Monday, February 21, 2011

Shell Game

Reader alert: on Tuesday, February 22 the City Council will discuss an agreement with ARHA to provide funding for 16 of the 60 off-sited public housing units from the James Bland project for which no location has been identified. The City is preparing to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with ARHA giving ARHA $3 million to buy 16 condo units, with the City picking up to another $3 million in condo fees.

The only geographic restriction placed on this grant is that the 16 replacement units cannot be located within a quarter mile of either Bland or Glebe Park.

Sound good? Not really. This microscopic distance restriction — which is only now being revealed in public and has apparently been negotiated behind closed doors — means ARHA could still use City funds to redeposit the 16 off-sited units back into the neighborhood, flaunting an important provision Council negotiated with the community in the Braddock East Small Area Plan: that up to 50% of public housing units undergoing redevelopment would be scattered elsewhere in Alexandria.

This isn't the end of it.

As readers know by now, according to alexandranews.org, ARHA has declared its intention to acquire Pendleton Park Apartments, located at 608 N. Payne Street. Chairman A. Melvin Miller has said no City money is needed for the acquisition. Instead, ARHA would use a combination of its own invested funds and Low-Income Housing Tax Credits.

Is it appropriate for ARHA to buy new neighborhood properties when it still owes the City millions of dollars? Here is a spreadsheet provided by City staff which demonstrates that as of December 31, 2010 ARHA still owes the City $11 million, including monies still outstanding from before the Chatham Square development five years ago, which ARHA informs the City cannot be repaid from HUD HOPE VI grant money.

These two revelations represent a lot more than simple housing or debt repayment issues.

For years residents have clamored for better retail in our neighborhood, and a Harris-Teeter grocery store was proposed for the Madison site on N. Henry Street, then abruptly abandoned. Now a Harris-Teeter is negotiating with a developer to build a store east of Washington Street in an area that at present has no greater density than the Braddock neighborhood and which already has two operating and competing grocery stores. This seems to demolish the City’s contradictory defenses that retail is difficult to attract here due to competition from King Street and Potomac Yard or that that only ever high-density development can bring enough residents to support retail.

This occurs just as Council has approved letting the Madison developers reduce the amount of retail space in their project. The Monarch retail remains mostly unoccupied after four years, and all but a small patch of the retail space at the Braddock Place complex has been occupied by office workers.

In approving the Braddock Road small area plan, Council promised to bring amenities such as retail to this neighborhood, yet by their actions they appear to be continuing to encourage policies that ensure this community remains less desirable for retailers than any neighborhood east of Washington Street or west of Mount Vernon Avenue.

So if you are fed up with the City's rationalization of this mess, click on the link in the upper right column of this blog and send Council a message before tomorrow night's hearing.