Suit Questioned At ARHA Meeting

Suit Questioned At ARHA Meeting

A decade of controversy over the redevelopment of Samuel Madden (Downtown) public housing project, commonly known as "The Berg," seems destined to persist.

At the Dec. 19 meeting of the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA) Board of Commissioners the signatories to the lawsuit being brought by the Alexandria Residents Council (ARC) against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was put in doubt when a resident proclaimed he was not a party to the legal action.

Richard Storms of North Henry Street said he "heard his name is included in the lawsuit" and insisted he "had not agreed to anything." He further maintained that the residents of The Berg "are happy with the planned redevelopment."

In asking to see the actual legal action, ARHA Chairman, A. Melvin Miller stated that Storms would have to deal directly with ARC. The suit was announced at ARHA's Nov. 25 meeting by ARHA Commissioner Thomas "Pete" Jones. That was the same day it was filed in Federal District Court in Washington, D.C. Jones was absent from the Dec. 19 meeting due to illness.

ARC is represented by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law , a national civil rights legal organization, and local lawyer Paul Fiscella, who has a long working relationship with ARC. The essence of the suit is that HUD "violated federal law by denying public housing residents the opportunity to purchase the project."

NOW IN QUESTION is who signed on to the suit, when was the vote to move forward with the legal action taken, and who voted. Under ARC bylaws there is no mention of how the membership is constituted and the only mention of a quorum appears in reference to meetings of the Board of Directors.

Section four of those by-laws states "A majority of directors then in office shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business at any meeting of the Board of Directors." Section five provides, "Any action which may be taken at a meeting of the Board of Directors may be taken without a meeting if consent in writing, setting forth the action so taken, shall be signed by a majority of directors then entitled to vote."

The primary concern of ARHA staff and Commissioners is that the suit will further delay the renewed momentum in redeveloping The Berg. In that vein the Board approved the resolution authorizing staff to move forward with the agreement of sale on The Berg to Eakin/Youngentob, the approved developers. Final action is expected at ARHA's January meeting.

As an integral part of the overall redevelopment plan, the Board also approved a resolution to authorize staff to proceed with Eminent Domain proceeding regarding the South Whiting Street property. It is one of three scattered sites targeted for residents dislocated by The Berg's reconstruction.

AFTER SEVERAL DELAYS, beginning at the October meeting, due to lack of information requested by various ARHA Board members, the hiring of a new finance director, and the announcement of the unexpected lawsuit, the 2003 budget was approved.

At $19.7 million, it is approximately $2.6 million higher than the 2002 fiscal blueprint. "This is a more realistic budget then last year," said William M. Dearman, ARHA CEO. "We went through a lot of changes in the past year, not the least of which was a turn over in finance directors, and that had an impact on our fiscal procedures."

New finance director, Belle Seyoum, explained, "The majority of the funds come from the federal government in the form of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reimbursements and to cover the Section 8 Housing Voucher Program. The former amounts to $10.2 million, and the latter just over $2 million."

Of the total budget, only $7.4 million is allotted to ARHA operating funds, Seyoum confirmed. Commissioner Shirley Marshall questioned the tripling of legal expenses over the past three years and the higher expenditure for "hard to house" funding.

Seyoum explained that nothing different was being done, only that the documentation of expenditures was more precise. She also noted that ARHA can bill HUD for "hard to house" funds which hasn't been done in the past.

However, Dearman noted in his Secretary/Treasurer's report that HUD is operating at a substantial shortfall and local agencies may be funded on a quarterly basis with less reimbursement overall. This will not be substantiated until later as the federal budget moves forward.