Alexandria Resident Council,Inc., [ARC] has initiated a federal law suit against the U.S.Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD] alleging they "violated federal law by denying public housing residents the opportunity to purchase the Samuel Madden (Downtown) public hosing project" known as "The Berg."
Dropping the bombshell at the commencement of Monday night's meeting of the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority [ARHA] Board of Commissioners was Thomas "Pete" Jones, the newest member of that Board and ARC president. "The residents have been trying to purchase this property since 1996...These attempts to deny the rights of public housing residents to buy their own homes are outrageous," Jones insisted in the press release announcing the suit.
Filed in federal district Court in Washington, DC., on November 25, ARC is represented by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law [LCCRUL], a national civil rights legal organization. It alleges "that beginning in 1996 ... ARC ... sought to purchase Samuel Madden." The complaint details "how ARHA, and now HUD, have stood in the way of ARC's opportunity to purchase and have also prevented the residents' involvement in the redevelopment of their homes."
LCCRUL FURTHER ALLEGES in their press release, "ARHA wanted to sell Samuel Madden to a private buyer, however, federal law requires that before public housing projects are sold, residents must be given the first opportunity at purchase....the lawsuit alleges ... that ARHA has improperly denied ARC's opportunity and right to purchase Samuel Madden."
Having no official knowledge of the suit prior to Jones' announcement at the meeting, there was no response from the Board. Chairman, A. Melvin Miller, said "We have not been served, I don't know if we are going to be served, and I have not seen the suit so I can not react at this time." ARHA executive director, William M. Dearman, was directed to get a copy of the suit for review and analysis.
ARHA is presently in the final stages of negotiating a contract with the chosen developer of the site, Eakin/Youngentab. The plan is expected to go to the Alexandria Planning Commission in the near future. Wrecking Corporation of America was approved as the designated demolition contractor for The Berg without discussion as part of Monday night's consent calendar.
"We don't want to delay the project, in fact we welcome the opportunity to work with the current ARHA commissioners and staff. We just want justice and for HUD to stand up for public housing residents, both of which have not happened," Jones emphasized in the press release. Jones is one of those commissioners.
FOLLOWING THE MEETING, Dearman said, "I'm fearful that this action will, in fact, delay this project and could even discourage
the developer from moving forward. That would be tragic since this has dragged on for so long. I hope it is resolved quickly and we get on with it."
Earlier this year, ARC appealed ARHA's actions to HUD, who promptly denied ARC's appeal, according to LCCRUL. They further allege, "HUD's denial of ARC's appeal violates federal law and represents a dramatic reversal of positions that HUD has taken both in Alexandria and across the country."
Additionally, LCCRUL asserts, "When HUD denied ARC's request ... it claimed that the requirement to offer the residents that ability to buy the public housing project is a one-time requirement that was satisfied by ARHA's 1998 offer."
Local lawyer, Paul Fiscella, who has long represented ARC in this matter, and is working with LCCRUL on this action, said, "That this previous offer satisfies federal law is unconscionable given that ARHA and the City of Alexandria have dramatically improved the terms of the sale ...for the private buyer.
"Federal law demands that ARC be given an opportunity to purchase on as favorable terms as any private developer. The lawsuit is about ARHA, and now HUD, failing to meet that requirement."
HUD has 60 days to answer, according to LCCRUL attorney, Matthew Clash-Drexler.