Friday, March 11, 2011

Dissecting the Decision

The more the Growler ponders the results of Tuesday's work session between ARHA and Council, the more focused the picture becomes.

First, readers are surely right to raise questions about Councilman Rob Krupicka's comments and why he voted the way he did. He is running in the Democratic primary for state Senate against Del. Adam Ebbin and Libby Garvey of Arlington. Those neighbors who remember the 2009 Council election will not soon forgive Mr. Krupicka for the way he cozied up to the Departmental Progressive Club at the expense of our neighborhood. Now that Mr. Krupicka has clinched endorsements from Mayor Euille and former City Manager Vola Lawson, is the Councilman tailoring his votes to obtain a coveted gold seal from ARHA Chairman Melvin Miller?

Second, it's time to cast sentiment aside and think about the cold hard implications of Third Baptist Church's sale of Pendleton Park.

The Growler checked the real estate assessment records for Pendleton Park and it appears that this is a valuable property that is assessed at over $3 million. (The assessment is informational only, as non-profits generally do not pay property tax.)

The Church stands to make a substantial sum of money on this transaction whether ARHA buys it or a for-profit developer. However, if the Church was truly committed to affordable housing, it could keep the building after the HUD Section 236 support expires next year, accept Section 8 Housing Choice vouchers and subsidize the operating costs. It could even give $100,000 to each of the 24 current tenants, which is enough to house them in non-subsidized buildings for more than five years at a typical rent of $1,450 per month. This would still permit the Church to take home $1 million for its missions.

No, the Church appears to be behaving like any other capitalist institution, which is to maximize profit and minimize expense. Third Baptist was one of the first churches here to lease its space during the week to American Day Care, and it appears to be guided by leaders with some enterpreneurial bent. There may also be missions other than affordable housing that members would like to fund with the proceeds, if most parishioners now live outside Alexandria and have no close link to the neighborhood any more.

But how is it that ARHA ended up with an exclusive contract to buy a valuable property one block from Metro for $3.5 million? At the work session there was some argument about whether there were other offers on the table, including those from private developers. In addition, we are now learning that the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation -- a non-profit created by the City to develop affordable housing -- made an offer for Pendleton Park that was rejected, supposedly on the grounds that their offer was contingent on obtaining City loans to buy the building.

Yet it was also noted at the work session that ARHA's offer has contigencies as well, namely the ability to snag VHDA Low-Income Housing Tax Credits.

Then there was the peculiar debate about Housing Choice vouchers at the work session and whether they would be available or not to the 24 residents if they were displaced. Mr. Miller ended the discussion by flatly saying there was no guarantee they would be available from HUD.

This Cranky Observer is most skeptical about that statement. If there's one thing we've seen repeatedly over the last few years, it's that ARHA can pull vouchers out of thin air in a crisis, despite its routine protests that they are scarce as hen's teeth. Just look at all the vouchers ARHA managed to find for Glebe Park residents when clouds of mold started infiltrating their units.

All this leads the Growler to wonder if ARHA and possibly City staff used scare tactics with the Church, implying that the 24 residents would be out on the street without vouchers unless the property was sold to ARHA.

And finally, this interesting tidbit from the Council work session may really explain it all. ARHA Vice Chair Hyra stated at one point that Pendleton Park residents might leave the City if given vouchers.

That, folks, may be the issue in a nutshell and in fact may also explain why there has been a general retreat from the principal of offsiting and deconcentration in the last few years.

ARHA may be trying to expand its housing stock in our neighborhood through the Pendleton Street Park acquisition in an attempt to keep a geographically concentrated group of residents in place to serve as a political base for Mr. Miller, who has never had success in attaining any elected Citywide office himself. If residents are more generally scattered, they will be harder to marshal as a voting bloc (if indeed they really act that way any more).

Otherwise, nothing about this work session makes sense. One week the Council reaffirms the commitment to offsite 16 units away from this neighborhood (at a cost to taxpayers of $3 million), then the following week express its support for moving 24 low-income units in the same neighborhood into the hands of the same landlord.