mix will have two market rate units for one public housing unit? What is being proposed here is closer to a 1:1 ratio.

Even more uncanny, this 42%/58% mix is exactly what ARHA CEO Roy Priest outlined in slide #9 in his presentation at the very first Braddock East Advisory Group meeting in February (a presentation that was also shown at Braddock Metro small area plan charrettes on public housing.)

And that raises the specter that the market rate units in these buildings will be virtually unsaleable. Who would want to buy a condominum in a building that is half public housing? Plus we have also been told that some 10 or 12 units will be "affordable housing."

The argument we can expect to hear from the City and ARHA is that across the entire redevelopment project there is a 2:1 ratio of market rate to public housing units.

But the multi-family buildings are so radically different from the townhomes that they essentially constitute a separate development.

Does Quaker Hill provide any guidance? It consists of both townhomes and condos.

No. The mix there is closer to or exceeds what the City says is ideal. There are 99 townhomes and 127 condominiums, of which 30 townhomes (one-third of the total) and 30 condominiums (a little under a quarter of the total) are ARHA-owned. And remember, Quaker Hill wasn't viable as pure public housing, and had to be converted to Section 8 homes.

So are the multi-family buildings the Achilles' heel of the Bland project? Will the lack of market appeal sink the entire redevelopment? And what is the effect on our neighborhood if this dubious experiment fails? Will it push down home values, and will we be worse off than we would be if Bland were not slated for redevelopment?