August 15, 2002
The Virginia Department of Transportation has canceled a meeting that was scheduled with tenants of Hunting Towers and Hunting Terrace to discuss rents and other livability issues at the two complexes.
The meeting was scheduled to be held on Thursday, Aug. 15, at Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy. It was canceled on Aug. 14, because VDOT has not yet received approval from the Federal Highway Administration to implement new policies related to rent increases.
Alexandria officials have been involved in negotiating an agreement with VDOT that would address tenants’ concerns. “We have been meeting with VDOT for some time and have asked that an agreement contain three basic points,” said Mayor Kerry J. Donley.
“We want VDOT to roll back rents to the level at which they existed when VDOT purchased the property in November of last year. Second, we would like to see a cap on rents until some certain date in the future, perhaps for 18 months or two years. At that time, the situation could be re-evaluated.
"Finally, we would like to see the tenants receive refunds of the money that they have paid relative to any rent increases since Nov. 30. As of last week, VDOT had indicated agreement to the first two but were waiting for approval from the Federal Highway Administration.”
THAT APPROVAL has still not been obtained. Renaldo “Nick” Nicholson is the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project manager for VDOT. “VDOT has developed a proposed policy that will benefit all tenants - right now we are seeking approval by FHWA, which recently received the final proposal,” Nicholson said. “ We've kept the mayor apprised of our efforts and hope to announce the new policy, and all the specifics, very soon.
"With this proposed policy, we are eager to make a fresh start with residents by making tangible adjustments in their rents and by ensuring there is rent equity between longer-term and new tenants. In addition, the policy is aimed at reflecting the reality that construction has an impact on the livability of the complex."
Ardith Dentzer, president of the Hunting Towers Hunting Terrace Tenants Association said, “We are thrilled with anything that would roll back rents, cap them for a period of time and possibly refund rent overpayments that we have made,” she said.
“We are very concerned about rent equity for long-term residents who are clearly paying more for the same size apartments than are new tenants and hope that VDOT will address this issue as well. I can’t even begin to express our gratitude to our Alexandria city officials who have remained involved in this process and who have advocated on our behalf. Without their help, we wouldn’t even be looking at the possibility of these types of concessions from VDOT.”
Bert Ely, the legislative chair for the Coalition for a Sensible Bridge doesn’t understand why VDOT needs to get federal approval for these changes.
“VDOT owns these buildings,” Ely said. “While any rent roll back, cap on rents or refunds will increase the cost of the bridge project, those increases must be borne by the state of Virginia, not by the federal government. There may be some obscure regulation somewhere that requires federal approval because of the way the money is flowing, but I don’t know what it is. Cynically, the other possibility is that VDOT wants to make the Federal Highway Administration the bad guy here and wants them to refuse to grant approval – a good cop bad cop kind of thing with VDOT acting as the good cop. Whatever the case may be, I wouldn’t believe anything until it actually happens.”